Russian Gazprom chairman Rem Vyakhirev held talks yesterday in Minsk with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Prime Minister Syarhey Linh on the repayment of Belarus’ US$250 million worth of arrears for Russian gas. Vyakhirev proposed that Belarus settle part of the debt by: turning over to Gazprom the ownership of the land tracts along the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline; ceding to Gazprom the Belarusan construction companies and their assets involved in laying the second Yamal-Europe pipeline, making the latter an extraterritorial enterprise owned 100 percent by Gazprom; and issuing some $80 million worth of Belarusan state obligations to Gazprom.
The Belarusan leaders turned down the first two proposals. They accepted only the third, but on condition that any obligations issued to Gazprom would be nontransmissible to any entity, and that Belarus would retain a preemptive right of redeeming them. Official Minsk has a record of resisting proposals to open state property to takeovers by Russian capital.
The sides also disagreed over conventional methods of reimbursement. Gazprom, under pressure from Russian tax authorities, seeks to collect cash from Belarus and other cash-poor debtors. Belarus, however, claims with some justification that its cash shortage stems in part from the Russian companies’ common practice of paying for Belarusan goods through barter. Minsk accordingly wants Gazprom to accept payment from Belarus in the form of goods and services. (Russian agencies, August 6)
A STUNNING FORM OF TAX COLLECTION IN KYIV.