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How Russia Has Remained One Step Ahead Of Western Sanctions

  • The U.S. and EU have levied massive sanctions against Russia.
  • Moscow has managed to stay one step ahead of the West with the help of Indian and Chinese refiners and tankers.
  • As long as India and China are willing to bypass sanctions, Russian oil will continue to flow.

As the US and EU pile on sanctions, Russia finds more ways to avoid them...

The week, the EU Sets Harshest Russian Sanctions, Targeting Oil and Insurance, with exemptions to Hungary.

The European Union is set to impose its toughest sanctions yet on Russia, banning imports of its oil and blocking insurers from covering its cargoes of crude, officials and diplomats say, as the West seeks to deprive Moscow of cash it needs to fund the war on Ukraine and keep its economy functioning.

The sanctions, which are expected to be completed in the coming days, are harsher than expected. The ban on insurers will cover tankers carrying Russian oil anywhere in the world. These sanctions could undercut Russia’s efforts to sell its oil in Asia. European companies insure most of the world’s oil trade.

Russian Stays One Step Ahead of Sanctions

But why will these sanctions work any better than any other set of sanctions. Shippers and refiners have been very skilled at hiding origin of Russian oil.

The Wall Street Journal explains Russian Oil Producers Stay One Step Ahead of Sanctions

In the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and sanctions from the U.S. and the European Union, traders are working to obscure the origins of Russian oil to keep it flowing. The oil is being concealed in blended refined products such as gasoline, diesel and chemicals.

Oil is also being transferred between ships at sea, a page out of the playbook used to buy and sell sanctioned Iranian and Venezuelan oil. The transfers are happening in the Mediterranean, off the coast of West Africa and the Black Sea, with oil then heading toward China, India and Western Europe, according to shipping companies.

Overall, Russian oil exports rebounded in April, after dropping in March as the first Western sanctions took effect, the International Energy Agency said. Russia’s oil exports rose by 620,000 barrels to 8.1 million barrels a day, close to its prewar levels, with the biggest increase going to India.

India has emerged as a key hub for Russian oil flows. The country’s imports have skyrocketed to 800,000 barrels a day since the war began, compared with 30,000 barrels a day previously, according to commodity-markets data company Kpler.

A refinery owned by Indian energy giant Reliance Industries Ltd. bought seven times more Russian crude in May, compared with prewar levels, making up a fifth of its total intake, according to Kpler. 

Reliance chartered an oil tanker to carry a cargo of alkylate, a gasoline component, departing from the nearby Sikka port on April 21 without a planned destination. Three days later, it updated its records with a U.S. port and sailed over, discharging its cargo on May 22 in New York.

What likely happened was Reliance took on a discounted cargo of Russian crude, refined it and then sold the product on the short-term market where it found a U.S. buyer,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. The organization is tracking Russian fossil fuel exports and their role in funding the Ukraine war. “It does look like there’s a trade where Russian crude is refined in India and then some of it is sold to the U.S.”

Going Dark

To avoid large insurance costs, the ships turn off their GPS systems to go dark, then transfer oil to large megatankers such as the Lauren II, a giant Chinese crude carrier that can hold about 2 million barrels of oil.

As long as India and China are willing to bypass sanctions, the oil will get through. However, these added costs impact prices globally. 

More ships are used to haul oil from Russia to India and China instead of Russia to the EU. In turn, the EU gets oil from Saudi Arabia instead of Russia. 

Sanctions drive up the price soo much that Russia is getting more money even though Russia has to discount its price significantly to find takers.

Something Only Politicians Could Concoct

The asininity of this setup is staggering. 

The desire to "do something" is so politically powerful that politicians would rather inadvertently aid Russia than do nothing at all. 

Price of Crude Jumps as EU Foolishly Doubles Down On Sanctions

Yesterday, I commented Price of Crude Jumps as EU Foolishly Doubles Down On Sanctions

That jump was short-lived as Saudi Arabia allegedly considers not counting Russian oil as part of OPEC production goals. This would allow the Arab states to pump more.

However, that rumor has bitten the dust already. 

Russia, Saudi Arabia Signal OPEC+ Is Going Strong

Oilprice reports Russia, Saudi Arabia Signal OPEC+ Is Going Strong

The OPEC+ alliance is solid, with the level of cooperation within it strong, according to a statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry following a meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.

"They noted the stabilising effect that the tight cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia has on world markets for hydrocarbons in this strategically important sector," the statement said.


Related: Could Iraq Dethrone Saudi Arabia As Largest Oil Producer?

The news comes on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report that said some OPEC members are considering excluding Russia from the extended cartel as Western sanctions weigh on its production.

According to the report, excluding Russia from the oil production increase deal would allow other producers such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to boost their output more significantly, in line with requests made by the U.S. and Europe, as well as the International Energy Agency most recently.

It's worth noting that Saudi Arabia and the UAE themselves have repeatedly signaled that they had no plans to boost crude oil production beyond their production quotas under the OPEC+ agreement. How a change in Russia's participation in the deal could change that sentiment remains to be seen. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the OPEC+ members with the most substantial spare production capacity.

Politicians vs Central Banks

We had a nice, timely, unsubstantiated rumor just as the EU announcement kicked up more oil sticker shock. Fancy that. 

Meanwhile, the oil gets through, just at higher prices for everyone involved.

This Mickey Mouse inflationary game will continue until Central Bank rate hikes are sufficient to counteract political stupidity.

By Zerohedge.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on June 02 2022 said:
    Russia’s economy is far better prepared to withstand the harshest and most comprehensive Western sanctions in history than it was in the aftermath of the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 which also coincided with the collapse of oil prices. Today Brent crude is hovering around $117 a barrel.

    There are many reasons for that. The first is that in the aftermath of US sanctions in 2014, Russia embarked on an extensive diversification of the economy. As a result, its economy has become almost totally self-sufficient. That is why the purchasing power of the ruble inside Russia hasn’t been affected by the sanctions and its trade surplus is projected to rise from $120 bn in 2021 to $150-$160 bn in 2022.

    The second reason is that Russia is a major exporter of both energy, key foodstuffs and many rare and precious metals essential for the running of the global economy.

    The third is that Russia has strong trading relations with both China and India the world’s largest and third largest economies respectively based on purchasing power parity (PPP). This has ensured that plenty of foreign currency is flowing into Russia. Russia’s trade with China for instance has mushroomed from $13 bn in 2011 to more than $150 bn in 2022.

    A fourth reason is that China and India are emerging as the biggest market for Russian oil. They currently account for more than 50% of Russian crude oil exports. For instance, India’s imports of Russian crude have skyrocketed to 800,000 barrels a day (b/d) in April and 903,000 b/d in May compared with 30,000 b/d previously. Moreover, India is refining Russian crude and selling it around the world.

    Meanwhile, the EU ban on seaborne imports of Russian crude and products will create a huge deficit of petroleum products within the EU and add billions to its oil-import bill thus accelerating the onset of a harsh recession.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

Leave a comment

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