A senior economic adviser to Ukraine’s president has told Sky News that buying Russian fossil fuel provides “bloody money” to Moscow that in his view ultimately ends up “financing war crimes”.
Oleg Ustenko said that Russia gets at least 40% of its revenue from oil and that this money is being used to sustain the war effort.
He said: “These weapons are used by Russia to kill our people, to kill our citizens, to kill our children, to destroy our infrastructure, to destroy our cities.
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“It is bloody money.
“Since this money is used in order to finance the war against Ukraine, we can say that it is a financing of war crime.”
The Russian government denies all accusations of war crimes in Ukraine.
Mr Ustenko also urged the US and EU to further tighten sanctions to close all Russian ports for business and said it was vital for companies and governments to make absolutely sure that they were not buying fossil fuels, even inadvertently, that may be partly made up of Russian oil.
Sea Dragon filled up at Russian port
His comments come as a tanker, filled up with around 620,000 barrels of oil at a Russian port earlier this month, is due to dock at ExxonMobil’s Fawley refinery in Southampton on Wednesday.
The tanker, called Sea Dragon, is sailing under a Greek flag and was chartered by a TotalEnergies subsidiary company.
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According to the shipping website MarineTraffic.com, Sea Dragon filled up at the Russian port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea on 5 March.
The oil on board is designated as a crude that is transported from Kazakhstan’s oil fields through Russia via the Caspian pipeline, but which typically contains around 10% of Russian oil.
The Caspian pipeline itself is also 24% owned by the Russian state.
Kazakh blend oil is not currently subject to international sanctions and there is no suggestion that companies associated with the Sea Dragon tanker and the ExxonMobil-operated Fawley refinery are doing anything illegal.
An ExxonMobil spokesperson told Sky News: “We can confirm the crude oil (onboard Sea Dragon) is certified as of Kazakh origin. We are complying with all sanctions.”
But experts have warned that the Caspian pipeline could potentially provide a route for Russia to continue to export its oil while disguising its origins, and for companies to potentially exploit what constitutes a loophole in international sanctions.
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Black Sea a ‘war zone’
Senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and energy and geopolitics expert Dr Agnia Gigas told Sky News that Kazakh oil typically has around 10-13% Russian oil and that it is “nearly impossible” to differentiate between the two once they are combined.
She said: “There is significant incentive right now to pass off oil of Russian origin as something else.”
She added that even if pipeline managers are reportedly making efforts to more fully separate Russian oil from Kazakh oil, the very act of dealing with Russian ports, terminals, traders and pipelines contributes to a “primary source of funding” for the invasion of Ukraine.
She said: “The Black Sea today is a war zone.
“Rewarding Russian ports and terminals … is inexcusable.
“The US should close all the loopholes for companies dealing with Russian oil infrastructure.
“European countries should start following America’s lead.”
Mr Ustenko said that international corporations should try harder to verify the makeup of oil from the Caspian pipeline.
He said: “We have enough evidence that it might be a blended oil, (that) part of the oil is Kazakh oil and another part is Russian oil.
“Companies should be sending auditors to Russian ports.”
The British government has banned tankers sailing under a Russian flag from UK ports and has promised to end the import of all Russian oil by the end of the year.
A spokesperson from the department of business, energy, and industrial strategy said that BEIS was aware of Sea Dragon but had nothing further to add beyond published policy.
However, it is understood that the government intends to issue further guidance providing greater detail on the subject of cargo that may contain some oil from Russia.
‘Conglomerates can not be trusted to do the right thing’
Louis Goddard, a spokesperson for campaign group Global Witness told Sky News that multinational oil conglomerates could not be trusted to do the right thing.
He said: “If our sanctions regime relies on the honesty and transparency of these corporations, Putin will continue to profit even as bombs fall on innocent civilians.
”We need a total embargo on Russian fossil fuels, and to end our dependence on these deadly fuels by putting the energy transition on a war footing”.
TotalEnergies did not respond to requests for comment, but earlier this month its CEO Patrick Pouyanne said: “My traders don’t take any more oil from Russia since the beginning of the crisis.”
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The Sea Dragon is just one of dozens of tankers that have left Russia carrying oil and gas since the start of the invasion, many of them headed for Europe.
The oil tanker Seatribute recently unloaded at Fawley, and another oil tanker – the Merbabu – is due to arrive in the UK in the coming days.