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Gazprom to Review Gas Prices to Poland

WARSAW -- Gazprom wants to renegotiate its long-term gas delivery contract with Poland, reigniting worries about energy security in the European Union newcomer.

Poland's state-controlled gas group PGNiG said Thursday that it had received a letter from the gas giant on the issue but saw no reason to change the terms of the 1996 deal.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said it was hard to understand why Gazprom -- Poland's main supplier, accounting for 42 percent of its gas -- wanted to renegotiate.

"It's hard to understand this step. We need to look at it in the context of overall energy policy," he said.

Poland imports about two-thirds of its gas from the former Soviet Union, either from Russia or via pipelines that run through Russia.

Energy security has become a concern after Warsaw's former chief spy said Russia was trying to use its near monopoly on energy supplies to reassert its communist-era dominance in Central Europe.

Poland protested earlier this year when Russia and Germany decided to bypass it by building a pipeline under the Baltic Sea, fearing it would lose lucrative transit fees and be left at Russia's mercy if Moscow decided to cut off supplies.

A Gazprom official said the request for renegotiation was nothing unusual.

"Holding regular talks to revise pricing conditions of gas supplies is a widespread business practice," the official said, adding that the company's contracts both with Poland and with other long-term buyers included provisions for talks.

"Alongside the pricing formula, this allows us to fix mutually acceptable pricing levels depending on the short-term market situation," the official said.

But some Polish analysts were skeptical.

"We cannot rule out that this is driven by political issues. There's huge money in play," said Ryszard Rusak, fund manager at Union Investments in Warsaw.

Under the deal, Gazprom supplied 5.75 billion cubic meters of gas last year. PGNiG gave no details on the long-term contract, which expires in 2022, but said in its issue prospectus ahead of September's bourse listing that renegotiations were possible.

It had said the price of gas delivered under the existing contract was linked to global energy prices.

"We see no reason to renegotiate the agreement," PGNiG spokeswoman Malgorzata Przybylska said, adding that there was no risk that gas supplies could be stopped.

In a bid to diversify from Russian supplies, PGNiG wants to invest in a new pipeline from Iran and build a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Baltic coast.

Shares in PGNiG, which also has plans to invest heavily in raising gas production from its domestic deposits, fell by just over 1 percent on Thursday afternoon, while the large-cap WIG 20 index was up 0.4 percent.

"This is bad news for PGNiG. Gazprom is a near-monopolist and talks from a position of strength. They might try to pile on new pressure, which may have a negative impact on the [Polish] company's results," said an analyst from a foreign brokerage.


(The Moscow Times 07.xi.05)

 
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