Russia’s oil revenues plunge as EU’s oil war enters round 2
Dire Russian budget numbers signal a ‘bad start’ to the fiscal year, says an energy analyst.
The EU’s energy war with Russia has entered a new phase — and there are signs that the Kremlin is starting to feel the pain.
As of Sunday, it is illegal to import petroleum products — those refined from crude oil, such as diesel, gasoline and naphtha — from Russia into the EU. That comes hot on the heels of the EU’s December ban on Russian seaborne crude oil.
Both measures are also linked to price caps imposed by the G7 club of rich democracies aimed at driving down the price that Russia gets for its oil and refined products without disrupting global energy markets.
Those actions appear to have bitten into the Kremlin’s budget in a way other economic penalties levied in retaliation for Russia's invasion of Ukraine have not.
The Kremlin’s tax income from oil and gas in January was among its lowest monthly totals since the depths of COVID in 2020, according to Janis Kluge, senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
Kluge noted that while Russia’s 2023 budget anticipates 9 trillion rubles (€120 billion) in fossil fuel income, in January it earned only 425 billion rubles from oil and gas taxes, around half compared to the same month last year.
It's only one month's figures and the income does fluctuate, but Kluge called it "a bad start."
Russia’s gas sales to Europe have also collapsed — in part as a result of Moscow's own energy blackmail — with its share of imports declining from around 40 percent throughout 2021 to 13 percent for November 2022, according to the latest confirmed European Commission monthly figure.
But it’s oil that matters most to Kremlin coffers.
On Friday, EU countries struck a deal on two price caps which will come into full force later this year following a 55-day transition period. A cap of $100 will apply to “premium” oil products, including diesel, gasoline and kerosene. A cap of $45 will be enforced on “discount” products, such as fuel oil, naphtha and heating oil.
The EU ban and the G7 price caps are meant to work in tandem. While the EU bans Russian oil, cutting off a vital market, the price caps ensure that insurance and shipping firms based in the EU and other G7 countries aren’t completely blocked from facilitating the global trade in Russian oil. They still can, but it must be under the price caps. This way — so the theory goes — Russia’s fossil fuel revenue will take a hit without disrupting the global oil market in a way that could endanger supply and drive up the price for everyone.
Squeezing the Kremlin
Russia is selling more crude to China and India to make up for the lost trade with the EU | iStock
So far, EU leaders think, it’s working.
Buyers in China and India and other countries are hoovering up more Russian crude, making up for the lost trade with Europe. But knowing that Russia has few alternative markets, buyers have been able to drive down the price. “The discounts that Russia has to give, that its partners can demand, are strong and are here to stay,” said one senior European Commission official. Russian Urals crude is trading at around $50 per barrel, around $30 below the benchmark Brent crude price.
“I think in general the EU and the G7 can be quite happy with how things have unfolded with regards to the oil embargo and the price cap up to now," said Kluge. “There has been no turbulence on global oil markets and at the same time Russia’s revenues have gone down considerably. The key reason here is that the price which Russia receives for its crude has gone down."
The question is whether the EU can keep up the economic pressure on Russia without harming itself in the process.
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