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Russia Boosts Flow of Fuel to Troops at Border

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Russia has been moving sharply higher volumes of transportation fuels to regions bordering Ukraine as part of its military buildup, according to official data seen by Energy Intelligence.

The data — covering all Russian domestic rail shipments — shows a significant rise in supplies of jet fuel and diesel to forces in numerous regions bordering Ukraine, where reports and satellite images indicate an accumulation of military hardware.

Over 12,000 barrels per day of products — primarily jet fuel and diesel, but also some gasoline — were shipped to armed forces in seven regions bordering Ukraine and southern Belarus in January, according to the data.

This rose to about 14,000 b/d in the first half of February. These volumes compare with an average of just 3,000 b/d for the whole of 2021 (see table).

The data covers deliveries to Russia's defense ministry in eight regions in the southwestern part of the country: Bryansk, Belgorod, Voronezh, Kursk, Rostov, Krasnodar, Crimea and Smolensk.

Fuel shipments pass through Smolensk to reach Belarus, where Russian troops remain stationed after recent military exercises.

Additional product volumes seen in late 2021 and early 2022 would have been needed for military exercises conducted recently in southern Belarus and Crimea.

It's unclear from the data whether products are being stockpiled for any potential military action against Ukraine.

Air Superiority

Jet fuel supplies have been particularly large. These would be needed in large volumes to establish air superiority in the event of any hostilities.

The data show 5,270 b/d of jet fuel shipped to forces in the eight border regions in January, soaring to almost 11,200 b/d in the first half of February.

Nato forces have standardized fuel supplies for ground and air forces, with most using JP-8, a jet fuel product, for both aircraft and ground equipment, but Russian forces continue to use different products.

Jet fuel is used by the Russian air force while diesel is used for tanks, armored personnel carriers, missile launchers and other ground vehicles.

Diesel supplies were high in January but declined in most regions in February.

It's not clear whether the recent level of supplies would be sufficient for a large-scale military operation, but the volumes are approaching the levels transported to border areas in 2014, when battles in eastern Ukraine between national forces and Russian-backed separatists reached a peak.

The data covers rail only and does not include possible maritime shipments to Crimea or deliveries via an oil products pipeline, operated by state-controlled Transneft, that feeds the Voronezh and Belgorod regions bordering Ukraine.

Jet Fuel Supplies Soar

Over 40% of the Feb. 1-15 rail volumes for jet — some 4,700 b/d — were offloaded in the Krasnodar region, which is a transit area for cargo deliveries to Crimea as they cross a new bridge over the Kerch Strait.

For comparison, the ministry took delivery of an average of 1,700 b/d of jet fuel in this southern region last year.

More striking are the jet fuel deliveries to the Kursk and Rostov regions, where no military maneuvers are known to have taken place.

In January and the first half of February, the armed forces received 835 b/d of jet in Kursk, versus a 2021 average of 210 b/d.

The Rostov region, which borders the separatist-controlled territory of Donbas, took delivery of nearly 1,600 b/d of jet fuel for the military during the same period, compared with 1,235 b/d in 2021.

Shipments of jet fuel via the Smolensk region, a transit territory to Belarus, have skyrocketed.

Since the start of 2022, these deliveries have risen to 1,900 b/d from a mere 145 b/d in 2021, rail data show. These shipments peaked at almost 3,000 b/d in the first half of February.

Diesel Flows Slide

With the exception of Rostov, which has been used as a "humanitarian corridor" for supplying goods to eastern Ukraine, supplies of diesel to Russia's defense forces in regions bordering Ukraine began to decline in the first half of February.

But they had risen sharply in January. Total diesel deliveries by rail to Russian troops stationed near Ukraine amounted to about 5,812 b/d last month.

In August 2014, during hostilities in eastern Ukraine, diesel deliveries to these areas amounted to 2,150 b/d, and then climbed to a peak of 3,000 b/d in October.

To be sure, in 2014, Moscow was not supplying troops in southern Belarus and could not ship fuel by rail to Crimea since there was no bridge over the Kerch Strait at that time. The armed forces would have had to rely on fuel delivered by ship to the peninsula.

It is also worth nothing that Russia has so far continued to export diesel to Ukraine.

Last year Ukraine imported some 43,000 b/d of diesel from Russia. These supplies, which came by both rail and pipeline, would almost certainly be cut off in the event of an armed conflict. Ukraine also imports diesel from Belarus.

All volumes cited in this article have been converted from metric tons to barrels per day using an average rate of 7.8 barrels per ton for light products.

Fuel for Russian Troops Along Ukrainian Border
 Jet Fuel (tons)Jet Fuel (b/d)Gasoline (tons)Gasoline (b/d)Diesel (tons)Diesel (b/d)Total (tons)Total Fuels (tons per day)
202183,130 1,822 4,348 101 53,173 1,086 140,651 385 
Jan 202220,436 5,273 3,173 870 24,152 5,812 47,761 1,541 
Feb 1-15, 202220,977 11,187 803 455 5,058 2,515 26,839 1,789 

Topics:
Security Risk , Oil Products, Jet Fuel, Diesel/Gasoil
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