Minsk: Belarus Tuesday said it was halting the transit of Russian gas to Europe after Moscow stepped up gas cuts to Belarus in a debt spat, while President Alexander Lukashenko said the two countries faced a full-blown "gas war".

Russia yesterday doubled gas supply cuts to Belarus to 30 per cent of normal volumes to force Minsk to pay debts for deliveries, which it estimates at $192 million (Dh705 million).

Belarus for its part says Gazprom owes it $260 million for gas transit although Gazprom says Minsk had effectively blocked payments.

"I would like to inform you about the conflict which is turning into a gas war," Lukashenko told a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

"I ordered to the government to cut the transit via Belarus until [Russian gas export monopoly] Gazprom pays for transit," he added. "I have borrowed this money from my friends and we will redeem it to you in the near future," Lukashenko told Lavrov. "We owe nothing to Gazprom, they owe us... $260 million for transit," he added.

Close ties linking the Slavic neighbours have been increasingly strained as Lukashenko has sought to use Russia's eagerness to maintain an ally on its Western flank to persuade Moscow to leave Soviet-style economic subsidies in place.