Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has arrived in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, state news agency BelTA reported, for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin that are expected to focus on disagreements over tariffs for Russian oil.
The talks, set for February 7, come at a crucial time in relations between the two neighbors. Lukashenka has accused Moscow of pressuring his country to merge with Russia, something the Belarusian leader has vowed to not let happen while Washington is seeking closer ties with Minsk.
Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Lukashenka complained that Russia last month supplied only a quarter of the oil it promised Belarus.
“We were given firm assurances," Lukashenka said at a cabinet meeting on February 6. “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.”
Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Rumas said the country had lost $300 million in 2019 after Russia cut energy subsidies and raised prices.
Lukashenka instructed the cabinet to create “mechanisms to compensate for the losses."
Russia's dominance over Belarus, which is heavily reliant on Moscow for cheap oil and billions in annual subsidies to prop up its Soviet-era economy, has exacerbated tensions between the two and sparked protests on the streets of Minsk.
The two countries signed an agreement in 1999 to form a unified state, but little progress has since been made.
Meetings between Lukashenka and Putin last year failed to bring the two sides together as the Belarusian president noted he was merely seeking "equal" terms.
Belarus was hit by rare public demonstrations in December, with protesters expressing anger over the perceived secrecy of the talks and objecting to closer ties to Russia.
The Kremlin, in defending higher energy prices and lower subsidies for Belarus, argues that Minsk should accept greater economic integration if it wants to continue receiving energy resources at Russian domestic prices.
During a visit to Minsk on February 1, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said U.S. "energy producers stand ready to deliver 100 percent of the oil you need at competitive prices."
Belarus was a Soviet republic until the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.