MINSK, April 4 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus is seeking to diversify its oil supplies to ensure energy security, but will not use it as leverage against Russia, the country's president said Wednesday.
Earlier this year, the neighbors were embroiled in an energy dispute after Russia doubled the natural gas price to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters and Minsk responded by introducing a transit levy of $45 per metric ton for Russian crude pumped to Europe via Belarus.
Russia then briefly halted supplies to Europe, accusing Belarus of tapping its oil transits.
"We must be ready to take oil and bring it to Belarus even if we have to pay more in emergency situations," Alexander Lukashenko said. "We will never bow [to pressure], and the Russians are not stupid to force us to import somebody else's oil."
"Russia is running even bigger risks of being barred from the oil derivatives market in the middle of Europe and losing the opportunity to refine oil at our facilities," said the Belarusian president, whom Washington dubbed "Europe's last dictator" over a lack of democracy and human rights abuses in the former Soviet republic.
Lukashenko said that in order to ensure future energy security, Belarus is now actively exploring possibilities for energy cooperation with other oil-exporting nations, such as Azerbaijan, Iran and Venezuela.
"This process is underway, and the Russians have realized that we are able to substitute their [oil] supplies, although we are still eager to work with Russia and will not use the diversification of oil supplies as leverage," the president said.
He said the announcement of the plans to jointly develop oil fields in Venezuela was far from being a pure PR move, because despite possible difficulties in transportation Belarus could sell extracted oil on Latin American markets and use the revenues to buy oil from nearby oil-exporters, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Iran.
"We can exchange [extracted] oil there [in Latin America] for money, bring cash to Belarus and buy oil cheaper somewhere else," Lukashenko said.
He also said the Belarusian government has been involved in talks with the United Arab Emirates on the construction of a large oil refinery in Belarus.