Lukashenko expects Russia to build a port for Belarus potash exports

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MOSCOW, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko expects Russia to build a new Baltic Sea port for exports of Belarusian potash which were hit by Western sanctions, he said on Friday after he met Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two leaders met as Russia held military exercises in Belarus as part of a buildup of troops near Ukraine that has prompted Western warnings of an imminent Russian invasion. Moscow denies any such plan and says such warnings are dangerous.

Belarus' state-owned Belaruskali is the world's second largest producer of the crop nutrient potash. Washington imposed sanctions on it in 2021 after Lukashenko crushed protests following elections in 2020 and then black-listed its export arm Belarus Potash Company (BPC).

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"The president of Russia gave an order, I asked for the Russians to help us .... so that we .... could build our own port near St Petersburg and tranship millions of tonnes of cargo there. The orders were given in my presence to start this construction immediately," Lukashenko said.

Lukashenko indicated that the construction would take at least a year: "We will be loading - within a year or a year and a half, I do not know ... we will be loading these millions of tonnes of cargo there."

Landlocked Belarus previously relied on shipments of 12.5 million tonnes of potash a year from the Baltic Sea port of Klaipeda in Lithuania. Vilnius decided to halt the use of its railway for Belarus exports of the crop nutrient from Feb. 1.

Minsk said earlier this month that it diverted the exports to Russian ports, and Kremlin has said that the "issue is on the agenda". read more

However, Russia's Baltic Sea ports, according to industry sources, do not have enough free capacity to handle BPC's 12.5 million tonnes a year, and it is impossible to accommodate the shipments immediately.

Belarusian representatives "are negotiating with different (port) terminals, but so far we do not see their supplies there. It will probably take some time, because logistics is a complicated process, it takes months, if not years," an industry source told Reuters.

A senior EU official said on Friday that the bloc is considering fresh sanctions on Belarus if it takes part in any invasion of Ukraine. Diplomats said new measures could be aimed at closing loopholes that Baltic diplomats said are being exploited by Minsk to circumvent existing sanctions. read more

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Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Polina Devitt, writing by Polina Devitt, editing by Philippa Fletcher

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