Belarus says it has received its first batch of Norwegian oil at its Naftan refinery in Novopolotsk.
Russia stopped oil and gas supplies to Belarus on New Year’s Eve although they were partially restored on January 4.
It is possible that Washington is looking to take advantage of the growing rift between Moscow and Minsk.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit Belarus on February 1 before he flies to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for a meeting with the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Belarus previously imported 80 per cent of its energy resources from Russia.
Minsk has arranged for the import of 86,000 tonnes of crude from Norway’s Johan Sverdrup field in the North Sea through Lithuania.
The state oil supplier Belneftekhim said Naftan, one of the two major Belarusian refineries, received 3,500 tonnes of oil in the first batch.
The rest of the Norwegian oil is due to be supplied within the next two weeks.
Russia says Belarus should accept greater economic integration if it wants to continue receiving energy at domestic Russian prices.
“The distance between the Norwegian coast, where the tanker is loaded, and our enterprise is 2,300km. The delivery took less than seven days. The first train from the Klaipeda port reached the Novopolotsk station within a day. Technological operations on oil discharge and its preparation for processing are underway. After that, we will start processing it. The rest of the batch will be delivered by one or two trains per day,” Naftan director general Aleksandr Demidov said, according to the Belarusian media.
He said the oil was higher quality than supplies from the Russian Urals, with half the sulphur. Demidov added that the yield of light-oil products would be slightly higher.
Some observers say Russia is looking to form a single state with Belarus to allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay in power after his presidential term ends in 2024.
Last week, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko said Russia stopped oil and gas deliveries to Belarus, “to dissolve Belarus … in brotherly Russia”.
The president, who has ruled with an iron fist since 1991, said: “We have our own country, we’re sovereign and independent. With our brains and hands, we earn what we can, we’re building our own country. And we can’t be a part of some other country.”
He said Minsk was looking to sign supply deals with the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The carbon footprint of shipping Norwegian oil to Belarus is considerable. Picture credit: YouTube