MINSK -- President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said Belarus would start taking oil from a transit pipeline if Russia does not supply its neighbor with the required volumes of crude, the state news agency BelTA reports.
Russian oil flows to Belarus have dwindled since the beginning of the year, as Minsk and Moscow failed to agree terms for oil supplies for 2020.
Lukashenka, whose country is heavily reliant on Russia for cheap oil and billions in annual subsidies to prop up its Soviet-era economy, said on February 14 that Belarusian refineries received 500,000 tons of Russian crude in January instead of a planned 2 million tons.
"If Russia doesn't supply oil in necessary volumes, we would start taking it from the transit pipeline," the Belarusian leader said, referring to the Druzhba pipeline, which crosses Belarusian territory and supplies about 1 million barrels of Russian oil to Europe.
The dispute over Russian oil supplies is part of wider political discord between Russia and Belarus over forming a union.
Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus for more than 25 years, has faced growing pressure from Moscow recently to agree to deeper integration under a 1999 unification agreement, which envisaged close political, economic, and military ties but stopped short of forming a single nation.
On a visit to southeastern Belarus on February 14, Lukashenka told officials of his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi last week.
The Russian side hinted "at the incorporation of Belarus in return for unified energy prices," Lukashenka said, adding that he is "convinced that neither Russians nor Belarusians will ever want to follow this path."
"They understand integration as swallowing up Belarus. This isn't integration. It's incorporation. I will never go for this," he also said.