February 11, 2020 / 12:23 PM / 15 days ago

Belarus dips into Druzhba reserve oil despite no pact with Moscow

* Flows to Europe unaffected

* Russia suspended flows to Belarus from Jan. 1

* Russia’s Safmar sole supplier now

By Andrei Makhovsky and Gleb Gorodyankin

MOSCOW/MINSK, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Belarus has started dipping into reserve oil on Russia’s Druzhba pipeline to Europe, a state company said, despite Minsk and Moscow being still without a contract for supplies this year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko last week failed to agree a new oil deal.

Minsk is running out of crude and oil products as its refineries are receiving only a third of the feedstock they need.

The oil Belarus is tapping is so-called technical oil used to maintain pressure and the offtake is not affecting Europe-bound flows of Russian crude, state energy company Belneftekhim said.

“Intake is carried from the lines which are not used in the transit,” company spokesman Alexander Tischenko said.

“This is technological oil and this is our oil ...Transit volumes are unaffected. This is a temporary measure.”

Belarus, an ex-Soviet state, is a major export route for Russian oil and gas to Europe.

Russia also wants to keep Belarus in its orbit, and Minsk for years received discounted resources and loans in exchange.

Moscow is again pushing for closer political and economic integration with Minsk, but Lukashenko opposes deeper ties dubbed ‘Union State’.

With presidential elections this year, he refused to sign a new oil deal with Russia for 2020.

Without one, Russia halted flows to Belarus on Jan. 1.

It partially resumed its oil flows on Jan. 4, thanks to supplies from Mikhail Gutseriyev’s Safmar Group, which has remained Belarus’ sole Russian supplier this month, traders told Reuters on Wednesday.

Last month, Minsk got a cargo from Norway, started talks with Kazakhstan and secured the blessing of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for oil supplies during the most senior U.S. official visit to Belarus in more than two decades.

“We see that Belarus (oil) envoys have rushed to all suppliers (in Europe) on Monday, looking for quick supplies, but I am not aware of any spot deals clinched so far,” a European oil trader said. (Additional reporting by Alla Afanasyeva, Olga Yagova, Ludmila Zaramenskikh and Alexander Ershov; writing by Katya Golubkova; editing by Jason Neely)

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