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Putin, Lukashenka Make Little Reported Progress At Sochi Talks On Energy, Integration

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The two leaders took an evening break to play a game of ice hockey on February 7.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, made little reported progress during talks on the thorny issues of energy prices and closer integration.

The two met at Putin’s residence in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi on February 7 amid increasing economic pressure by Moscow on Minsk.

The Kremlin has argued that Belarus, which relies on cheap Russian energy, should accept greater economic integration if it wants to continue receiving Russian oil and gas at subsidized prices.

Putin and Lukashenka made no official statements to the press following hours of direct talks and discussions including aides.

Late on February 7, Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Dmitry Kozak, said that oil, which Russia cut off at the start of the year, could be delivered to Belarus only at market prices.

He did, however, add that a deal had been reached to supply natural gas for this year at the same price as in 2019 -- $127 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Belarusian officials said the country has lost $300 million since last year, when Russia began cutting oil subsidies and raising prices.

Lukashenka and Putin also agreed that talks on integration would continue, according to Kozak.

The two leaders took an evening break to play a game of ice hockey, according to the Kremlin.

Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus for more than 25 years, has faced growing pressure from Moscow in recent years to agree to deeper integration under a union agreement signed in 1997 that envisaged close political, economic, and military ties, but stopped short of forming a single nation.

The two leaders in December were supposed to sign a series of road maps laying out concrete steps toward the Union State, but Lukashenka balked.

Since then, Russia has sent strong signals to Minsk, mainly in the form of reduced oil supplies and higher prices. Revenues from refined Belarusian oil products sold to European markets have long been a major economic driver for the country.

In his annual press conference in December, Putin said he saw no point in providing Belarus with a gas discount until the integration project had advanced.

“Decisions which were made at the time related to a buildup of the union state. At best, the key decisions were not implemented. Simply speaking, 90 percent has not been done,” he said.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the highest-level U.S. official to visit Minsk in more than two decades. During the talks, which were characterized by U.S. officials as cordial, Pompeo suggested that the United States could supply Belarus with plenty of oil.

The United States and Belarus began to reconsider their frosty relationship after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, raising concerns about Belarus’s own territorial integrity.

With reporting by AP
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