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Threats Widen in Gazprom-Belarus Dispute

Gazprom’s dispute with the Belarusian government over the cost of gas — this year’s edition of what seems like an annual winter pricing fight between the state-owned Russian monopoly and a formerly Soviet client state — now threatens the supply to Western Europe. Gazprom said yesterday that Germany, Poland and Lithuania could face supply disruptions, because if Gazprom cuts off Belarus, Belarus will halt all natural-gas flows through its pipeline, which provides 20% of Europe’s gas. “If I don’t have a domestic gas supply contract, Gazprom won’t have a transit deal,” Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said, as quoted by the Financial Times. Gazprom has said it will turn off the taps for Belarus starting Jan. 1 if no deal is signed.

In a dispute very similar to the one that threatened the gas flow through Ukraine’s pipelines last year, Gazprom wants to raise the price charged to Belarus to $105 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas from $47 — though this would still be below global market prices. Gazprom wants $75 in cash and the rest in shares in the Belarusian pipeline network, which would essentially give it a 50% stake, as the Times of London notes. Meanwhile, the European Commission says it thinks EU reserves will be able to handle any shortfall, a sentiment in line with Germany’s expression of understanding for Moscow’s position. But the Times notes Poland, which has pushed its EU partners to take a harder line on gas negotiations with Russia, said the “problem poses a threat to us.”

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Moscow Sees Possible Yukos-Litvinenko Link
On a separate Russian front, authorities in Moscow yesterday essentially said they suspected one Kremlin enemy of responsibility in the death of another. The office of the prosecutor-general said it is “checking the version” of an account that a former manager at deconstructed petroleum giant Yukos is linked to the death of the exiled ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in London, as the BBC reports. The ex-Yukos manager in question is Leonid Nevzlin, who was close to tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is now in jail following a prosecution that Kremlin critics blame on Mr. Khodorkovsky’s political opposition to President Vladimir Putin. The prosecutor’s statement didn’t elaborate on any evidence making the Litvinenko-Nevzlin link, the New York Times reports. And a spokesman for Mr. Nevzlin, who is already wanted in Russia on charges related to Yukos and now lives in Israel, dismissed the accusation.

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Also of Note…

Los Angeles Times: Sales of new homes bounced back in November and have posted increases in three of the last four months, a sign that this year’s drop in housing may be leveling off.

Bloomberg: Royal Dutch Shell said Gale Norton will join the world’s second-largest publicly traded oil company as a general counsel, 10 months after she resigned as President Bush’s interior secretary amid increased congressional criticism for how the Interior Department handled a dispute with producers such as Shell and BP over oil and gas royalties.

The above are extracts from THE MORNING BRIEF and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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