EU countries appear to be buying Russian oil products worth billions of dollars that are re-exported from Turkey, research has found, as campaigners call on authorities to tighten sanctions on the Kremlin. 

Direct imports of Russian petroleum have been banned in the EU since February 2023, but products are still likely finding their way to the bloc, according to a report published today by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and Center for the Study of Democracy. 

In the 12 months after that ban was introduced, member states imported more than 5 million tonnes of oil products worth €3.1bn from the Turkish ports of Ceyhan, Marmara Ereğlisi and Mersin, the report says. 

Over the same period, those three ports – which do not have refining capacity of their own – imported 86% of their oil products by value from Russia. 

“Investigations of specific shipments… suggest that European entities may have imported Russian oil products mixed or re-exported from oil storage terminals in Turkey,” the report says. 

In one case, the Toros Ceyhan oil terminal at the port of Ceyhan imported nearly 27,000 tonnes of gasoil from the Russian port of Novorossiysk. Ten days later, the same terminal shipped a similar volume of gasoil to a refinery in Greece. 

“This trade seems to have exploited a legal loophole that allows blended Russian oil products to enter the EU,” the two research organisations say. 

From February 5, 2023 to the end of February this year, Turkey’s imports of Russian oil products more than doubled, reaching €17.6bn in value.  

Since the EU ban took effect, more than four-fifths of its oil product imports are from the country, and Turkey has become the world’s largest buyer of Russian fuel. 

The growth in imports far outstrips the increase in domestic demand, the report says, “suggesting that Turkey is becoming a re-export hub” for fuel sales that are funding the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. It estimates Russia gained more than €5bn in tax revenues from these sales. 

Martin Vladimirov, senior energy analyst at the Center for the Study of Democracy, warns that Turkey “has emerged as a strategic pitstop for Russian fuel products rerouted to the EU”. 

The issue is separate from the so-called refining loophole, whereby Russian crude oil is exported to countries that have not imposed restrictions on such trade. That crude is then refined and exported to the EU as a locally produced product, avoiding being caught by sanctions. 

The practice has caught the eye of authorities in Europe and the US, which have threatened to crack down on imports from refineries that run on Russian crude, notably in India and Turkey. 

However, no reforms have been introduced so far, and data provided to GTR by CREA shows that Indian refineries are continuing to import around a third of all crude oil from Russia. 

The report urges EU authorities to tighten sanctions on re-exports of Russian fuel, arguing that existing legislation is “vague” on what proportion of oil must be of Russian origin to fall foul of restrictions. 

It also calls for stronger enforcement, suggesting countries that impose sanctions should include strict requirements around rules of origin documentation, and that EU customs declarations should include the “true origin” of oil products. 

Violations should result in “bans and penalties”, the report says, while enforcement agencies should be empowered to board vessels, check certification documents and chemically test cargoes. 

“Tankers with falsified statements of the fuels’ origin should be treated as smuggling with all the related legal consequences,” it says. “This includes the arrest of ships at sea and their confiscation.”