EU’s top official wants more scrutiny on Indian products derived from Russian oil

While saying EU rules cannot be forced on other nations, Josep Borrell said that ahead of Ukraine invasion, the share of Russian oil in India’s oil import stood at 0.2%; but last month, it rose to 36.4%

Days after saying the European Union (EU) had to curb the import of refined petroleum products from India, the EU’s top foreign affairs and security official, Josep Borrell, suggested that EU entities buying refined products from India were primarily accountable for the leakage of Russian oil-based products into the EU.

Mr. Borrell’s comments were published in his blog on Friday afternoon, titled, ‘Some Clarifications on the Circumvention of EU Sanctions Against Russia’. The diplomat, however, said there was a “remarkable increase” in the amount of oil India was buying from Russia since before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

‘Rules apply only to EU’

“As EU, we don’t want to buy Russia energy exports, because we don’t want to finance its war against Ukraine. We also don’t want to sell technological products and components that Russia needs for its war machine,” Mr. Borrell wrote.

He made clear, however, that the EU’s rules on trade with Russia were for EU entities but that other nations cannot be “forced“ to comply with them as the sanctions were not extraterritorial.

“This week we also had a discussion on the specific issue of India’s growing oil purchases from Russia and the growing exports to the EU of refined products that are most likely based on cheap Russian oil,” Mr. Borrell said, describing the issue as a dilemma.

“...before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the share of Russian oil in India’s overall oil import stood at 0.2%. Last month, that share had risen to 36.4%,” Mr. Borrell wrote, calling the increase “remarkable” but saying one cannot “blame nor question” India for this, as New Delhi is not subject to European laws.

The diplomat said that China was importing even higher volumes of Russian oil since a December 2023 oil price cap of $60 per barrel rolled out by the Group of Seven (G-7) advanced economies came into effect.

‘Normal’ reaction

Mr. Borrell emphasised a point he made earlier this week in a Financial Times interview, saying it is “normal” for India to make use of the opportunity to buy cheaper oil below the price cap.

However, he identified another issue: Indian refined petroleum products, made from Russian oil, entering the European market.

“Here again the facts are clear: the export of refined products like jet fuel or diesel from India to the EU has risen from 1.1 million barrels in January 2022 to 7.4 million barrels in April 2023,” he wrote.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Mr. Borrell had held bilateral talks in Brussels on Tuesday.

At a briefing on Tuesday evening, Mr. Jaishankar told a journalist that as per European Council regulations, if Russian crude was “substantially transformed” in a third country, it was not treated as Russian anymore.

Moral issues

“We in the EU don’t buy Russian oil, but we buy the diesel obtained by refining this Russian oil somewhere else... All [ sic ] this does also raise moral issues,” Mr. Borrell wrote, quoting an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as saying actions by European companies which buy refinery products made from Russian oil and sell them in Europe are “completely legal, but completely immoral.”

When he raised the issue of Indian exports of refined products based on Russian oil, it was not to criticise the Indian government, Mr. Borrell wrote, “ but to say that we cannot close our eyes to how EU companies themselves are circumventing the sanctions”.

He added that the EU first needs to look at its own economic operators and look for solutions on that basis .

”If Indian refiners are selling, that is because European companies are buying,” Mr. Borrell said.