COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) – Sri Lanka may be compelled to buy more oil from Russia as the island nation hunts desperately for fuel amid an unprecedented economic crisis, the newly appointed prime minister said.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would first look to other sources, but would be open to buying more crude from Moscow. Western nations largely have cut off energy imports from Russia in line with sanctions over its war on Ukraine.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press (AP) on Saturday, Wickremesinghe also indicated he would be willing to accept more financial help from China, despite his country’s mounting debt.
And while he acknowledged that Sri Lanka’s current predicament is of “its own making”, he said the war in Ukraine is making it even worse – and that dire food shortages could continue until 2024. He said Russia had also offered wheat to Sri Lanka.
Wickremesinghe, who is also Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister, spoke to the AP in his office in the capital, Colombo, one day shy of a month after he took over for a sixth time as prime minister.
Appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resolve an economic crisis that has nearly emptied the country’s foreign exchange reserves, Wickremesinghe was sworn in after days of violent protests last month forced his predecessor, Rajapaksa’s brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, to step down and seek safety from angry crowds at a naval base.
Sri Lanka has amassed USD51 billion in foreign debt, but has suspended repayment of nearly USD7 billion due this year. The crushing debt has left the country with no money for basic imports, which means citizens are struggling to access basic necessities such as food, fuel, medicine – even toilet paper and matches.
The shortages have spawned rolling power outages, and people have been forced to wait days for cooking gas and gasoline in lines that stretch for kilometres.
Two weeks ago, the country bought a 90,000-metric-tonne shipment of Russian crude to restart its only refinery, the energy minister told reporters.
Wickremesinghe did not comment directly on those reports, and said he did not know whether more orders were in the pipeline.
But he said Sri Lanka desperately needs fuel, and is currently trying to get oil and coal from the country’s traditional suppliers in the Middle East.
“If we can get from any other sources, we will get from there. Otherwise (we) may have to go to Russia again,” he said.
Officials are negotiating with private suppliers, but Wickremesinghe said one issue they face is that “there is a lot of oil going around which can be sourced back informally to Iran or to Russia”.