On November 28, Russia’s Embassy in Bangladesh tweeted a graphic purporting to show that nine European countries increased imports of Russian oil despite economic sanctions they had imposed on Russia. The embassy credited the Russian government news outlet Sputnik International.
Sputnik headlined its graphic: “What countries bypass their own sanctions & continue trading with Russia?”
Problem is, the unsourced statistics cited by Sputnik don’t jibe with reputable reports, which show that Russian oil exports to the EU have plummeted. Moreover, an EU ban on Russian crude oil is set to go into effect on December 5, to be followed two months later by a ban on refined petroleum products.
Add it all up, and we rate Sputnik’s graphic and the embassy’s tweet as false.
In March, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order prohibiting imports of Russian oil and other energy products. Together, the Western sanctions on Russia’s energy sector are part of broader economic restrictions imposed on Russia to hinder its military and force a stop to the war on Ukraine.
According to the Sputnik graphic, Slovenia’s imports of Russian oil increased “twofold,” Spain’s 69%, Sweden’s 48%, Belgium’s 25%, and Poland’s 19%. The graphic doesn’t say what time period is covered by these supposed increases.
Compare that to the latest report by Eurostat, the European Union’s official statistics agency, which includes countries’ imports of Russian crude oil up to August and part of September 2022 (depending on what the national governments have reported).
It shows that Sweden’s imports of Russian crude oil had fallen to zero in August from 197,000 tons in January.
Belgium’s increased imports of Russian oil to 598,000 tons in September compared to 592,000 tons in August. However, both numbers were sharply down from the 874,000 tons of Russian oil Belgium imported in February.
Poland decreased its imports of Russian crude oil to 881,000 tons in August from 1,356,000 tons in February.
Eurostat did not report data on Slovenia’s and Spain’s imports from Russian.
In the case of four other European countries, Sputnik lists the monetary value of Russian oil imports. According to Sputnik, Germany imported 3.5 billion Euros (approx. $3.6 billion) worth of Russian oil; Italy, 2.6 billion Euros (approx. $2.7 billion); the Netherlands, 1.7 billion Euros (approx. $1.75 billion); and France, 1.2 billion Euros (approx. $1.23 billion).
Eurostat’s data provide a possible explanation for why Sputnik decided to use monetary statistics for these four countries: In fact, each reported a sharp decrease in Russian oil imports.
According to Eurostat, Germany’s imports fell to 1,674,000 tons in August from 2,821,000 tons in January. Italy’s imports decreased to 1,180,000 tons in August from nearly 1.4 million tons in May, the peak month in 2022.
The Netherlands’ imports dropped to 973,000 tons in August from 2,094.000 in January. France’s imports nearly evaporated, plunging to 66,000 tons in August from 601,000 tons in January, the month before Russia attacked Ukraine.
In its monthly report for October, the United Nations’ International Energy Agency (IEA) said that Russia’s oil exports and export revenues had declined precipitously from prewar levels. Revenues were down 17.3 percent even though Russia has been shipping more discounted oil to China and India.
“Further production losses could come from Russia in December, when an EU embargo on crude oil imports and a ban on maritime services go into full effect. Russian officials have threatened to cut oil production in order to offset the negative impact of proposed price caps," the IEA said.
In 2020, Russia accounted for 29% of the EU’s crude oil imports and more than half of the EU’s imports of solid fuels.
In October, the G7 biggest global economies pledged to install a worldwide price cap on Russian crude at $60 to $70 a barrel. Russia earned an estimated 113 billion euros from crude oil exports in 2021, and in theory, the cap would slash that income.
European countries failed to agree on the price cap on November 28, in part because Russia is selling its crude oil for $63.50 a barrel, about the same as the proposed cap. On December 1, however, EU governments reached a "tentative" agreement to set the price cap at $60 per barrel.
The French global commodity firm Kpler noted a significant redistribution of Russian seagoing oil exports to Asia. “Russian crude cargoes have shown a clear shift in their destinations from Europe to Asia, notably to India and China, since late February following the invasion,” Kpler reported in September.