Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 84

Russia’s Gazprom natural gas monopoly has apparently agreed to accept Belarusan government bonds as compensation for a major part of the $270 million in arrears that Minsk has accumulated for gas imports. (Russian agencies, April 21) As such, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s governments seems to have avoided a repeat of the agreement made earlier this month, in which a part of the accumulated debt for unpaid Russian oil imports may be canceled in exchange for the promise of partial ownership for Russian companies in Belarusan oil refineries. (See the Monitor, April 24)

In addition to accepting $200 million in Belarusan government bonds, Gazprom also agreed to return to the pre-1998 payments scheme, thereby allowing the vast majority of Belarus’s gas imports are to be settled via barter. The remainder of Belarus’s accumulated gas debt is also to be settled via barter. Among other things, Gazprom may attempt to offer Belarusan products to the Russian Finance Ministry as payment of its tax obligations. While this could be difficult to reconcile with the Russian government’s pledge to the IMF to increase the share of hard cash in its tax revenues, it does speak wonders about Lukashenka’s ability to turn the tables on Moscow.

Still, Lukashenka’s apparent escape from his gas predicament was not completely bloodless. Nikolay Mochernyuk, general director of Belarus’s Beltransgaz gas importer, was removed from his position on April 21, after having apparently accepted Gazprom’s demands that Minsk’s arrears be settled immediately and in cold cash. Also, both sides have agreed to revisit these questions after the year 2000.