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18 Jun, 2009 11:48

Milk war over?

Belarus has resumed deliveries of dairy products to Russia, but the ongoing dispute between the countries does not seem to be over.

Following talks in Moscow on Wednesday, head of Russia’s consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor and Belarusian Agriculture Minister Semyon Shapiro signed a protocol changing technical requirements for the import of dairy products from Belarus, which were the reason for the ban.

“We are going to control Belarus’ compliance with the obligations concerning milk trade balance and volumes of imported goods,” said Russia’s Agriculture Minister Elena Skrynnik.

Moscow introduced new regulations on packaging and labeling dairy products in December 2008, but Belarus failed to comply with them. As a result, at the beginning of June around 1,000 types of Belarusian dairy products were banned from the Russian market.

Minsk accused Moscow of using the milk ban as a political tool, and boycotted the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization on June 14, despite the fact that Belarus was supposed to take over the presidency of the body.

The dispute between the countries may continue on a new level. The Belarus customs service has said that it plans to implement certain elements of customs control on the Russian border.

“All over the world, immediate neighbors have disagreements from time to time – given their specific relations and large-scale cooperation – like, for instance, our recent dispute with our Belarusian partners concerning the supplies of agricultural products. These disputes go on till unified market regulations are worked out,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Currently, customs control of goods from Belarus and customs clearance of goods from third countries only exists on the Russian side. Vedomosti daily reports that Minsk has already introduced stricter customs examination procedures.

The “milk war” could grow into another dispute – over gas this time.

Russia's Gazprom has officially notified Belarus' state-run gas company that it must pay an extra $231 million for gas used since January. It said Minsk has been paying less than what had been agreed in their contract.

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Minsk said that Gazprom had given Belarus time until June 23 to pay the debt.

"Gazprom has sent a letter requesting payment of the debt for the January-May period standing at $231 million," Vadim Gusev told RIA Novosti news agency.

He added that the debt had accumulated due to Belarus' failure to pay the contract price of $250 per 1,000 cubic meters.

A verbal agreement on preferential prices has been reached but not been formalized on paper.

Beltransgaz has made no comments so far. Belarus’ Deputy Energy Minister Eduard Tovpenets has said that “we are making payments in full based on the average gas price as provided by top-level agreements.”

And the Belarusian Ambassador to Russia, Vasily Dolgolev, says that Minsk has not received any claims from Gazprom yet.

Read also: Russia and Belarus splash beer and milk at each other