European worry

Russia's gas price disputes with its neighbours became a worry for Europe when its supplies were halted for almost two weeks in the dead of winter in early 2009 while Russia and Ukraine argued over prices and transit terms.

Any cuts, especially if they affect supply beyond Belarus, could further damage Russia's reputation as a reliable exporter at a time when Gazprom is facing falling demand from crisis-hit Europe and competition from US-produced shale gas.

A cut in supply to Belarus, however, would not affect Europe as much as the 2009 standoff because only about a fifth of Russia's gas exports to Western Europe go through Belarus with the rest going through Ukraine.

Seasonal demand is also much lower than in the winter when the 2009 disruption took place.

Energy experts agree that a worst-case scenario of seriously damaged supplies to Europe is unlikely as Gazprom can re-route gas deliveries to Europe to avoid Belarus.

Analysts say Poland can import Russian gas via Ukraine and Germany can receive it through Ukraine, Slovakia or the Czech Republic.