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Japan Circumventing Sanctions on Russian oil


Japan has been purchasing oil from Russia at a price above the $60 per barrel price cap imposed by the West, according to reports this week. This has led to speculation that Japan may be breaching an agreement reached last year to cap the price of Russian oil.


GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Why is there a price cap on Russian oil?
  2. Why is Japan breaking ranks with the West?

Why is there a price cap on Russian oil?

  • The G-7 countries, the EU, and Australia imposed a price cap of $60 per barrel on oil purchased from Russia starting in December.
  • The move was part of the economic sanctions imposed by the West to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
  • The aim of the price cap is to restrict the amount of money that Russia can make by selling its oil, without severely affecting global oil supply.
  • Russia contributes about 10% of global oil supply, so any significant reduction in its oil supplies could send oil prices soaring.
  • The estimated cost for Russia to produce a barrel of oil ranges from $20-$45.
  • The West believes that a $60 per barrel price cap will still allow Russia to keep its oil output steady.

Why is Japan breaking ranks with the West?

  • Japan’s oil import from Russia in the first two months of 2023:
    • Amounted to about 750,000 barrels
    • Purchased at a price of about $70 per barrel
  • Japan’s oil import from Russia is insignificant compared to Russia’s overall oil production of 10.7 million barrels per day in 2022
  • Japan’s decision to purchase oil above the West’s price cap of $60 per barrel highlights the strong incentives for countries to subvert the cap
  • Japan had previously won an exception to purchase Russian oil from Sakhalin-2 in Russia’s Far East to protect its energy security, even when the price cap was first imposed in December.

Will more countries follow Japan?

  • Japan is not the only country that is undermining the West’s $60 price cap on Russian oil. Countries such as India, for instance, are believed to be paying more than $60 per barrel to purchase oil from Russia.
  • As oil prices rise, the chances of a rift developing even among signatories to the oil price cap arrangement grow higher.
  • When buyers are willing to pay more than $60 per barrel to secure supplies, oil traders will likely be happy to subvert sanctions and deliver supplies from Russia.
  • Critics of the oil price cap had warned that implementing the price cap may be difficult because it works against strong economic incentives and because it may be impossible to keep track of all shipments in such a large, opaque oil market.

Will rising oil prices threaten the West’s price cap?

  • OPEC and Russia decided to cut their oil output by 3.66 million barrels per day, sending oil prices soaring 6%.
  • Russian urals, the flagship crude oil sold by Russia, also soared above $60 per barrel, thus breaching the West’s price cap.
  • When the West first imposed its price cap, it had no effect on Russia’s oil output or revenues as Russian urals were trading well below $60 per barrel.
  • But now with urals trading above $60 per barrel, things might turn out to be different.
  • The West would hope that its price cap would keep Russia’s oil revenues in check despite rising oil prices.
  • Russia, which has seen its oil revenues drop due to subdued oil prices and the West’s ban on Russian oil, will be hoping to turn the corner by bypassing Western sanctions and selling oil above the price cap.
  • This will test the West’s ability to effectively implement its price cap.

-Source: The Hindu

February 2024