MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's state-controlled natural gas company bought the remaining stake in Belarus' gas pipeline system Friday to become its sole owner in a move that strengthens Moscow's control over gas exports to the West.
Russia is the main ally and sponsor of Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, but he had been reluctant to yield control over the pipeline network and other Belarusian economic assets in the past, accusing Russia of trying to erode his nation's sovereignty.
Lukashenko's stance, however, has been softened recently by a severe economic crisis that has weakened his power and made him more prone to compromise.
Russia's Gazprom already had owned 50 percent in Belarus' pipeline operator, Beltransgaz, and wanted to gain full control. It said in a statement after the signing that it agreed to pay $2.5 billion for the remaining 50 percent stake.
Russia provides about a quarter of the natural gas that Europe consumes, with 80 percent of it going through Ukraine. The rest is shipped through Belarus and Turkey.