Russian oil exports to India may hit new highs as interest grows

India’s oil processors are open to buying even more Russian crude if the price is right, said refinery executives, potentially providing a bigger outlet for Moscow almost a year after its invasion of Ukraine.

The South Asian nation increased Russian oil imports in 2022, ending the year with record monthly volumes as discounted barrels enticed buying. Executives said more cheap crude may be available to India from early next month, with a European Union ban on seaborne Russian fuel shipments possibly weighing on refining rates in the key OPEC+ producer.

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India and China have become a crucial destination for Russian oil after many others shunned shipments due to the war in Ukraine. Indian refiners are able to turn cheap Russian crude into fuels such as diesel and then sell to regions including Europe, boosting profit margins for processors. The impending EU sanctions are expected to ratchet up demand for fuels from Asia.

“It’s bit of a circular trade going on as India takes Russian crude that Western buyers don’t want and refining it into products for resale to the West,” said Mukesh Sahdev, the head of downstream oil trading at Rystad Energy.

India’s crude imports rose to a record last year, although increased buying of Russian barrels has crimped flows from OPEC. Cartel members accounted for about 62% of total oil imports from April to December, compared with around 71% in the previous corresponding period, according to government data.

The refinery executives said Indian processors will maintain their long-term supplies from producers such as Saudi Arabia, with any increase in Russian purchases done on a spot and opportunistic basis.

Russian fuel oil flows to India have also surged, almost doubling month-on-month in December to more than 137,000 barrels a day, according to data from Kpler. The product can be used to upgrade other more valuable fuels or be used in power generation.–With assistance from Julian Lee.


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