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Russia Renews Threat to Cut Natural Gas Supplies to Belarus

Russia's state-run natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, has warned again of a cut-off of supplies to Belarus, unless the country signs a new price agreement.

Gazprom Chairman Alexei Miller said if there is no accord, the firm will terminate the supplies at 10 am Moscow time, New Year's Day.

Earlier, a Gazprom spokesman, Sergei Kupriyanov, said his firm is not Santa Claus and cannot continue gifts to Belarus. He also warned that Belarus may try to siphon gas bound for Europe, in a push to avoid shortages resulting from a cut-off.

Belarus has rejected Gazprom proposals that it pay $200 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas next year, or that it pay half that fee if it gives the Russian firm 50 percent ownership of a pipeline carrying Russian gas to the rest of Europe.

Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said any Russian gas cuts would jeopardize the rest of Europe. He said about 20 percent of Russian natural gas deliveries to Europe would be stopped. However, Semashko also said that his country's need for gas and Russia's need for a pipeline make it unlikely that any Russian cut-off will occur.

Russia briefly cut natural gas to Ukraine in a similar price dispute one year ago. The impact of those cuts was felt in much of Europe, and led to fears that Moscow had become an unreliable trading partner.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.