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    RUSSIAN EXPERT SAYS: MINSK DOES NOT WANT TO SELL THE BELTRANSGAZ BECAUSE IT USES THIS COMPANY TO PRESS THE GAZPROM

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    MOSCOW, February 18, 2004. (RIA Novosti) - With the sale of its gas transportation company, Beltransgaz, "Belarus may lose a chance to press" the Russian gas concern, Moscow believes. This opinion was expressed, in particular, by the leading expert of the AVK-Analitika company, Alexandra Vertlyugina in an interview with RIA Novosti.

    She said that it was for this reason that the negotiations between Moscow and Minsk about the conditions of gas deliveries to Belarus "were skidding." These negotiations most likely resemble trading sessions from which one can get the impression that Belarus is trying to gain time," the expert believes.

    Belarus wants to receive gas at reduced prices. However, the Russian gas monopolist demands, in exchange, that half of the Beltransgaz shares be sold to it. The Beltransgaz transports Russian gas through the Byelorussian territory, that is, the gas which Moscow exports to Europe. Minsk agrees to this deal but the sum it names is unacceptable - 5 billion dollars instead of 6 million which the Gazprom is ready to pay.

    The Russian concern "wants to quickly establish control over the Beltransgaz in order to control its export deliveries through the territory of Belarus and also to control the republic's gas transportation system. To lower pressure on the part of Belarus, "the Gazprom has to give a weighty argument," Alexandra Vertlyugina believes.

    She proposes that the Gazprom should announce that in the near future it starts the construction of a bypass gas pipeline along the bottom of the Baltic Sea. That would be "a weighty argument for Minsk," the Russian analyst thinks.

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