Lanka train
A passenger is helped by others to get to the engine compartment of an overcrowded train as other public transports are being disturbed due to major fuel shortage, amid the country's economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 6, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Colombo: Sri Lanka has asked Russia to provide fuel and resume tourist flights to help the country weather its unprecedented economic crisis, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said Wednesday.

The island nation has suffered months of blackouts, rampant inflation and critical shortages of food and petrol after running out of foreign currency to finance imports.

Rajapaksa said he had spoken with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to ask for supplies of urgently needed fuel on loan and to “humbly” request the resumption of flights between Moscow and Colombo.

“We unanimously agreed that strengthening bilateral relations in sectors such as tourism, trade & culture was paramount in reinforcing the friendship our two nations share.”

Aeroflot suspended flights last month after a Sri Lankan court briefly detained an Airbus belonging to the state-owned airline’s fleet over a payment dispute.

The United States and European Union have both imposed embargoes on Russian oil in response to the country’s February invasion of Ukraine.

water canon lanka protest
Police use water canon to disperse farmers taking part in an anti-government protest demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country's ongoing economic crisis in Colombo on July 6, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Sri Lanka had bought around 90,000 tonnes of Siberian crude in May through an intermediary, but ran out of dollars to purchase more.

Russia and Ukraine were among the top sources of tourists for Sri Lanka before February’s conflict began.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic downturn since it gained independence from Britain in 1948.

The government defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April and is in bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

European nations, Australia and the United States have asked their citizens to avoid travelling to Sri Lanka because of the deepening crisis.

The country has almost entirely run out of petrol and diesel, with non-essential government offices and schools ordered shut in an effort to conserve limited supplies of fuel.