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Brazil, India, and China’s rush to buy Russian energy shows Putin still has strong allies who can prop up Russia’s economy

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Contributor/Getty Images

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February led to a wave of Western sanctions and bans on Russian exports.
  • But some countries continue to snap up Russian energy, showing that Putin still has powerful allies.
  • Putin has prioritized trade flows to BRICS nations, including Brazil, China, and India.

The rush by Brazil, India, and China to buy energy from Russia shows President Vladimir Putin still has strong allies who can prop up his economy despite Western resistance.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the EU, UK, and the US issued major sanctions on Russian businesses and entities, and banned imports of Russian oil.

But Putin is not feeling the economic impact as much as expected because major countries have continued to show an interested in buying cheap Russian energy.

On Tuesday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Franca said his country wanted to buy as much diesel as possible from Russia to help prop up its agriculture industry and drivers, Reuters reported.

“We rely heavily on fertilizers exported from Russia and from Belarus as well. And of course, Russia is a great provider of oil and gas,” Franca said, Reuters reported. (Western nations have also sought to punish Belarus, which has supported Russia throughout its invasion.)

Franca did not give further details on the transactions, and it was not clear whether or how Brazil’s purchase would circumvent Western sanctions.

Brazil is the latest country to take advantage of cheap Russian exports at a time when energy prices are spiraling worldwide.

In recent weeks, Russia became India’s second-largest source of oil even though historically, the two countries hardly relied on each other for energy, the BBC reported.

Meanwhile, Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia to become China’s biggest supplier of oil.

Russia supplied 2.02 million barrels per day to China in May up from 1.31 million in the month before, according to Chinese customs data.

“The expectation that Russian crude would cease to be traded on international markets has not transpired, and instead the steep discount on Russian crude has seen vessels redirected to alternative markets,” Wei Cheong Ho, vice president of downstream at the Rystad Energy consultancy, told Associated Press last month.

“While the cost of financing these vessels and trades has increased significantly due to be freezing out of the Western financial system, the discount on Urals is too attractive for some refiners to ignore,” he said. 

Since the Western sanctions, Putin has prioritized trade with the BRICS, a bloc comprising of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa that has been seen as a powerful emerging-market alternative to the West.

Putin met with BRICS leaders last month and said trade with these countries jumped by 38% between January and March.

Meanwhile, Russia has also halted natural gas supplies to some European countries over their refusal to meet a demand to pay in rubles. European countries, which have historically relied on energy imports from Russia, are now scrambling to wean itself off this dependency.

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