President Rajapaksa Initiates Moves to Seek Procure Fuel and Fertilizer at Cheap Rates from Russia Despite Misgivings by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe that Moving Towards Russia Could Impact the Negotiations with IMF

(Excerpted from the “Sunday Morning” Political Column “The Black Box” by “Capt.Vasaba)

The Government continues to face pressure from certain sections in the Opposition as well as from within the Government to initiate a dialogue with Russia to gain access to fuel and fertiliser at cheaper rates.

The group of 10 (G-10) ruling alliance partners led by MPs Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila, and Vasudeva Nanayakkara are in the forefront of the campaign to seek Russian assistance. Several members within the Government have also started questioning why Sri Lanka has not officially approached Russia for assistance. The pro-Russia members have noted that even neighbouring India had managed to reach an agreement with Russia for cheaper fuel and Sri Lanka should also follow suit.

However, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is of the belief that moving towards Russia could have an impact on reaching an agreement with the IMF, which the Government believes would help Sri Lanka secure the much-needed bridge financing.

It is in such a backdrop that President Rajapaksa decided to meet with Russian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yuri Materiy to discuss Sri Lanka’s ongoing crisis and the possibility of seeking assistance from Russia. The President had requested the Russian envoy to explore the possibility for Sri Lanka to procure fuel and fertiliser at cheaper rates. The envoy had agreed to look at how Russia could assist Sri Lanka while also noting that the President should also initiate a discussion with the Russian President.

Power and Energy Minister Wijesekera told the media last week that two Government ministers would be travelling to Russia on Monday (27 June) to discuss fuel procurements. Nevertheless, it later transpired that there was no such ministerial delegation due to leave for Russia on the day Wijesekera mentioned.
Initially, there were doubts on whether the Government had officially decided to send two representatives to Russia to discuss fuel supplies. The Russians, however, had by then indicated to the Government that President Rajapaksa should first speak to the Russian President and send a high-level delegation to Moscow for discussions afterwards.

However, there were several reports quoting Government sources that President Rajapaksa had communicated with the Russian President. Upon inquiry, it was later revealed that such a telephone conversation had not taken place between the two leaders. The Russian Embassy in Colombo also seemed unaware of such a communication.

Meanwhile, instead of a high-level delegation, which was the impression given early last week, it was later learnt that Education Minister Susil Premajayantha and Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to Russia Dr. Saman Weerasinghe were the persons tipped to travel to Moscow for discussions.

It was also learnt that Premajayantha had invited Weerasinghe to accompany him on his visit to Russia since he (Weerasinghe) had close ties with Russian officials.

The President’s Office at this point had sent a letter to the Russian Embassy in Colombo informing that Premajayantha, who is also the President of the Sri Lanka-Russia Friendship Association, and Weerasinghe, who has a good rapport with the Russian authorities, would visit Moscow to initiate a discussion on seeking assistance for Sri Lanka.

After receiving the letter from the President’s Office, the Russian Embassy had commenced the initial paperwork required for the Sri Lankan delegation’s visit to Moscow. Last week the embassy had sent the required TPN documents to the Russian Foreign Ministry to coordinate and fix the meetings with the relevant Russian officials. The visit to Russia is expected to take place after Premajayantha, who was in Paris attending a UNESCO summit, returned to the country on Friday (1).

However, another section of the Government feels that Russian assistance will not be forthcoming to meet the ongoing crisis. The argument is that Russia will stop its fuel, wheat, LPG, and fertiliser imports to create a shortage in the world market, pushing price increases, and then to negotiate on lifting certain sanctions imposed on Russia to release its stocks to the market.

On the Russian side, Moscow is closely monitoring the ongoing case related to the Aeroflot controversy. The Attorney General last week filed a motion on behalf of Airport and Aviation Services Ltd. before the Colombo Commercial High Court requesting the dismissal of the case filed against Russia’s Aeroflot.

The Russian airline had also sought the earliest possible date for the matter to be taken up for inquiry since Aeroflot has suspended flights to Sri Lanka due to the case.

Judge Harsha Sethunge has fixed the case for Tuesday July (5).

Courtesy: Sunday Morning