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China becomes largest buyer of Russian seaborne crude as India goes slow

China imported 1.82 million barrels per day of Russian crude by sea in March, exceeding India's 1.36 million bpd

Crude oil

Photo: Bloomberg

Abhijeet Kumar New Delhi

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According to a report from energy cargo tracker Vortexa, China has overtaken India as the primary importer of Russian crude oil via sea routes. In March, China imported 1.82 million barrels per day (bpd) of Russian crude by sea, surpassing India's 1.36 million bpd. Additionally, China also receives Russian oil through pipelines.

India's recent slowdown in Russian crude imports is attributed to various sanctions and rising prices. While India had been the leading importer of seaborne Russian crude for around eighteen months, China's February imports of 1.3 million bpd marginally exceeded India's 1.27 million bpd, with the gap widening significantly in March.

Despite this shift, India's imports of Russian oil increased by 7 per cent month-on-month in March, indicating a growing inclination towards acquiring discounted barrels. Media reports suggest that India's Russian imports surpassed those from other countries, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Overall crude oil imports for India rose to 4.89 million bpd in March from 4.41 million bpd in February, according to data from Vortexa.

Urals sour-grade oil remained India's primary import from Russia, alongside other grades such as Varandey, Siberian Light, and Sokol from Sakhalin I. Among traditional Middle-Eastern suppliers, Iraq saw a substantial increase in crude oil supply to India in March, while imports from Saudi Arabia declined.

While Iraq supplied 1.09 million bpd of crude oil in March, a big jump from 76,000 bpd in the previous month, imports from Saudi Arabia stood at 76,000 bpd in March, a decline from 82,000 bpd in February.

India's increased reliance on Russian crude stems from the geopolitical tensions since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Prior to this conflict, Russia accounted for only 0.2 per cent of India's total crude oil imports.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, known as OPEC+, have continued to reduce output to stabilise crude prices. The organisation extended the voluntary oil supply cuts of 2.2 million bpd into the second quarter of 2024.

Despite pressure from Western nations, India's significant demand for oil and Moscow's discounted offerings have led the Indian government to continue purchasing oil from Russia. Indian officials argue that this strategy has contributed to stabilising global crude prices.

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First Published: Apr 04 2024 | 9:38 AM IST

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