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Putin bans petrol exports as Russia runs on fumes

Cars stuck in traffic in front of a theatre building decorated with the letter Z in Moscow
Cars stuck in traffic in front of a theatre building decorated with the letter Z in Moscow

The Kremlin has announced a six-month ban on petrol exports after Ukrainian attacks on Russian refineries left Vladimir Putin’s regime scrambling to meet domestic demand.

The ban, which comes into force on March 1, was confirmed by a spokesman for deputy prime minister Alexander Novak who said it would allow for “planned maintenance” of refineries.

It follows attacks on Russian facilities by Ukrainian drones in recent months, which have harmed the country’s ability to refine crude oil into usable products such as petrol and diesel.

Russia previously imposed a similar ban between September and November last year in order to tackle high domestic prices and shortages.

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Then, only four ex-Soviet states – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan – were exempt. This time, more Russian neighbours will be exempt, including Mongolia, Uzbekistan and two Russian-backed breakaway regions of Georgia: South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Oil, oil products and gas are by far Russia’s biggest export and provide a major source of income for the Kremlin’s war economy.

Putin has been working with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, to keep prices high as part of the broader Opec+ group, which includes the Opec cartel of oil producing nations and its key allies.

Russia is already voluntarily cutting its oil and fuel exports by 500,000 barrels per day in the first quarter as part of Opec+ efforts to support prices.

The top petrol producers in Russia last year were Gazprom Neft’s Omsk refinery, Lukoil’s NORSI oil refinery in Nizhny Novgorod and Rosneft’s Ryazan refinery.

Russia produced 43.9m tonnes of petrol in 2023 and exported about 5.8m tonnes, or around 13pc of its production.

The biggest importers of Russian gasoline are mainly African countries, including Nigeria, Libya and Tunisia. The United Arab Emirates is also a key trading partner.

Russia and Ukraine have targeted each other’s energy infrastructure in a bid to disrupt supply lines and logistics.