The Kommersant daily newspaper reports that from 2007, gas prices for Belarus would be $200 per 1,000 cubic meters, against the current $46.68.

The move would follow similar gas price hikes that have contentiously been imposed on Ukraine, Moldova and Lithuania, and reflects Gazprom’s desire to see the former Soviet republics pay a more market-driven price for natural gas.

However relations between the satellite states and the Moscow-based monopoly have become strained amid accusations that some of the price increases are politically motivated. This proved the crux of a dramatic dispute between Russia and the Ukraine at the beginning of 2006 after the Kiev authorities refused to accept Gazprom’s new charges, prompting the latter to turn off supplies to its westerly neighbor.

News that Belarus is now facing a jump in tariffs, coming into effect from 2007, may ironically placate some of the other former Soviet republics that have felt discriminated against by Gazprom and, by extension, the Russian government. Some observers believe that Belarus escaped earlier price rises because of the Minsk government’s avowed political adherence to Russia.

However it appears that this was not enough to preserve the pricing status quo. It is thought that Gazprom is upset with Belarus over its refusal to give the firm access to its transit pipelines – a condition that ensured the continued subsidies on price that Belarus receives.

Kommersant reports that Gazprom may compromise to some degree on the tariff rise if the Belarusian gas transit authority hands over control of the main gas routes to Russia.

Meanwhile Gazprom’s deputy head Alexander Medvedev has rejected calls from the EU to open up access to the Russian export network. He also dismissed suggestions that a rival trans-Caspian pipeline could be built to transport Kazakh gas to Europe, bypassing Russia, as ‘unrealistic’. The project has significant backing both from European governments and US vice-president Dick Cheney.