India, for the first time in April, imported more oil from Russia than from its two other largest suppliers, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Since the Ukraine war began in February 2022, India’s crude oil supplies from Russia have increased steadily, thanks to hefty discounts offered by Russia.
In April, it imported around 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd) of Russian crude, according to energy intelligence firm Vortexa. During this time, Saudi Arabian oil imports stood at 671,000 bpd, while those from Iraq at 812,000.
Sourcing cheap crude oil is of utmost importance to India, particularly since the disruptions caused in the global supply chain by the Ukraine war since last year. The country imports 80% of its oil needs. Cheap supplies from Russia, therefore, helped it to fight energy inflation.
In fiscal 2023, Russia became India’s fifth-largest trading partner with $41.5 billion of imports. In 2020-21, the figure stood at $5.4 billion, India’s commerce ministry data show.
China is competing with India for Russian crude
In May, Russia’s overall crude exports are likely to remain steady as China also competes for it, according to Vortexa analyst Serena Huang.
Prices of Russian Urals have risen above the $60 price cap set by the G7 nations following the Ukraine invasion. This has led private Indian refiners like Reliance and Nayara Energy to scramble against China for Russia’s light variant ESPO blend, Reuters reported in March.
This light variant is still cheaper than the ones from its Gulf suppliers. For instance, Murban crude from the UAE, which has a similar quality to the diesel-rich ESPO blend, is about $9-a-barrel more expensive.
India is, therefore, walking the sanctions minefield, even as it seeks the “best deal,” according to finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman. “For us, it (Russian oil) is a very critical input for the economy,” she has said.