Serbia says Russia to boost gas deliveries

BELGRADE, Feb 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) Russia will almost double its natural gas deliveries to Yugoslavia this year, pro-government daily Politika said on Monday, quoting a senior Serbian government official.

"Russia will deliver this year 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas or 80 percent more than last year, when valves (on the pipeline) had been closed because of (NATO's) aggression," Serbian Energy Minister Slobodan Tomovic told Politika.

Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom, supplying gas to Serbia via Hungary under an interstate agreement, said in January it had delivered a total of 1.1 billion cubic meters of gas to Yugoslavia in 1999.

Tomovic spoke after returning from a visit to Moscow last week where he negotiated with Gazprom officials a possible increase in supplies.

Belgrade remains subject to an oil embargo by the West during NATO's 11-week bombing campaign last year.

He said Serbia would pay for the gas purchases in kind - through construction works and deliveries of wheat, maize, wine, mushrooms and other products.

Tomovic said Russian deliveries of crude oil and derivatives as well as equipment to repair Serbia's power grid had been also discussed during his trip to Moscow.

Such supplies would help Serbia stabilize its market, where petrol is sold by peddlers rather than by regular petrol stations, he said.

Government officials have promised to stabilize the market and secure regular sales as of this week.

Normalizing supplies is seen by local analysts as an attempt by the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia run by President Slobodan Milosevic to attract more voters ahead of this year's local and federal parliamentary elections.

Petrol consumption has been rationed to 20 liters per month per car since early April 1999, after NATO launched an 11-week air war on the country, during which Serbia's two oil refineries were heavily damaged.

Tomovic said Jugopetrol and Beopetrol, two state-run petrol trading companies, were to receive credits of $32 million to secure sufficient supply. It was not immediately clear whether the money would be provided by Russia.

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