MINSK, Oct 9 (Reuters) Belarus will send a high-level delegation to Moscow this week to discuss prices for gas for 2008 and guarantee smooth transit of Russian gas to Europe, a Belarus official said today.
Belarus alongside neighbouring Ukraine is the key transit route for Russian gas to Europe, which gets a quarter of its gas needs from Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom.
The visit, scheduled for October 11, comes as Russia and Ukraine agreed today to settle Ukraine's $1.2 billion debt for gas supplies after a week-long dispute, during which Gazprom threatened to reduce deliveries to Kiev from November.
Last year, Gazprom and Belarus reached a deal on gas prices for 2007 only minutes before the New Year as Europe was preparing for gas shortages similar to those it had experienced a year earlier when Gazprom cut supplies to Ukraine.
Gazprom has said it did not expect prices for both Ukraine and Belarus to jump in 2008 following significant increases in previous years and it only wanted to ''fine-tune'' the deals taking into account global energy prices.
Gazprom has nevetheless said it was premature to start talks about 2008 prices for both Ukraine and Belarus, which still pay much lower prices than Gazprom's clients in Europe.
''We hope to find an agreement before the year-end so the critical situation we had last year is not repeated,'' Belarus' deputy Energy Minister Mikhail Mikhadyuk told reporters today.
He said Belarus' delegation would be headed by Energy Minister Alexander Ozerets.
REUTERS PDT BST2327