Sri Lanka sends 2 ministers to Russia for oil crisis
COLOMBO – Sri Lanka is sending two ministers to Russia to negotiate fuel – one of the necessities the Indian Ocean island nation is nearly running out of amid its current economic crisis.
Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said two ministers were due to leave for Russia on Monday to continue in person the talks Sri Lanka has had with Russian authorities to purchase fuel directly, between other related matters.
He urged people on Saturday not to queue for fuel, saying new shipments would be delayed for “banking and logistical reasons”.
He said limited supplies of fuel will be distributed to limited stations throughout next week. He said that until the next expeditions arrive, “public transport, generators and industries will be given priority.”
Residents had to queue for hours and sometimes days for fuel, sometimes resorting to burning charcoal or palm fronds for cooking.
Wijesekera’s comments come as a high-level US delegation visits Sri Lanka, seeking ways to help the island nation deal with an unprecedented economic crisis and severe shortages of critical supplies.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, global oil prices have skyrocketed. As Washington and its allies try to cut financial flows supporting Moscow’s war effort, Russia is offering its crude at a huge discount, making it extremely attractive to a number of countries.
Like some other South Asian countries, Sri Lanka has remained neutral on the war in Europe.
However, Wijesekera said the Foreign Ministry and the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Russia had arranged for a fuel sale.
“There is an advantage for us if we cold buy oil directly from the Russian government or Russian companies. Talks are ongoing,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Shortages have led to protests against the government, recently demanding fuel.
Sri Lanka says it is unable to repay $7 billion in foreign debt due this year, pending the outcome of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout package. It has to pay an average of $5 billion a year until 2026. The authorities have asked the IMF to lead a conference to unite Sri Lanka’s lenders.
Last month, the country bought a shipment of 90,000 metric tons (99,000 tons) of Russian crude to restart its sole refinery, Wijesekera 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, adding that his country desperately needed fuel and was trying to obtain oil and coal from the country’s traditional suppliers in the Middle East.
“If we can get other sources, we’ll get from there. Otherwise (we) may have to go back to Russia,” he said.
Wickremesinghe also said last week that the state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation was $700 million in debt and as a result no country or organization was willing to provide fuel.
Protesters have occupied the entrance to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office for more than two months demanding his resignation, saying the primary responsibility for the crisis lies with him and his family, whom they accuse of corruption and mismanagement.
The U.S. delegation led by Robert Kaproth, assistant assistant secretary of the Treasury for Asia, and Kelly Keiderling, assistant assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, began its visit on Sunday and is expected to meet with senior officials Sri Lankans during their stay until Wednesday. .
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