Russia resumes limited oil supplies to Belarus amid talks

MINSK, BELARUS (AP) — Belarus has reached an agreement with Russia for limited oil supplies after Moscow stopped supplying crude amid stalled talks on strengthening economic ties between the neighbouring countries.

Belarusian state-run oil company Belneftekhim said last Saturday that the country’s refineries started receiving the first batch of crude oil, sufficient to ensure “non-stop operation of the country’s refineries in January 2020”. Russian pipeline operator Transneft confirmed last Saturday it would transfer 133,000 tonnes of oil to Belarus.

According to a statement from Belneftekhim, the oil would come at a discounted price while negotiations for resuming regular imports continue.

Russia stopped supplying oil to its post-Soviet neighbour after December 31, as the two countries failed to renegotiate oil prices for this year amid stalled talks on further strengthening economic ties.

The suspension did not affect oil transit to Europe or the supply of natural gas but had consequences for Belarus which relies on Russia for over 80 per cent of its overall energy needs.

The country’s two refineries were operating at low capacity, running on reserves. Last Friday, Minsk announced it was suspending its own oil exports, which contribute up to 20 per cent of annual GDP.

The Kremlin has recently increased pressure on Belarus, raising energy prices and cutting subsidies. It argues that Belarus should accept greater economic integration if it wants to continue receiving energy resources at Russia’s domestic prices.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held two rounds of talks in December but failed to reach an agreement on the closer ties and on oil and gas prices.

Putin said Russia was not ready to “subsidise” energy supplies without more economic integration with ally Belarus. Lukashenko insisted he would not sign off on the integration until the issues with oil and gas supplies were resolved.

An oil-refining plant in Belarus’ town of Mozyr, some 300km south-east of Minsk. PHOTO: AP