The Shadow Navy Against Sanctions: How Russia Drastically Increased Oil Exports

/ The foreign fleet helped Russia increase oil exports by 30%


…Now watch your hands. Take the wretched Russian oil—sanctioned, price-capped, depleted by the European embargo. We take it somewhere far away – for example, in the Mediterranean Sea. We transfer it from one tanker to another – and now it can be accepted anywhere and sold at any price!

The American agency Bloomberg wrote about this method of selling Russian oil. By tracking the journeys of tankers across seas and oceans, analysts have found that Russia is “handling” — that is, transshipping from one tanker to another — record volumes of oil. About 19 million barrels of crude oil have already been handled in December and January, and the pace of the process is only increasing.

But that’s not all. Analysts followed: most likely, at least several foreign supertankers (a huge ship with a displacement of 320 thousand tons) are involved in the transshipment. Including with their “help”, the export of our Urals oil is growing and has increased by 30% for the week – up to 3.8 million barrels per day. There have been no such figures since April last year.

– Here, two phenomena came together at the same time: the reaction to the sanctions pressure and the restructuring of the export market– explains Igor Yushkov, leading analyst of the National Fund for Energy Security, expert from the Financial University.

The US and Europe no longer buy our oil, we are now focused only on the Asian market. But that means longer distances. We used to transport oil to Europe with small river-sea tankers. And to Asia – for example to India – it is more profitable and more expedient to transport with supertankers.

In 2022, Russia did everything to form a true to itself fleet of tankers, including supertankers. This is the so-called shadow fleet. Its real owners are not afraid of the bans of the USA and the EU and are not obliged to report to them where and at what price oil is transported.

The main task of the shadow fleet is to overcome the price ceiling to 60 dollars per barrel and to move away from prohibitions on transportation and insurance.

According to the expert, the export scheme is now as follows. In the Russian port, the “black gold” is loaded into conventional tankers. They go into the sea and pour it into the supertankers. Then they return to their home port again, load up and run back for transshipment. They quickly make several courses to fill the supertanker to the top. In addition, large ships through the Suez Canal or bypassing Africa go to buyers.

Under the current conditions, this is the normal and most efficient logistics,” says expert Yushkov. – And most importantly, it allows us to restore the volume of oil exports, which was at the beginning of 2022.


To enter new markets, Russia must make significant concessions on oil. Last year, in May-June, the discount reached 35 dollars per barrel. By December, it had fallen to $18. Now it has grown again.

As Igor Yushkov explains, we are now selling oil at an average of $55 per barrel at an exchange price of $87. But this is a very tentative average price. Some of the oil is heavily discounted. And the other – practically at exchange prices, with a discount of only 7-8 dollars per barrel.

– This price is over the ceiling. And to transport it, we need the dusk fleet, – explains Igor Yushkov.

Is this a sanctions violation? And here, in fact, there is a violation. The essence of the “price ceiling” is as follows: the European Union, the G7 and other “hostile” countries prohibit companies in their countries from insuring and transporting Russian oil if it is sold for a price exceeding the $60 mark. And when some unclear whose shadowy tanker takes him to the “friendly” Asian country, then no one will lay claim to him.

Translation: ES

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