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Increases in Russian oil supply have played a major role in balancing world oil markets, at a time when other non-OPEC sources such as the N Sea have been declining. Production rose from 6.2mbd in 1999 to 9.6mbd by 2006. But as I noted last month, there are signs it may now have peaked.

The reason for this is perhaps to be found in a comment by Leonid Filimonov, former USSR Oil Minister, in this month’s ‘Petroleum Review’ . He said that from 1998, Russian oil “companies were focusing on the ‘easy fields’, racking up tremendous production gains, leaving only the ‘difficult fields’ for the future”.

More recently, under Putin, Russia has become much more professional in its marketing of crude. According to the Financial Times, he has re-established central control of Russian crude sales by supporting the growth of Gunvor, a Geneva based trading house now responsible for an estimated $70bn worth of Russian oil sales this year. This has helped to support oil prices, by comparison with the previous free-for-all, and is credited with helping to ‘reduce the discount between Russian Urals and western Brent’.

European isomer players may recognise some of the names involved in Gunvor, as it owes its origins to the Kirishi refinery, a regular PX/OX producer for many years. Kirishi is, of course, close to St Petersburg, where Putin was formerly Mayor. And according to the FT, the relationship is still maintained via a common interest in judo, with Putin and Gunvor boss Gennady Timchenko both members of Moscow’s Yavara Neva club.

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