MOSCOW - As oil prices tumble amid fears of a worldwide recession, OPEC has been testing the prospects of Russia joining in production cuts to help support global prices, something the authorities in Moscow have not been willing to do in former downturns.
So far, Russia has again been noncommittal in high-level meetings, including an unusual visit to Moscow on Wednesday by OPEC's secretary general, Abdalla Salem el-Badri. Russia is the largest oil producer that is not in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
President Dmitri A. Medvedev told Mr. Badri that Russia was interested in closer ties with the cartel, but he stopped short of promising any reduction in Russian oil output, on which the government depends for tax revenue.
"Russia is also a large producer and exporter of oil, and it is interested in maintaining stable, predictable prices," Mr. Medvedev told Mr. Badri during the part of the meeting that was broadcast on Russian state television.
Mr. Badri confirmed that he was not expecting a Russian production cut. He said he had come to Moscow to share oil data with the Russians that showed a probable supply glut by the end of the year.
But in the strongest proposal to date from Russia to support prices, a deputy prime minister, Igor I. Sechin, said that Russia might form a national petroleum reserve to divert some oil from export to limit supply on global markets.
How much oil could be taken off the market in this way, and how soon, was unclear. In addition, Russia has never maintained a petroleum reserve and may not even have enough oil tanks to do so.
OPEC ministers are expected to announce a cut of about one million barrels a day at an emergency meeting in Vienna on Friday amid concerns that a global recession could drive prices down even further. In New York, oil for December delivery fell $5.43, to settle at $66.75 a barrel.
"The likely reason for the OPEC secretary general's visit to Moscow today was to deliver a message that Saudi Arabia will not take all the financial pain on its own," an investor note from Uralsib in Moscow, a large Russian bank, said Wednesday. "The cartel is unlikely to make any deeper cuts in the future without the participation of major non-OPEC producers such as Russia."
Moscow's relations with the cartel are tense because Russia is the world's biggest free rider on OPEC production cuts, benefiting from the price support they provide while continuing to pump oil at full volume.
Norway and Mexico also benefit from OPEC without belonging to it. This has angered Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries that take the pain for supporting prices.
Still, even reluctant Russian coordination with OPEC would be an unwelcome prospect for consumer countries just recovering from the explosion in oil prices over the summer.
Russia pumps about 9.8 million barrels of oil a day, the second-greatest output in the world after Saudi Arabia, and exports about seven million barrels of crude oil and refined products, mostly to Europe.
Much is riding on oil prices in Russia, which has also been suffering from the price decline. The country depends on oil and natural gas for 70 percent of its exports and 60 percent of the national budget. Public sector salaries have been rising more rapidly than inflation. Consumer spending is soaring. And the Kremlin just this year floated ambitious budgets for public works and the military.
But the Russian stock market has crumpled along with oil prices. And in the latest sign of distress, this week the ruble came under a speculative attack that led the Russian Central Bank to impose limits on currency exchange operations using borrowed money.