Belarus eyes Latvia as new route for Venezuelan oil

RIGA, Aug 26, 2010

Landlocked Belarus is eying Latvia as its latest possible route to import oil from Venezuela, Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said Monday, as Minsk seeks to reduce its reliance on neighbouring Russia.

After meeting with his Latvian opposite number Aivis Ronis during a visit to Riga, Martynov said his country was "seriously interested" in creating a new "strategic transit" route through the Baltic states.

"Whether it will turn out, only time will tell," he cautioned.

Latvia's southern neighbour Lithuania is later this week due to receive a trial tanker shipment of almost 550,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude oil bound for Belarus.

The goal, Lithuanian authorities said last week, is to agree a long-term contract to ship more than 13.7 million barrels a year.

Ex-Soviet Belarus has also used Estonia, the northernmost of the Baltic trio, for a trial shipment.

Belarus's hardline President Alexander Lukashenko has boosted ties with Venezuela in a drive to secure alternative oil supplies amid regular sparring with neighbour and energy giant Russia.

Like Belarus, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania won independence as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.

The Baltic trio, which joined the European Union in 2004, have pitched trade links as a way to help spur reforms in Belarus and bring the country closer to the 27-nation bloc.


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