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Will Belarus be able to substitute Russian oil by deliveries from Iran and Azerbaijan?

February 17, 21:53 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Analysts are confident Belarus will not be able to find an alternative to duty-free oil deliveries from Russia

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MOSCOW, February 17. /TASS/. Purchase of an oil lot by Belarus from Iran is demonstrative and will not be able to substitute supplies from Russia either in economic or in quality terms, experts questioned by TASS said on Friday.

According to Reuters, Beloil Polska [subsidiary of state-owned Belorusneft] made a contract on purchase of 80,000 tonnes of oil from the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC).

Belarus refineries may start processing Iranian oil soon, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said earlier. He tasked the government to find an alternative to oil deliveries from Russia, limited against the background of non-payments for Russian gas supplies.

Belarus is in talks with Russia regarding the gas price reduction since early 2016. In response to Belarus’ shortfall of about $300 mln for supplied gas Russia reduced duty-free oil deliveries from planned 24 mln tonnes to 18 mln tonnes. The debt of Belarus for Russian gas deliveries reached $550 mln as of January 28, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said earlier.

Analysts are confident Belarus will not be able to find an alternative to duty-free oil deliveries from Russia. "Iran is an interesting partner at first sight - they can boost production within the OPEC deal framework and offer discounts. However, they have little room for dumping. Their sales are nevertheless linked to spot prices," Sberbank CIB analyst Valery Nesterov said.

The discount for the Iranian oil may range from $2 to $4 per barrel, the analyst said. "They cannot offer a greater discount. If they can, they would already sell more oil to Europe but their oil is uncompetitive there," Nesterov said. Nobody is able to outplay the Russian oil for Belarus at present, he added.

The logistics of supplies also renders deliveries of the Middle Eastern oil to Belarus unfeasible, Director of the Energy Development Fund Sergey Pikin said. "In my opinion, the emerging logistical chain - firstly by sea and then by rail - turns out to be more costly than any potential discount," the expert said.

Deliveries from Azerbaijan were another alternative to the Russian oil, the President of Belarus said earlier. According to Reuters, Belarus received 560,000 of oil from Azerbaijan in 2016 but supplies halted in January 2017.

The Azeri oil cannot be all-time feedstock for Belarus refineries, analysts said. "Azerbaijan simply has no surplus oil. Their production is declining and will drop by several percent by 2020. They have a problem with loading the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Furthermore, Azerbaijan has premium oil and will not sell it with a discount," Nesterov said.

At the same time, Belarus is limited in deliveries of duty-free Russian oil only, Raiffeisenbank analyst Andrei Polischuk said. "That is, it can buy as much oil as needed in general terms, without any limitations. Furthermore, the bulk of Russian oil is sold through traders," he added.

Experts are confident as soon as Russia and Belarus reach an agreement on the natural gas issue, there will be no need to look for alternative oil.

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