By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for talks expected to focus on Belarus’s recent overtures to the United States and Russia’s increasing economic pressure on Minsk.
A day ahead of their February 7 meeting outside the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Lukashenka complained at a cabinet meeting about Russian supplies of crude oil, an import that for years has played a major role in the Belarusian economy.
Putin’s deputy chief of staff Dmitry Kozak said late in the day that oil could be supplied to Belarus only at market prices. But he said 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.
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 a merger with Russia, something called the Union State.
The two leaders in December were supposed to sign a road map 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.
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.
Belarusian officials said the country has lost $300 million since last year, when Russia began cutting oil subsidies and raising prices.