Origin of Russian Lube Imports Shifts Toward Asia


Origin of Russian Lube Imports Shifts Toward Asia
A train with tanks with petroleum products at a railway station in Russia. © Maks_Nova

Finished lubricant imports to Russia underwent large shifts last year in the countries of origin due to fallout over the nation’s invasion of Ukraine.

Asian countries and Turkey replaced the European Union members as the largest sources of those products, according to B2X, a Moscow-based consultancy on the Russian lube industry. The firm also estimated that the level of imports fell 14% last year.

Most lubricants are not among the categories of products that Western countries banned from being exported to Russia, but some companies headquartered in the West withdrew from Russia to express their own protest. Some were producing in Russia before their exits while others mainly imported. Many companies from the West and other parts of the world continued Russia operations, while others took opportunities to enter the market.

Finland was the leading country of origin for lube imports to Russia before the war, but South Korea replaced it last year, the consultancy said. In 2021, the leading exporter of lubricants to Russia was the European Union, while last year most of the shipments came from Asia, B2X said in a recent post on its Telegram channel.

According to B2X, Russia imported 270,000 metric tons of finished products in 2022, down from 314,000 tons the year before.

“Shipments from Europe are still going on, but they are more complex, limited and involve third countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Turkey,” Artem Mazaev, an independent consultant in the Russian lube industry, told Lube Report last week.

“Surprisingly, some Western brands remain in Russia and enjoy almost exclusive positions. Maybe Shell, Mobil and Castrol brands reduced their presence here, but they are still available and sourced through the so-called parallel import scheme.” As a result, he added, distribution and sticker prices of these products became more expensive.

To soften the withdrawal of protesting businesses, the Russian government introduced its parallel import scheme, under which a list of products that may be imported and sold within the country without regard for trademark and copyright protections. This list, for example, includes some lubricants of ExxonMobil and Shell.

Other industry observers said suppliers in countries such as Serbia, Kazakhstan and China are reexporting Shell-, Mobil- or Total-branded lubricants manufactured in countries such as Germany, Belgium or France – sending them on to Russia. Smaller producers in Germany, Serbia or Turkey also ship lubricants to Russia.

Since May 2022, several Russian news outlets have reported that German motor oil brands such as Fosser and Bizol were gaining presence in the Russian market. Duran Lubricants& Chemicals GmbH, the maker of Fosser, did not respond to an inquiry from Lube Report. Bizol provided a statement saying the presence in the market of its products has decreased, that the company ceased exports to Russia and that the reported motor oil sales volumes of its products are “old stock that remained with our original partner.”

Bizol also stated that it has some distribution and sale activities in Ukraine but added that it faces logistics challenges there.

B2X estimated that Finland exported 80,000 tons of finished products to Russia in 2021 but that that number dropped 61% to around 31,000 tons in 2022. Exports from Germany fell 41% to around 33,000 tons over the same period, while those from Belgium dropped 80% to around 10,000 tons. Shipments from the Netherlands slid62%, to 12,000 tons in 2022.

Trending in the opposite direction, South Korea’s lubricant exports to Russia grew 64% to 69,000 tons in 2022, B2X said, while Turkey’s jumped 413% to 41,000 tons and China’s swelled from 2,000 tons to 10,000 tons. An estimated 69,000 tons was shipped from a list of Asian countries including Singapore and Thailand.

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Europe    Finished Lubricants    Region    Russia