June 19, 2023 -It’s official: the European Union is no longer the top client of Russian oil. As a result of the sweeping bans imposed in reaction to the Ukraine war, the bloc’s imports of Russian oil have plunged by 90% in the span of one single year.
In February 2022, the same month the Kremlin launched the full-scale invasion, the EU bought 15.189 million tonnes (Mt) of Russian crude oil and refined products, such as diesel, kerosene and gasoline.
One year later, in February 2023, those same imports totalled 1.876 Mt. The following month, in March, they fell further to reach 1.445 Mt.
The massive gap left by Russia has been filled by a variety of countries, including the United States, Norway, Algeria, Brazil, Angola and the United Arab Emirates.
The numbers, released on Monday by Eurostat, expose the effects of the far-reaching ban on Russian oil that EU leaders agreed to impose in late May after hard-fought negotiations.
The prohibition was two-fold as it applied to both seaborne crude oil and seaborne refined products, and entered into force on 5 December and 5 February, respectively.
The timeline was designed to help member states adapt to the radical transformation and the banishment of their top energy supplier.
The measure, however, exempted oil imports through the Druzhba pipeline upon the request of landlocked countries in Central Europe, most notably Hungary, whose demands delayed the ban’s final approval.
In fact, the country-by-country breakdown of the March data shows the majority of Russian crude oil went to the three countries physically connected by Druzhba: Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
EU leaders had promised to revisit the controversial Druzhba derogation, which was set as indefinite in time, but the issue remains untouched.
“Total oil imports from Russia did not reach zero due to certain exceptions outlined in the bans, which allow for limited imports under specific conditions,” Eurostat said in its press release.
The turmoil triggered by Russia’s invasion sparked turmoil in the energy sector, prompting member states to release a share of their emergency oil reserves in a bid to calm down market prices.
According to Eurostat, as of March 2023, only five member states – Bulgaria, Czechia, Ireland, Latvia and Lithuania – were still below the national minimum level of emergency oil stocks.