Russia has threatened to cut electricity supplies to Belarus after Minsk failed to repay a debt due to a severe economic crisis.
Anton Nazarov, a spokesman for Russia’s state-controlled Inter RAO UES utility told Russian television that the company had “decided to cut off supplies to Belarus at midnight on June 29” after Belarus failed to meet a deadline to repay $21 million on June 28.
“We’re still in a constructive dialogue with our Belarusian partners and hope that the debt will be settled and supplies resumed very shortly,” he added.
Belarus’s state power company, Belenergo, says it has the money but cannot convert it from Belarusian rubles because of a foreign currency shortage caused by the country’s severe economic crisis.
Russia temporarily reduced electricity supplies to Belarus by half earlier this month when Minsk failed to pay its bill for April.
Minsk later promised to repay its debt in several installments, the second of which was due on June 28.
Belarus receives just 12 percent of its electricity from Russia, and economist Tatyana Manyonok told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that a shutoff would not be felt by people in Belarus.
“This isn’t critical for Belarus,” she said. “Of course, in such a severe economic crisis you need to count every kopeck. [But] even if Inter RAO UES cuts electricity supplies, the lights will stay on in Belarus and companies will be working as normal. From a financial viewpoint, however, Belarus loses, of course.”
Moscow and Minsk are traditional allies, although relations have been strained in recent years. Russia has subsidized its former Soviet neighbor for years, but now wants control over industry and infrastructure in return for financial support.
Nevertheless, the Kremlin led negotiations for a regional aid effort worth $3 billion earlier this month.
Last week, Minsk agreed to discuss selling full control of its natural gas pipeline network to Russia, which already owns 50 percent.
with agency reports