Prior to publication of this article, Global Witness approached BP, Shell and Exxon for comment on their relationship to Russia, the conflict in Ukraine and Putin’s human rights record.
A spokesperson for BP said, ‘We reject any suggestion that simply doing business in Russia, alongside hundreds of other foreign investors and companies prior to the invasion of Ukraine, somehow equates to complicity in Russia’s war in Ukraine. In February 2022, within the first 96 hours of the invasion, and as one of the first companies to do so, we announced that we were exiting Rosneft and our businesses with Rosneft in Russia. We have also ceased all other business activities and operations in Russia. We no longer have any directors on the board of Rosneft and in our first quarter 2022 results we wrote down the value of our Rosneft shareholding and businesses to zero and took a pre-tax charge of $25.5 billion related to Russia.’
A spokesperson for Shell said, ‘Shell is committed to respecting human rights as set out in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Our approach is informed by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Exxon declined to comment.
What about the commodity traders? In July Trafigura sold its Vostok stake to a Hong Kong trading company incorporated nine days before the invasion of Ukraine. According to data from Refinitiv Eikon the company was also delivering cargoes of fuel oil from Russian ports to Romania and Croatia in October. Vitol announced in April it would do no new business with Russia and would start to reduce its trading activity, although Amur Trading – in which Vitol is an indirect shareholder – was still trading Russian oil in May. Vitol is reportedly trying to sell its Vostok stake. Glencore has not yet sold its small stake in Rosneft, saying there is ‘no realistic way' of doing so in the current environment.
A Global Witness investigation found that in the calendar month following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the three companies transported more oil from Russian ports than they had done in the same period over the previous three years. Trafigura and Glencore said they were continuing to fulfil their legal obligations under long term contracts and were not doing new business; Vitol contested our figures. Global Witness is not accusing any of these companies of breaking sanctions.
Vitol, Glencore and Trafigura were all approached for comment prior to publication of this article.
A spokesperson for Trafigura said, ‘We unconditionally condemn the war in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis this is causing. Trafigura complies with applicable sanctions. Trafigura ceased purchasing crude and substantially reduced purchases of oil products from Russian counterparties targeted by sanctions before the 15 May deadline as publicly stated at the time. Trafigura does not and has never operated any oil or gas assets in Russia. As soon as the war broke out in Ukraine we immediately froze our sole investment in Russia. Trafigura’s passive, non-operational 10% stake in the Vostok Oil project was acquired in late December 2020. Trafigura has not received any dividends or similar payments from its shareholding in Vostok Oil which is primarily a project in development.’
Vitol and Glencore declined to comment.
Russia earned €158 billion
from oil and gas in the first six months of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, contributing approximately €43 billion to the federal budget. The sanctions so far – including an outright ban on Russian crude to the EU introduced in December – have significantly reduced oil exports to Europe. However, the majors and traders are still legally finding ways round them. One loophole exposed by Global Witness
includes a caveat allowing Russian and Kazakh oil to be mixed and exported. Another is that once refined, for example in India, oil products can be exported
to countries like the US that have sanctioned direct imports of Russian oil. British firms have helped transfers
of Russian oil between tankers off the Suffolk coast before it is shipped to refineries around the world.