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Russia to cut natural gas supplies to Belarus 45% from Aug. 3-1

(Recasts lead, adds background, details, quotes in paras 2, 4-11)

MOSCOW, August 1 (RIA Novosti) - Russian gas giant Gazprom said Wednesday it would reduce natural gas deliveries to Belarus by 45% from August 3 over outstanding payments, adding that Europe-bound supplies would not be affected.

Minsk owes Russia over $450 million for natural gas supplied in the first half of the year, and Gazprom said Belarus had not provided any guarantees that the debt would be repaid.

"In line with the contract, the daily volume of natural gas delivered to Belarus will be cut by 45% in proportion to actual payments from 10.00 a.m. on August 3," the company said.

On December 31, 2006, Russia and Belarus signed a contract on natural gas supplies to Belarus and Europe-bound deliveries transited via Belarus in 2007-2011. Under the deal, Russia increased the natural gas price for Belarus from $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters to $100 from 2007, and fixed a price formula effective from 2008 and similar to that for European countries.

The parties agreed that Belarus pay 55% of the total price in the first half of the year, and start paying the full amount from July 1. Belarus was to repay any outstanding debt by July 23, which the country failed to do.

Gazprom pays some $30 million a month for transit through Belarus. In late December, the countries signed a protocol on Gazprom buying a 50% stake in Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion in installments over four years. Gazprom has already paid $625 million for a 12.5% stake in Beltransgaz.

Consequently, Gazprom said, Minsk has had time to get used to the new price.

The company has officially informed Beltransgaz of the move, and Belarusian Energy Minister Alexander Zhukov said the government is drafting proposals to rectify the situation.

"The Belarusian side will spare no effort to resolve the situation and prevent cuts in Russian natural gas deliveries to Belarus," he said.

Beltransgaz is to guarantee uninterrupted transit to European consumers who have also been informed of the steps.

"Gazprom will do everything possible to ensure Russian natural gas is transported through Belarus in full compliance with current commitments to European consumers," Gazprom said.

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