Russian natural gas company Gazprom said it backed plans to further develop its trade, transport and investment ties with Belarus. Russian energy company Gazprom said last month that it plans to increase the amount of natural gas it sends through Belarus to European consumers this year. Last year, the former Soviet republic transmitted more than 20 percent of Gazprom\'s exports to Europe. While approving of efforts to further develop trade, transport and investment cooperation in the natural gas sector, Gazprom said it considered Belarus \"a strategically important link\" to its European consumer base. Gazprom last year took control of energy company Beltransgaz as part of a revised natural gas deal with Belarus. The Russian company said this solved \"a number of issues\" for both sides, notably \"giving additional guarantees for gas sales in the receptive market over a long period.\" Gazprom sends about 80 percent of its natural gas through the transit system in Ukraine. Kiev and Moscow have been debating pricing terms for natural gas since a 2009 deal brokered a contract and debt impasse.