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    BORODIN SAYS RUSSIAN-BELARUS NATURAL GAS AGREEMENT EMINENT

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    MOSCOW, April 2, 2004. (RIA Novosti) - Pavel Borodin, the secretary of state of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, said that an agreement on deliveries of Russian natural gas to Belarus will be reached soon.

    "Regarding gas and oil, we will come to an agreement soon," he said at the news conference on Friday.

    Mr. Borodin also said that he hopes the introduction of a single currency in Russia and Belarus will happen before 2006. According to him, five of the six agreements in the package on the introduction of a single currency have already been coordinated.

    'The sides have not reached an agreement only on the value added tax. It is a purely economic aspect, because this is connected with the advance of the Russian and Belarus products to the markets," he said.

    "The Union State does exist. It has a common border, a common customs space and will soon have a common currency," Mr. Borodin pointed out.

    However on Wednesday, Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin told reporters that the introduction of the ruble as the single currency of the Union State had been postponed until 2006.

    Earlier, it was planned to be introduced on January 1, 2005.

    Mr. Kudrin said he met with Belarus government officials last week and discussed a number of current issues of cooperation between the two countries but the Belarus side "proposed not to discuss the introduction of the ruble," Mr. Kudrin said.

    "I can draw the conclusion that the Government of Belarus will not consider this question in the near future and, thus, it is not possible in the remaining time to introduce the ruble, as a single currency in 2005," Mr. Kudrin said.

    He added that he had sent a proposal to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to exclude this issue from the agenda of the Government's session in May because it is "not prepared for discussion with the Belarus side."

    "We only have the responsibility to discuss this question for 2006," the minister added.

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