MINSK, August 2 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus backed down in a natural gas dispute with Russia Thursday, agreeing take $460 mln from its national reserves to pay Gazprom, after the energy giant threatened to cut off supplies.
The payment will cover Minsk's debt for gas supplies accumulated since the start of the year. On Wednesday Gazprom said it would cut gas supplies to the country by 45% as of August 3 due to the debt, and lack of payment guarantees.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said: "I have instructed the government to take $460 million from our reserve and pay for Russian gas supplies. This is not a major sum for the country."
"Our reserve fund will be emptied, but other countries are ready to help us, including [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez and foreign commercial banks," Lukashenko said.
A spokesman for state-run Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz said a delegation from the company had left for Russia for talks with Gazprom.
"A Beltransgaz delegation is on its way to Moscow to conduct negotiations on natural gas deliveries from Russia to Belarus," Vladimir Chekov said.
Belarus previously asked for a $1.5 billion loan from Russia, and last week Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said the government had essentially approved the loan. But Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said after talks with his Belarusian counterpart Sergei Sidorsky early this week that no loan would be extended.
Early this year Russia doubled the gas price for Belarus to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters, which although less than half the average rate to the European Union, still dealt a heavy blow to the Belarusian economy.
Gazprom, which has set its sights on Belarus's Europe-bound pipelines, arranged to buy 12.5% in Beltransgaz for $625 million in June as the first of four installments to acquire 50% in the pipeline company by 2010.
President Lukashenko said the demand to pay the debt could be a political game and that the loan proposed by Russia at an 8.5% rate was "not an interstate loan, but a commercial loan," that could be obtained from any country.
Gazprom's banking subsidiaries made two offers this week of loans to the Belarusian government to cover the gas debt, proposals that the leadership rejected, opting to tap into national reserves.
Belgazprombank, a Belarus-based bank controlled by Gazprom, offered a $500 million loan on Wednesday, a few days after an offer from Gazprombank, the gas giant's main banking arm.