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Oil-rich Saudi Arabia doubles import of discounted Russian fuel

As Biden visits Riyadh, seeking an increase in oil supply to global markets, data reveals the kingdom imported 647,000 tonnes of fuel from Moscow in past three months
Lukoil, Russia's second largest oil company, produces two per cent of the world's crude oil (AFP)

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, more than doubled its imports of Russian fuel between April-June, to help power stations meet the summer cooling demand and free up the kingdom’s crude for export, Reuters reported on Friday.

With sanctions placed on Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine, its fuel price has been sold at a discounted rate to attract buyers. 

Data obtained by Reuters through Refinitiv Eikon ship tracking showed Saudi Arabia imported 647,000 tonnes (48,000 barrels per day) of fuel oil from Russia via Russian and Estonian ports in April-June this year, compared with 320,000 tonnes in the same period in 2021.  

Saudi Arabia is not the only country to have taken advantage of the discounted rate, despite the sanctions. In May, China’s crude oil imports soared by 55 percent on the previous year, with shipments equivalent to almost two million barrels per day (bpd), up a quarter from 1.59 bpd in April.

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The discounts allowed the Kremlin to make around $20bn from oil exports in May. 

The increased sale of fuel after international sanctions shows the challenge facing US President Joe Biden as his administration seeks to isolate Russia and cut its energy export revenues. 

On Friday, Biden is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia and is expected to seek an increase in oil supply to global markets from the kingdom, to help lower oil prices that have aggravated inflation worldwide. 

Yet Saudi Arabia has maintained its cooperation with Russia in the alliance of global producers known as OPEC+. The two are the de facto leaders of respectively OPEC and non-OPEC producers in that group. 

Saudi Arabia has for several years imported Russian fuel oil, which typically peaks as demand for cooling rises with summer temperatures. Some Saudi Arabian cities are far from natural gas fields that could provide cleaner fuel for power generation. 

The volume of crude oil burnt is around 600,000 bpd in summer months and 300,000 bpd in winter months, figures from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative show. 

The Middle East oil hub of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates has received 1.17 million tonnes of Russian fuel oil so far this year, according to ship tracking, compared with 0.9 million tonnes in the same period last year.

The energy ministries of Saudi Arabia and Russia declined to comment on Riyadh's increased imports. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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