World News

Russia, Belarus to continue oil talks after fruitless summit

By Olesya Astakhova

SOCHI (Reuters) – Russia and Belarus will continue talks on oil supplies, a senior Kremlin official said, after a meeting between their leaders on Friday failed to resolve a politically charged dispute.

Russian oil flows to Belarus have dwindled to a trickle since Jan. 1 after the two countries failed to agree on supply terms for 2020. Oil exports via Belarus to Europe have so far been stable.

Speaking on the sidelines of talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, Dmitry Kozak said Russia would supply Belarus with natural gas this year under the same terms as it did in 2019.

“The talks have been positive. We agreed to continue consultations… on the fine-tuning of the integration mechanism,” Kozak, who serves as deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration, told reporters.

The oil row comes against the background of a wider dispute over an agreement to integrate their economies and political systems, signed back in 1999 by Lukashenko and then Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Moscow has continued to push the plan, but Minsk has since resisted the idea of closer ties with Russia, fearing a complete takeover by the Kremlin.

Following the stoppage on Jan.1, Russia partially resumed its oil flows to Belarus on Jan. 4, thanks to supplies from Mikhail Gutseriyev’s Safmar Group <SFIN.MM>. There have been no requests from other Russian oil firms to supply oil to Belarus via pipelines this month.

Safmar will remain the sole Russian oil supplier to Belarus this month, traders told Reuters on Wednesday.

Safmar group companies Russneft and Neftisa plan to supply around 450,000 tonnes of oil to Belarus’ refineries in February, the group’s spokeswoman told Reuters, with around 100,000 tonnes of that to be delivered by rail, she added.

This is still not enough to feed the two main refineries in Belarus, which normally process around 1.5 million tonnes of oil monthly. In 2019, Russia supplied 18 million tonnes of oil to Belarus.

Kozak said on Friday the Russian government will facilitate talks between Russian oil companies and their Belarusian counterparts.

(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova; Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Heavens)