* Russia, Belarus at odds over gas price
* Belarus seeks alternative oil supplies as Moscow lowers
* Hungarian bank, others show interest in Belarusbank - PM
* Belarus may issue $800 mln Eurobond in 2017 - PM
* PM says talks with IMF "constructive"
(Adds details, quotes, wraps stories)
By Andrei Makhovsky and Katya Golubkova
MINSK, Dec 20 Belarus wants Moscow to give it
the same price for Russian gas as Russian regions bordering the
ex-Soviet country pay, Belarusian Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov
told Reuters in an interview.
The two countries, traditionally allies, have been at odds
since the start of the year over how much Minsk should pay
Russia's Gazprom for gas supplies following a slump in
global energy prices.
Minsk, which says a gas price set by Gazprom of $132 per
1,000 cubic metres is too high, has been paying less on delivery
since the start of the year and Gazprom says it is owed $270
million for the first six months of 2016 alone.
Belarus, a major transit route for Russian gas to Europe,
has previously said a price of $73 would be reasonable.
Kobyakov, in the interview given on Monday, said he thought
a "fair price" would be the same as that paid by Russian regions
adjacent to his country.
"If in the regions that border Belarus the gas price is more
than two times cheaper, it is obvious that the competitiveness
of the goods which Belarus is producing will be quite a bit
worse than in Russia," Kobyakov said.
"So we are saying: 'We don't mind if you raise prices to
levels matching Belarus ... But if you can't raise prices at
home, then adjust the price for Belarus to yours."
Since July, in a move interpreted as an attempt by Russia to
put pressure on Minsk, Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft
has been pumping about 40 percent less oil to Belarus than in
the second quarter of this year.
Belarus has been trying to secure oil supplies from other
sources and received test shipments from Azerbaijan.
Kobyakov said Azeri oil, which arrived by sea via the
Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa and was delivered by land to
landlocked Belarus, was one of the most "thought through"
options but not the only one.
Kobyakov also did not rule out a new potash alliance with
Russia's Uralkali. Such a tie-up was "possible," he said, but
Belarus would approach any potential deal "very carefully".
"We don't want the situation that happened in 2013 to repeat
itself," he said.
In 2013, Uralkali left a trading joint venture with the
Belarusian Potash Company, triggering a fall in global prices of
the crop nutrient and hitting Minsk's revenues.
Belarus is in talks with the International Monetary Fund
about a $3.5 billion loan package, which Kobyakov said Minsk
aimed to use to replenish its gold and foreign exchange
"In general, we are aiming for the (IMF) programme to be
launched in the first half of 2017. But not at any price,"
Kobyakov said. "Talk is rather about timing: we are for smoother
changes, while our partners are for more rapid dynamics."
He added that talks with the IMF were "constructive", yet
two difficult groups of questions focused on utilities' tariffs
and improvement in the state-controlled part of the economy.
Kobyakov also said Belarus was looking at raising $800
million via a Eurobond next year, aiming for a seven-year
He forecast Belarus's economy to grow by around 1.7 percent
next year, with inflation falling to 9 percent from 11 percent
expected in 2016 and gold and forex reserves rising to $5.5
As part of attempts to diversify its economy, traditionally
closely tied with Russia, Kobyakov said Minsk aimed for a
strategic investor from among Western banks to be present in the
Belarus banking system.
Belarus is preparing to sell a stake of up to 25 percent in
Belarusbank, which accounts for more than 40 percent of banking
assets in the country, with a decision on the investor seen
within two years.
"Certain bidders have emerged, including a well-known
Hungarian bank. But this does not mean yet that we have finally
decided. The work is at its very beginning," Kobyakov said.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky and Katya Golubkova; Editing by