Russia ponders gasoline import ban to protect home market - sources

MOSCOW, April 7 (Reuters) - Russia is considering a temporary ban on gasoline imports to protect its market from a possible flood of cheap fuel, two government sources said on Tuesday, as measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak have destroyed demand and hammered prices.

The measure is mainly aimed at preventing imports from neighbouring Belarus, where production of refined products is three times higher that its consumption. Russia imports gasoline from some other countries but in smaller volumes.

The first source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity, the aim of a ban would be to get Russian fuel production “working normally”. The restrictive measures could last until October, he added.

Moscow’s consideration of new restrictions follows a tentative agreement with neighbouring Belarus on resumption of Russian oil supplies, which had significantly declined from Jan. 1 because of a row over pricing.

Russian media outlet RBC said on Monday the government decided to suspend imports of “cheap fuel,” citing government officials.

Fuel demand has fallen in Russia as the country has introduced a partial lockdown in some large cities, primarily in Moscow, which is home to around 8% of country’s population.

At the same time, retail fuel prices in Russia have been stable, while prices in Europe have fallen as lockdowns to try to stop the spread of the new coronavirus have prevented movement and fuel use.

The Russian energy ministry, contacted by Reuters, declined to comment. (Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Olesya Astakhova; additional reporting by Natalia Chumakova; editing by Barbara Lewis)