Ukraine offered Thursday to help Russia supply gas to European consumers if a pricing dispute between Belarus and Russia disrupts supplies westward, International Herald Tribune reported.

"We are in a position to offer help to European customers by increasing transit to whatever volume is necessary to ensure the stable functioning of our neighbors in the European Union," Fuel and Energy Minister Yuri Boyko said.

Russian state gas monopoly Gazprom has warned that it will halt supplies to Belarus on January 1 if no new contract is signed to end their price dispute, and has warned European countries their deliveries could be affected. Minsk has threatened to siphon off Russian natural gas bound for Europe in the event of a suspension of supplies to Belarus.

Boyko's offer stands in sharp contrast to the mood in Kiev last year when Ukraine was engaged in its own bitter pricing dispute with Moscow. Russia temporarily turned off the taps to Ukraine, which resulted in brief disruptions to European consumers. The dispute was seen by many as punishment for President Viktor Yushchenko's pro-Western policies.

This year, Ukraine's new pro-Russian premier, Viktor Yanukovych, reached an early agreement with Russia on gas prices for 2007, with Kiev pledging to pay US$130 (?99) per 1,000 cubic meters. That is 40 percent more than Ukraine paid in 2006, but nearly half the price Russia is charging other ex-Soviet republics.

Boyko didn't elaborate about how much more gas Ukrainian pipelines could hold. Russia already relies on Ukrainian pipelines to carry 80 percent of its gas exports to European Union countries.

Gazprom is demanding that Belarus pay US$105 (?80) — more than twice the current price for gas — and hand over a 50 percent stake in its gas distribution system.

The European Union on Thursday called on Belarus and Russia to quickly resolve their dispute and guarantee continued and adequate supplies to EU nations.


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