WASHINGTON: The United States has reiterated that Pakistan can purchase oil from Russia at a discounted price even though it has not signed a Washington-backed price-cap on Russian petroleum products.

US State Department’s spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon news briefing that Pakistan can also take advantage of the concessions Washington has given to other countries for buying oil from Russia.

“So, we have encouraged countries to take advantage of that, even those countries that have not formally signed on to the price cap, so that they can acquire oil in some cases at a steep discount from what they would otherwise acquire from, in this case, Russia,” Mr Price said.

On December 3, 2022, G7 and EU countries set a price-cap of $60 per barrel on Russian oil to prevent Moscow from using the revenues to finance its war against Ukraine.

Since, Europe and the United States no longer import crude oil from Russia, the controlled purchase would only affect third countries, like Pakistan. Islamabad has not yet signed the accord, mainly because Pakistan does not import oil from Russia.

Mr Price said the US approach to the purchase of oil from Russia has been laid out in the price-cap mechanism that it worked out with other countries around the world, including the G7.

“And the virtue of the price cap is that it allows energy markets to continue to be resourced while depriving Moscow of the revenue it would need to continue to propagate and fuel its brutal war against Ukraine,” the US official said.

“We have made the point that we have very intentionally not sanctioned Russian oil. Instead, it’s now subject to the price cap.” The US, he said, has been very clear that now was not the time to increase economic activity with Russia.

“But we understand the imperative of keeping global energy markets well resourced, well supplied, and the price-cap, we believe, provides a mechanism to do that,” he added.

On Friday, Minister for Economic Affairs Ayaz Sadiq, and Russia’s Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov said at a joint news conference in Islamabad that they hope to sign an oil deal by late March, enabling Pakistan to buy Russian oil at discounted rates.

A joint statement issued after their talks said that the two sides reached an in-principle agreement on the supply of Russian crude oil and oil products to Pakistan, with technical details to be finalised in March at the latest.

“We have decided that it would be a good idea for Pakistan to approach Gazprom and Novatek, two largest LNG-producing companies, in late 2023 to discuss the conditions” for buying LNG, the Russian minister said.

Energy-starved Pakistan imports approximately 430,000mt of motor gasoline, 200,000mt diesel and 650,000mt crude oil at a cost of $1.3 billion per month.

Market observers earlier this month warned Pakistan may face fuel shortages in the near future as importers struggle to secure dollars to close deals. The country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to their lowest levels in almost nine years.

Buying oil from Russia at a discounted price could ease the pressure.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2023

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