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Belarus Gets Extended Discount on Gas

Putin looking at a monitor Friday during a meeting of the customs union. Dmitry Lovetsky

Belarus will get Russian gas at a discount for a few more years, Belarussian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said Friday, as the countries negotiated terms for creating a common economic space.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — at a five-hour meeting with their Belarussian counterparts the previous day — agreed to push back to at least 2014 the deadline for Belarus to begin paying prices that would give Gazprom the same profit margins that it receives on its European Union exports, Semashko said.

Under the current contract, state-controlled Gazprom was scheduled to charge those prices starting in 2011, when Russia had initially hoped to introduce domestic prices based on EU export prices.

“The Russian president and prime minister voiced their goodwill,” Semashko said in Minsk, commenting on the new gas deal, Interfax reported.

Belarus and Russia agreed that they would start paying the EU-exports-based prices simultaneously in 2014 or 2015, he said. According to the Energy Strategy through 2030, Russia plans to complete introduction of the foreign-market-based prices at home by 2015.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov declined comment on the agreement Friday. Semashko said he and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin would formalize the new commitments by the end of the year.

Next year’s gas prices for Belarus should remain at this year’s level, Pavel Borodin, state secretary for the union state of Russia and Belarus, an alliance seeking to unify the countries’ laws, said late Thursday, RIA-Novosti reported. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are seeking a higher level of integration by forming a customs union, which kicks off in January, and single economic space planned to be inaugurated in July 2011.

Semashko also said LUKoil, Russia’s second-largest oil producer, and other Russian companies could bid for a stake in the state-owned Naftan-Polimir refinery in Belarus, one of the largest in Eastern Europe. He said the bidding would take place soon but didn’t specify the size of the stake for sale.

Belarus will require that potential bidders provide guarantees of crude supplies and being able to market the refined products, Semashko said.

“Russian oil companies suit us the best in this situation,” he said.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has said the entire refinery is worth $3 billion.

Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said recently that Russia could lift export duties on crude deliveries to Belarus if Russian companies bought into Belarussian refineries.

In another sign of improved ties, Sberbank signed a deal Friday to acquire Belarus’ fourth largest bank, BPS Bank, the lenders and the Belarussian government said in a joint statement. Sberbank will pay $280.8 million for a 93.3 percent stake and will offer to buy the minority stakes.

Sberbank will invest from $300 million to $350 million in the other bank’s equity and raise $2 billion in financing for BPS, contributing a portion of that money, the statement said. Sberbank aims to capture 12 percent of the corporate lending market in Belarus by 2015, it said.

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