By Olga Yagova and Gleb Gorodyankin
MOSCOW (Reuters) – A fresh spat over oil could be brewing between Russia and Belarus as Russian suppliers divert large volumes of crude to domestic ports in lieu of a deal on 2020 deliveries between the two countries, according to six industry sources.
Moscow and Minsk have had several oil and gas spats over the past decade amid what is often described as love-hate relationship between president Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko.
As of Dec. 31, Moscow and Minsk are yet to agree on oil supply terms for next year, Reuters sources said.
Russia and Belarus disagree on various issues regarding oil supply in 2020, but primarily over price.
Russian oil companies avoided preparing documents for supplies to Belarus starting from Jan. 1 and have already diverted volumes to other destinations, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Russian pipeline operator Transneft (MM:) and Russia’s Energy Ministry did not reply to Reuters requests for comment.
Belarus refiner Belneftekhim declined to comment.
Russian oil companies have to divert some 2 million tonnes of initially planned for Belarus to Russia’s sea ports and domestic market in January.
Several cargoes were added to January loading plans from Russian ports on Monday, increasing Urals loading plan from Baltic ports to 6.3 million tonnes.
Transneft also may store some 500,000 tonnes of crude in its system, Reuters sources said.
A couple of oil firms diverted supply from Belarus to their Russian refineries, sources added.
If supplies to Belarus remain suspended through January, Russian firms may add more cargoes to the loading plan after the New Year holidays. Moscow is back to work on Jan. 9.
NEW YEAR FIGHTS
Russia and Belarus have a long history of pre-New Year oil spats that have caused disruption to supplies to Belarus and Europe.
Minsk has repeatedly promised closer ties with Moscow and large assets sales to Russian companies before changing its mind and blaming Moscow for colonial policies.
Belarus is an important transit route for Russian oil and gas to Western Europe. Disruption of supply to Belarus has therefore often resulted in reduced or halted deliveries to countries such as Germany and Poland.
Moscow has also accused Minsk of siphoning off transit oil and gas in the past, accusations Belarus has denied.
For January 2020 Transneft has received confirmation from Belarus pipeline operator Gomel Transneft Druzhba that transit volumes will be supplied according to plan, two sources familiar with the talks told Reuters.
On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin had a phone call with Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, during which they discussed integration and oil and gas supplies, but didn’t reach any agreements.
The leaders agreed to meet in the middle of January 2020 if necessary.
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