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Gazprom deaf to Belarus gas pleas for lower prices

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MINSK, Belarus, June 18 (UPI) -- Belarusian attempts to negotiate with Russia's state natural gas monopoly Gazprom have been unsuccessful up to now, an official says.

Belarus' Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Kabyakov told reporters covering the Customs Union Commission in St. Petersburg, attempting to forge closer economic links between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus that discussions had broken down over Minsk's outstanding $200 million debt to Gazprom, Belorusskiye Novosti reported on Friday.

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Last year Belarus paid Gazprom $150 per thousand cubic meters for natural gas, but a new contract that came into force on Jan. 1 contained a price increase to $174 per thousand cubic meters. The position of Belarus is that the new Customs Union between the three former Soviet republics should contain "no exceptions" and scrap Moscow's controversial export duty on crude oil and natural gas exports to Belarus, a position that the Russian government rejects.

During the negotiations Belarus has consistently maintained that the $24 duty price increase per thousand cubic meters, which has severely impacted the country's oil refineries, should be abolished when the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia begins operations on July 1.

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