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India Russia oil: India dials Saudi as Russian oil purchases hit 11-month low in December

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India increased imports of Saudi oil in December as payment problems drove its Russian oil buys to an 11-month low, with at least five cargoes of the sweet Sokol variant heading to other locations, data from vessel tracking agencies showed.

Indian Oil Corp, which was set to get the Sokol oil, had to withdraw from its inventory and buy from the Middle East to make up the shortfall, sources told Reuters last month.

Top refiner IOC is the only state-run firm with an annual deal to buy a variety of Russian grades, including Sokol, from Russian oil major Rosneft.

India’s oil imports from Russia in December declined between 16% and 22%, according to Reuters calculation on the basis of data from flow tracking agencies Vortexa, Kpler and LSEG.

Its imports of Saudi oil, rose by about 4%, however, data from Kpler and Vortexa showed.

LSEG data shows India’s monthly Russian oil imports declining by 22% to 1.21 million barrels per day (bpd) in December, while Kpler shows a drop of 16% to 1.39 million bpd. “Perhaps it’s still too early to write off India’s appetite for the Sakhalin grade (Sokol),” said Viktor Katona, lead crude analyst at Kpler, adding that three new Sokol cargoes on the NS Antarctic, Jaguar and Vostochny Prospect were heading for India. Aframax ships NS Century, NS Commander, Sakhalin Island, Lityny Prospect and Krymsk; and a very large crude carrier Nellis carrying Russian Sokol oil for IOC were sailing for the Strait of Malacca, Kpler and LSEG ship tracking data showed.

The NS Century faced sanctions imposed by the United States in November for the sale of Russian oil at a price above the cap of $60 a barrel fixed by the G7 grouping of nations and had been floating near Colombo since.

“China appears to be the final solution for some cargoes,” said Katona.

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