Presidents of Russia, Belarus discuss oil price dispute

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, walk during their meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Russian President Vladimir Putin is hosting the leader of Belarus for another round of talks on closer integration amid mounting Russian economic pressure on its ex-Soviet ally. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

MOSCOW – The presidents of Russia and Belarus discussed their continuing oil price dispute Friday that disrupted steady supplies of oil from Russia to its neighboring ex-Soviet state.

Russia halted oil supplies to Belarus earlier this year amid disagreement over the price Belarus would pay in 2020 this year and tension over closer economic ties Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Putin offered during a phone call Friday to pay Belarus compensation for energy-related losses that could amount to $300 million this year and suggested maintaining “last year's financial conditions on oil” supplies.

Lukashenko called the offer “some progress” and tasked his government with making the necessary calculations to reach an agreement with Moscow.

The Kremlin neither confirmed nor denied Lukashenko's account. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the presidents discussed “different questions pertaining to the supply of Russian oil and its cost” and “the work will continue.”

Tensions between Belarus and Russia have been heightened for several months by stalled negotiations over deeper integration of their economies. Lukashenko has accused the Kremlin of suspending oil supplies as leverage to push for an eventual merger of the two countries.

Some observers see merging with Belarus as a piece of a strategy for Putin to stay in power past the legally mandated end of his presidential term in 2024 by becoming the head of a new state.

Belarus relies on Russia for more than 80% of its energy needs. Since the Kremlin stopped sending oil, Lukashenko has vowed to find alternative suppliers. He boasted about warming ties with the West in an apparent bid to win concessions from Russia.

So far, Belarus has secured a shipment of oil from Norway and is negotiating supplies from Kazakhstan.