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Russia mulls phased $1.5 mln loan to Belarus - finance minister

MOSCOW, June 6 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is considering the possibility of extending a $1.5 million stabilization loan to Belarus on a stage-by-stage basis, the finance minister said Wednesday.

Belarus's government requested a loan in February citing rises in oil and natural gas prices imported from Russia.

"Belarus has specified the timeframe for a loan. Work is underway to ascertain the amount, among other things," Alexei Kudrin said in reply to a question about whether Belarus had really asked for $1 million of a total of $1.5 million loan this year.

He said bilateral negotiations are ongoing and that the question is not a political but an economic matter, adding that a decision could be made in the foreseeable future.

Kudrin said earlier a decision would require changes in the federal budget and parliamentary approval.

On January 1, Russia raised the price of its gas supplies to Belarus to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters from $46.7 in 2006, which sparked an energy dispute between the two countries and triggered more accusations in Europe that Russia is using oil and gas as a political weapon.

In mid-May, Russian energy giant Gazprom [RTS: GAZP] signed a deal to purchase a 50% stake in Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion.

Gazprom will make equal payments in four stages from 2007 to 2010, acquiring a 12.5% stake in Beltransgaz at each stage, which will ensure stable gas supplies to Central and Western European consumers.

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