Russia Bolsters Oil Revenue Despite Price Cap, Shadow Fleet Key

Shadow Fleet Enables Russia to Sell More Oil, Narrowing Discount on Urals Crude

by Victor Adetimilehin

While Western sanctions have undoubtedly hampered Russia’s oil exports, Moscow is finding ways to adapt. A key factor in this adaptation is the emergence of a shadowy shipping network that is helping Russia sell its oil and bolster its revenue.

Shadow Fleet undermines Price Cap Effectiveness

The $60 per barrel price cap imposed by the West in an effort to cripple Russia’s economy initially threw a wrench into Russia’s oil exports. Western shippers and insurers were restricted from participating in Russian oil trade if the oil was sold above the price limit. This initially led to a significant discount on Urals crude oil, Russia’s flagship blend.

However, Russia has countered by cultivating a growing “shadow fleet” of over 630 tankers, many registered in China and the United Arab Emirates, which are largely outside the reach of Western sanctions. These older vessels are able to transport Russian oil without adhering to the price cap, allowing Russia to sell its oil to countries like India for a higher price.

India, the world’s second-largest oil importer, has emerged as a major buyer of discounted Russian oil. In April 2024, India purchased Russian oil at a nine-month high, taking advantage of the lower prices offered by Moscow. This trend is expected to continue, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed a commitment to strengthening energy ties with Russia.

Sanctions Still Bite, But Russia Adapts

While the shadow fleet has helped Russia mitigate the impact of sanctions on its oil exports, it’s important to note that Russia is still selling its oil for less than it did before the war. Urals crude is currently priced at around $10 per barrel below the benchmark Brent price. Additionally, sanctions have significantly impacted Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly, leading to deep financial losses. Western officials estimate that sanctions have deprived Russia of at least $100 billion in lost oil revenue on top of frozen assets.

The G7 nations are committed to further tightening sanctions and making it more expensive for Russia to sell oil through the shadow fleet. U.S. officials say they have evidence that Russia has spent at least $8 billion on boosting its shadow fleet, and Western powers are exploring ways to impede Russia’s ability to circumvent sanctions in this manner.

Looking Ahead: A Balancing Act for Russia and the West

Russia is finding ways to adapt to Western sanctions and maintain its oil revenue stream. The shadow fleet is a key factor in this adaptation, but it remains to be seen how long this strategy will be effective. The West is committed to tightening sanctions and finding ways to disrupt the shadow fleet, potentially squeezing Russia’s oil revenue further. In the coming months, we can expect to see a continued tug-of-war between Russia’s efforts to circumvent sanctions and the West’s efforts to tighten the economic noose.

This situation has significant ramifications for the global oil market. The discounted Russian oil being purchased by countries like India is helping to keep a lid on global oil prices, which benefits consumers worldwide. However, the disruption caused by the war and sanctions is also a source of uncertainty for the market. How long Russia can maintain its oil exports through the shadow fleet, and how the West will respond, are key questions that will shape the future of the global oil market.

Source: Reuters

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