Sri Lanka Desperate for Tourists, Russian Oil

President says he has asked Putin help
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2022 10:20 AM CDT
Sri Lanka Desperate for Tourists, Russian Oil
People wait to buy gas at a gas station in Colombo, Sri Lanka.   (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

(Newser) – With Sri Lanka facing a severe economic crisis, the country's leaders have apparently decided they can't afford to shun Russia. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said Wednesday that he had asked Vladimir Putin for help in a "very productive" phone call, reports Reuters. The country has almost exhausted its stocks of fuel, causing widespread business shutdowns, and Rajapaksa said he'd requested credit from Russia to replenish supplies. He said Putin had also agreed that boosting cooperation in sectors including tourism was "paramount in reinforcing the friendship our two nations share."

Rajapaksa "is clearly willing to take the risk of triggering displeasure in Western capitals," writes Anbarasan Ethirajan at the BBC. He notes that Sri Lanka "desperately needs" Putin's help "for both fuel and tourists, which are both vital to rescuing the country's economy." A boost in tourism would provide much-needed foreign currency, although international sanctions involving a payment system could make it difficult for Russian tourists to spend money in Sri Lanka, even if flights from Moscow to Colombo resume.

British authorities have warned against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka because of civil unrest triggered by the economic crisis. And while the economy is already shrinking, inflation is adding to the country's woes: Prices of essential goods have tripled in recent months, and most households have had to cut back on food consumption, the AP reports. The country's central bank announced Thursday that it's hiking interest rates to their highest level in more than 20 years in an effort to bring inflation down to between 6% and 7%. (Read more Sri Lanka stories.)

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