The Sri Lankan government is seeking Russian cooperation in multiple sectors, namely, tourism, air traffic, and locomotive construction, besides eyeing crude from Moscow.
Colombo is negotiating a deal to buy discounted crude from Moscow, Sri Lankan Minister of Transport and Highways and Minister of Mass Media Bandula Gunawardana told Sputnik on Sunday.
“Sri Lanka today does not buy Russian oil and gas, but this issue is on the agenda of the Ministry of Power and Energy of our country, and in case of successful completion of discussions on this topic, a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached. Our authorities will discuss this issue with Russia,” the minister said.
Gunawardana added that Sri Lankan Ambassador to Russia Janitha Liyanage was still in talks with President Vladimir Putin's government for a previously requested loan for purchasing fuel from Moscow.
The minister also assured Russia that its ships and personnel will not be arrested due to Western sanctions imposed on Moscow following the launch of its special military operation in Ukraine last February.
“The Sri Lankan government has given [Russia] the assurance on that subject, that there will be no risk of arrests in the future. I don't think it can happen again,” Gunawardana noted.
The minister revealed that Sri Lanka has already lifted the ban on chemical fertilizers and would like to buy them from Russia.
But he elaborated that the South Asian country would make payments in local currency because it doesn't have dollars to pay for Russian fertilizer purchases.
“Our current president, His Excellency Ranil Wickremesinghe, reversed this decision [to ban chemical fertilizers]. And fertilizers' prices are now more affordable to the farmers, and it's possible to consider [buying] fertilizers from Russia. It is way more economical,” he said.
Last month, Colombo received $3bn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as bailout assistance, a year after the island nation defaulted on its foreign default worth $51 billion.
Gunawardane underlined that Sri Lanka could make settlements in national currencies, since there was a serious currency crisis in the country and a shortage of US dollars.
He also noted that in the period from 2022 to 2023, the country's authorities approved the purchase of 225,000 tons of fertilizers.
The minister asserted that Sri Lanka was planning to broaden air traffic cooperation with Moscow as Colombo wanted to welcome more and more tourists from Russia.
“Sri Lanka plans to expand transport link with Russia … on flights, yes, we would be happy to expand … we will try to expand the flight service between Russia and Sri Lanka,” the minister said.
Gunawardane's comments about expanding air traffic with Russia come almost six months after the two countries resumed flights in October 2022.
This came after Sri Lanka denied authorization to Moscow-bound flight scheduled to depart from Colombo on June 2, 2022.
According to Gunawardana, the Sri Lankan government was also thinking about buying locomotives, railroad cars, and spare parts from Russia.
The Sri Lankan authorities were contemplating sending personnel to be trained in Russia in the areas of locomotive building.
“Yes, [we are going to buy] locomotives, wagons, spare parts, equipment,” Gunawardana said in an exclusive interview with Sputnik.
Gunawardana mentioned that railroads in Sri Lanka were among the oldest in Asia and their length was about 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). The country plans to develop cooperation with Russia in this area, he added.
In addition, the minister concluded that Sri Lanka would like to discuss the training of its specialists from Sri Lanka in Russia, with a focus on the repair of locomotives and the production of spare parts.
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