Lukashenko asks to meet Putin with Russian oil supplies to Belarus set to dry up

MINSK/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday proposed a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to resolve a row over oil supplies, Belarus’ state news agency Belta said, with Moscow’s exports to Minsk set to dry up next month.

FILE PHOTO: Joint stock company Mozyr Oil Refinery is pictured near the town of Mozyr, Belarus January 4, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo

The dispute between the two countries over oil supply terms led the traditional suppliers to Belarus -- Rosneft, Lukoil, Gazpromneft and Surgutneftegaz -- to halt oil exports to the state on Jan. 1.

While the two leaders have spoken by telephone, they last met in person in St. Petersburg on Dec. 20.

Belarusian state oil firm Belneftekhim said it hadn’t signed any new supply contracts and, as of Friday, it expected Safmar companies Russneft and Neftisa, controlled by the family of tycoon Mikhail Gutseriyev, to remain its sole source of Russian crude next month.

Sources previously told Reuters that the Russian Energy Ministry, which oversees oil export quotas, had granted the two companies permission to export 750,000 tonnes in the January-March period.

Traders said that of that amount, a maximum of 250,000 tonnes would remain by the end of January, around one-sixth of Belarus’s normal monthly refinery throughput and far short of the amount needed to keep state refineries running.

Safmar Group declined to comment on its supply plans. Pipeline operator Transneft TRNF_p.MM didn't respond to a request for comment.

Spats between Moscow and Minsk have in the past led to the disruption of supplies to Europe, which gets 10% of its oil from Russia via Belarus’ Druzhba pipeline transit link. Transit along the pipeline has continued uninterrupted so far this year.

Lukashenko said earlier this week that Belarus was seeking to cut Russian oil supplies to 30-40% of its domestic market needs. It received 18 million tonnes of Russian oil in 2019, according to Transneft data.

So far the country has only purchased 80,000 tonnes of Johan Sverdrup crude from Norway to replace Russian oil, but on Friday Lukashenko said Belarus was in discussions with the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, having previously said talks were underway with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

In the wake of the spat, Rosneft, Lukoil and Surgutneftegaz increased supplies to Primorsk and Ust-Luga sea ports and have asked for additional loading positions in February, five sources in Russian oil companies said on Friday.

As a result, combined Urals loadings from the two ports are set to rise by 14% over February 1-15 compared to the same period of January, according to a schedule for the first half of next month released on Friday.

Bad weather hampering exports from Novorossiisk on the Black Sea is also expected to boost exports from the Baltic ports.

Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk, Olga Yagova, Ludmila Zaramenskih and Gleb Gorodyankin in Moscow; Editing by David Evans, Kirsten Donovan