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US to send oil to Belarus in latest inroad into Russia's orbit

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko gives a speech during a military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, Minsk, May 9, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

The United States says it will dispatch its first oil shipment to Belarus in what seems to be an apparent move to gain further influence in Russia’s neighbor and former close ally months after an oil price dispute between Moscow and Minsk.

"This week, the first shipment of US crude oil will depart for Belarus,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a Friday statement.

“This competitive deal, by US energy trader United Energy Trading, with the assistance of US firm Getka and their Polish partner UNIMOT, strengthens Belarusian sovereignty and independence,” he added.

The 80,000-ton shipment is due to arrive at the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda in June and from there it would be shipped by rail to Belarus.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei confirmed the shipment, describing his country’s oil cooperation with the US as "an element of energy security.”

The development came more than three months after Pompeo paid an official state visit to Belarus – despite decades of hostilities between Washington and Minsk -- in a bid to “normalize” ties with the traditional Russian ally, seeking to capitalize on persisting tensions between Minsk and Moscow over energy subsidies.

Belarus had long relied on discounted oil from Russia, but most shipments stopped in January after disputes over prices. Belarus later received oil shipments from Norway, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia.

Russia and Belarus later reached a compromise agreement and Russian state oil company Rosneft declared on Friday that it expected to ship nearly 9 million tons of oil to Belarus this year — about half the amount Belarus had purchased in previous years.

In a telephone conversation with Makei on March 13, Pompeo said US companies were ready to immediately start oil supplies at competitive prices.

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