Sri Lanka sends two ministers to Russia for oil talks – The Diplomat

Sri Lanka is sending two government ministers to Russia to talk about fuel, one of the necessities nearly depleted amid the economic collapse of the Indian Ocean island nation.

This development is due to the fact that Washington and its allies are seeking to stop energy imports from Russia in accordance with sanctions due to the war with Ukraine. After the invasion at the end of February, world oil prices skyrocketed, prompting a number of countries to look for Russian oil, which is offered at a deep discount.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the two ministers are due to travel to Russia on Monday to continue the talks Sri Lanka is having with the Russian authorities on direct fuel purchases, among other related matters.

On Saturday, he urged people not to queue for fuel, saying limited fuel would be distributed to limited stations over the next week. He said that until the next shipments arrive, “public transport, electricity producers and industry will take priority.”

Residents had to queue for hours and sometimes days to get fuel, sometimes resorting to burning charcoal or palm leaves for cooking.

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Wijesekera’s comments came during a visit by a senior US delegation to Sri Lanka in search of ways to help the island nation deal with an unprecedented economic crisis and severe shortages of essentials.

Like several other South Asian countries, Sri Lanka remained neutral regarding the war in Europe.

However, Wijesekera said that the foreign ministry and the Sri Lankan ambassador to Russia had agreed to sell the fuel.

“It would be an advantage for us if we could buy oil directly from the Russian government or from Russian firms. Negotiations are underway,” he told reporters on Sunday.

The shortage has led to protests against the government recently demanding fuel. The government has placed armed troops in addition to the police at every gas station.

Sri Lanka says it is unable to repay a $7 billion foreign debt owed this year, pending the outcome of talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout package. Until 2026, it must pay an average of $5 billion a year. The authorities asked the IMF to hold a conference to unite Sri Lanka’s creditors.

Last month, the country purchased a 90,000 metric ton (99,000 tonne) shipment of Russian oil to restart its only refinery, Viesekera said.

In an interview with The Associated Press in mid-June, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka would be forced to buy oil from Russia and was trying to get oil and coal from traditional suppliers in the Middle East.

“If we can get from any other sources, we will get from there. Otherwise, (we) may have to go to Russia again,” he said.

Wickremesinghe also said last week that the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation is $700 million in debt and as a result no country or organization is willing to provide the fuel.

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On Sunday, the corporation raised the price of gasoline by 22 percent to 550 Sri Lankan rupees per liter (about $5.80 per gallon) and diesel by 15 percent to 470 rupees per liter (about $4.95 per gallon). . Wijeserekara said the increase was to be equivalent to world fuel prices.

For more than two months, protesters have occupied the entrance to the office of President Gotabay Rajapaksa, demanding his resignation, saying that he and his family, whom they accuse of corruption and mismanagement, are primarily responsible for the crisis.

A US delegation led by Robert Caprot, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Asia, and Kelly Keiderling, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, began their visit on Sunday and plans to meet with senior Sri Lankan officials during their stay until environment. .