Belarusian state-run oil company Belneftekhim started importing oil from Norway after its main oil provider, Russia, suspended its supplies. The company announced its subsidiary bought 80,000 tones of crude oil from Norway.
The move comes amid stalled talks on further strengthening economic ties between two countries. The country’s president Aleksander Lukashenko has accused Russia of blocking oil imports from Kazakhstan to Belarus: “Because of the Russian Federation’s introduction of the tax tariff maneuver, state budget gains are constantly dropping and the efficiency of our refineries’ operations are worsening. There are no full alternatives to Russian oil and we have to diversify the sector”, he said.
“Russia claims that the preferential oil and gas prices it gives Belarus relative to third countries are a big enough reward for integration. Yet Minsk remains concerned about cost disparities between Belarussian and Russian entities. As most Belarussian companies operate in the Russian market, these price differences put them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis their Russian competitors”, said Yauheni Preiherman, the director of the Minsk Dialogue Council on International Relations.
Belarus relies on Russia’s loans and cheap energy. However, Russia has recently raised energy prices and reduced loans in a pressure for deeper economic and military integration between the two neighbors. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin held two rounds of talks with Lukashenko in December but they failed to agree on the closer ties, as well as on oil and gas prices.
Russia’s pressure sparked protests, as Belarusians are concerned that the integration could result in a merger of the two countries, such as Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The stalled negotiations also forced Belarus to secure a $500 million loan from China Development Bank. Belarus’ finance ministry said the loan will be used to repay foreign debt.