The AP Interview: Sri Lanka PM says he's open to Russian oil
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka may be compelled to buy more oil from Russia as the island nation hunts desperately for fuel amid an unprecedented economic crisis, the newly appointed prime minister said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would first look to other sources, but would be open to buying more crude from Moscow. In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, Wickremesinghe also indicated he would be willing to accept more financial help from China, despite his country’s mounting debt. Wickremesinghe, who is also Sri Lanka’s finance minister, spoke to the AP in his office in the capital, Colombo, one day shy of a month after he took over for a sixth time as prime minister. Sri Lanka has amassed $51 billion in foreign debt, but has suspended repayment of nearly $7 billion due this year. Two weeks ago, the country bought a 90,000-metric-ton (99,000-ton) shipment of Russian crude to restart its only refinery, the energy minister told reporters. Wickremesinghe did not comment directly on those reports, and said he did not know whether more orders were in the pipeline. “If we can get from any other sources, we will get from there. Officials are negotiating with private suppliers, but Wickremesinghe said one issue they face is that “there is a lot of oil going around which can be sourced back informally to Iran or to Russia.
“Sometimes we may not know what oil we are buying,” he said. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, global oil prices have skyrocketed. Like some other South Asian nations, Sri Lanka has remained neutral on the war in Europe. Sri Lanka has received and continues to reach out to numerous countries for help — including the most controversial, China, currently the country’s third-largest creditor. Critics have also pointed to a beleaguered port in the hometown of then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Hambantota, built along with a nearby airport as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects, saying they cost too much and do too little for the economy. “We need to identify what are the projects that we need for economic recovery and take loans for those projects, whether it be from China or from others,” Wickremesinghe said. The prime minister said his government has been talking with China about restructuring its debts. “China has agreed to come in with the other countries to give relief to Sri Lanka, which is a first step,” Wickremesinghe said. Sri Lanka is also seeking financial assistance from the World Food Program, which may send a team to the country soon, and Wickremesinghe is banking on a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.
Wickremesinghe acknowledged that the crisis in Sri Lanka has been of its “own making. “I think by the end of the year, you could see the impact in other countries” as well, he said. In Sri Lanka, the price of vegetables has jumped threefold while the country’s rice cultivation is down by about a third, the prime minister said. The shortages have affected both the poor and the middle classes, triggering months of protests. Wickremesinghe said he felt terrible watching his nation suffer, “both as a citizen and a prime minister. He said he hasn’t ever seen anything like this in Sri Lanka — and didn’t think he ever would. Associated Press writers Bharatha Mallawarachi and Krishan Francis contributed to this report.
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