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Russia-Ukraine Conflict: The Oily Gears of War

Unraveling the European chessboard of war and oil Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 sent shockwaves through the global energy market, placing the spotlight on the country’s immense oil reserves and their critical role in funding the war. The conflict has sparked intense scrutiny on Russia’s oil exports, with the West struggling to navigate the complex dilemma of balancing its reliance on Russian energy with its desire to cripple the war effort. Before the war, Russia was a dominant player in the global oil market, accounting for roughly 10% of global crude production and serving as the largest exporter of oil and gas to Europe. This dependence created significant leverage for Russia, allowing it to influence energy prices and strategically leverage its oil resources as a political tool.

Unraveling the European chessboard of war and oil

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 sent shockwaves through the global energy market, placing the spotlight on the country’s immense oil reserves and their critical role in funding the war. The conflict has sparked intense scrutiny on Russia’s oil exports, with the West struggling to navigate the complex dilemma of balancing its reliance on Russian energy with its desire to cripple the war effort.

Before the war, Russia was a dominant player in the global oil market, accounting for roughly 10% of global crude production and serving as the largest exporter of oil and gas to Europe. This dependence created significant leverage for Russia, allowing it to influence energy prices and strategically leverage its oil resources as a political tool.

“Russia has always used its energy resources as a geopolitical weapon,” said Edward Chow, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The invasion of Ukraine has only reinforced this strategy.”

The outbreak of the war triggered a rapid and significant spike in oil prices, with benchmark Brent crude soaring above $130 per barrel in March 2022. This surge was driven by fears of supply disruptions and the potential for a broader conflict.

“The war has had a profound impact on the global oil market, creating significant volatility and uncertainty,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA). “The risks of further price spikes and supply disruptions remain high.”

Oil revenue has been a vital lifeline for Russia’s war effort. Experts estimate that the country has earned over $150 billion from oil exports since the invasion began, enabling it to continue its military operations and finance the war machine.

However, the reliance on oil revenue comes with significant limitations. Western sanctions imposed on Russia’s financial institutions and energy sector have hampered its ability to access international markets and invest in new oil projects. This could have long-term implications for the country’s oil industry and its ability to sustain its war effort.

The G7, Australia, and the EU implemented a $60 per barrel price cap on Russian oil on December 5th, 2023. It came alongside a move by the EU and the U.K. to impose a ban on the seaborne import of Russian crude oil. Together, the measures were thought to reflect by far the most significant step to curtail the fossil fuel export revenue funding Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In February, the Price Cap Coalition followed up its crude oil price cap by imposing a $100 per barrel price limit on Russian petroleum products such as diesel and a $45 per barrel cap on Russian petroleum products such as fuel oils that trade at a discount to crude.

The price cap policy aims to restrict Russia’s oil revenues while maintaining the supply of Russian oil. The U.S. Treasury Department said in an update last week that nearly six months after the implementation of the price cap, the policy was achieving both goals.

“The sanctions are definitely taking a toll on Russia’s oil industry,” said Maria Shagina, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “However, it will take time for the full impact of the sanctions to be felt.”

Despite this, Russia’s oil revenues rebounded in March and April 2023 to reach the highest level since November last year, according to a new report, bolstering President Vladimir Putin’s ability to finance the Kremlin’s onslaught in Ukraine.

A report published Wednesday, May 24th, 2023, by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, an independent Finnish think tank, found that Russia’s revenues from oil exports have recovered from levels reached in January and February.

The findings show that the Russian economy has recently been able to successfully claw back earnings from fossil fuel exports despite the imposition of import bans from the European Union and a broader G7 oil price cap late last year.

It comes less than a week after Group of Seven leaders said after the Hiroshima Summit in Japan that a price cap on Russian oil and petroleum products was working, Russian revenues were down, and falling oil and gas prices were benefiting countries worldwide.

This shows that, despite the sanctions, Russia remains a major player in the global oil market. However, its influence is waning as countries diversify their energy sources and reduce their reliance on Russian oil. The European Union, for example, has set ambitious goals to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of the year.

“The world is moving away from Russian oil,” said Rystad Energy analyst Bjørnar Tonhaugen. “This trend is likely to accelerate in the coming months and years.”

The war in Ukraine has exposed the vulnerabilities of the global energy market and highlighted the dangers of overreliance on a single supplier. While Russia’s oil industry continues to fuel its war effort, the long-term prospects for its energy sector remain uncertain. As the world seeks to diversify its energy sources and reduce its dependence on Russian oil, the future of the global energy landscape hangs in the balance.


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