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EU bought €1.1bn of laundered Russian oil last year despite sanctions, data suggests

Russian oil is reaching the EU, researchers say
Russian oil is reaching the EU, researchers say - Alexander Manzyuk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The EU bought €1.1bn (£940m) worth of laundered Russian oil last year despite sanctions, human rights group Global Witness has claimed.

Analysis of export and shipping data suggests the EU imported 130 million barrels of oil products – mostly diesel – from refineries processing Russian crude in 2023.

It estimates these purchases were worth €1.1bn to the Kremlin in direct tax revenues.

The EU imposed sanctions on Russian oil in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. However, other nations, notably India and China, have continued to import crude from Russia.

Often, crude is imported to be refined into usable products such as petrol and diesel that are then exported. Refining reclassifies the product under export rules, despite the origin of the base crude used to make the finished product.

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There is no suggestion that sanctions have been broken but the report highlights the gaps in the current regime.

Chris Lambin at Global Witness said: “Whether it’s crude oil or refined products, every penny spent on Russian oil helps pay for the Kremlin’s war of aggression on Ukraine. The EU should move to close the refining loophole at once and sever one of its last remaining ties to Russian oil.”

It follows similar investigations in the UK. Last August, Global Witness claimed that 1 in every 20 UK flights ran on jet fuel made from Russian oil.

Together the findings imply that cars, lorries, aircraft and even military vehicles across the EU and UK may be running partly on Russian oil.

The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), which tracks Russian energy exports by value and destination, estimates the Kremlin has earned €605bn from fossil fuel exports since February 2022 when it invaded Ukraine.

Isaac Levi, a CREA researcher, said: “Russian oil is reaching not just the EU but also the UK via the refined oil loophole, which allows third countries to process Russian crude and export refined products to sanctioning countries.”

Global Witness said the €1.1bn figure equalled Nato’s recent €1.1bn contract to supply Ukraine with artillery as the country struggles to fend off Russia’s escalating attacks with dwindling supplies of ammunition.

The findings coincided with new data showing trade between the UK and Russia has continued across a range of products and services, as well as energy. British businesses exported £1.7bn worth of goods to Russia in the 12 months to the end of September 2023. £561m of goods were imported from Russia.

Trade included pharmaceuticals, alcoholic drinks and tobacco. UK companies also sold a raft of services including insurance and pension schemes with a total value of £359m.

In return, Russia sent the UK £33m worth of metals and £18m worth of coal.

While trade between the two nations continues, it has shrunk by 80pc year-on-year.

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesman said: “After Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponisation of energy, we took immediate steps to end all imports of Russian fossil fuels, including a ban of oil and oil products that came into force in December 2022.

“In addition to providing proof that goods are not of Russian origin, importers must now include the country of last despatch to ensure oil from Russia is not being diverted through other countries.

”Since the ban came into effect there has been no import of Russian oil and oil products into the UK.”

The EU was contacted for comment.