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Belarus leader bemoans Russia's halt on oil supplies

MINSK – The leader of Belarus complained Thursday about Russia's halt on oil supplies ahead of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss closer economic ties between the two countries.

Russia last month only supplied 25% of the oil it promised Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko said at a Cabinet meeting.

“We were given firm assurances," Lukashenko said. “This year, Russia promised on the government level to ship 24 million tons of oil to Belarus - 2 million tons a month. In January, 500,000 tons were supplied.”

Russia suspended oil supplies to Belarus after Dec. 31 amid negotiations on economic ties that stalled as the two counties failed to reach an agreement.

The Kremlin argued that Belarus, which relies on Russia for more than 80% of its energy needs, should accept greater economic integration if it wants to continue receiving Russian resources at Russia's domestic prices.

Belarus lost $300 million in 2019 after Russia cut energy subsidies and raised prices, Prime Minister Sergey Rumas said Thursday.

Lukashenko tasked the Cabinet with creating “mechanisms to compensate for the losses."

“The demands are well-known: not a single resident of Belarus, not a single company, should feel the consequences of various maneuvers by our partners,” the president said.

Putin and Lukashenko are meeting on Friday.

Many in Belarus see the Kremlin pressure over economic cooperation as Moscow's plot to push its post-Soviet neighbor into forming a single state with Russia. Lukashenko has repeatedly rejected the idea and vowed to find alternative oil suppliers to preserve his nation's independence.

Earlier this year, he announced buying a shipment of oil from Norway. Last week, the longtime leader boasted about Belarus' relationship with the West after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Minsk and promised the U.S. would supply the oil Belarus needs.

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Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.

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