Fueling the Russian War Machine
How Asia is helping fund the Ukraine invasion
Skyrocketing food prices. Empty grocery store shelves. Shuttered gas pumps.
These are daily scenes for citizens in Asia living thousands of kilometers from embattled Ukraine–just the knock-on effects of a far-off war that began in late February.
But research shows Asia is more than just an unwitting victim of the fallout of geopolitical conflict.
Asia - including key East Asian countries - indirectly supports the war by importing Russian fossil fuels.
What’s going on in Ukraine?
Over five months have passed since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The invasion has killed thousands of civilians and destroyed key cities such as Mariupol. Tens of millions of refugees have fled to neighboring countries. Economists estimate that rebuilding Ukraine’s economy will require nearly 1 trillion euros.
How are fossil fuels tied to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine?
Russia’s war effort has been enabled and sustained by fossil fuel revenues. In 2021, approximately 45 percent of Russia’s federal budget came from oil and gas revenues, according to the International Energy Agency.
Russia’s Finance Minister, speaking on May 27 on Russian state television seemed to affirm this connection, saying some of the 1 trillion rubles (approximately 17 billion euros) of additional oil and gas revenues this year would be used “to conduct a special operation.”
Asian fossil fuel imports are linked to the Ukraine invasion.
As Europe accelerates its plans to phase out Russian fossil fuel imports by the end of the year and expand its renewables capacity, Asia is rising to take its place.
According to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), as of 31 July 2022, China was the largest importer of Russian fossil fuels out of all countries and is quickly becoming the largest buyer of Russian oil along with India.
Note: The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of CREA concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
National leaders are juggling three energy goals: energy security, economic development, and environmental and climate protection.
This is particularly true for East Asian countries that import almost all of their energy. The Russia-Ukraine war adds one more goal ─ international justice.
POLICY SCIENTIST AT THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE
East Asia’s role becomes even clearer when looking at Russian imports by commodity.
LARGEST IMPORTERS OF FOSSIL FUELS FROM RUSSIA
data per 31 July 2022
Japan was the third largest importer of Russian coal and the fourth largest importer of LNG globally.
Taiwan was the fifth largest importer of coal, and the eighth largest importer of LNG globally.
South Korea was the seventh largest importer of coal and LNG globally.
Where the fossil fuels
are heading in East Asia
South Korea is a major hub for Russian crude oil.
Yeosu, South Korea – a popular holiday destination for South Koreans – is the fifth largest Russian crude oil importing port globally, behind only China, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Taiwan tops the charts for Russian coal imports.
As of July 31, Taiwan’s Kaohsiung port was the fourth largest coal-importing port globally.
Japanese ports are top LNG importers.
Japan’s Kisarazu port was the ninth largest LNG-importing port globally, behind countries all in Europe and China.
Top companies receiving
Russian fossil fuels in East Asia
From February 24 - the beginning of the invasion - to July 31, over 30 companies in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan received fossil fuel shipments from Russia.
The top 10 largest importing companies are listed below.
The top 10 companies include one of the world's largest steelmakers (POSCO), as well as Japan's largest energy company (JERA), which is also a sponsor of the country's professional baseball central league.
Other companies that received imports not in the top 10 include prominent names such as Mitsubishi Materials, Sumitomo Osaka Cement, Hyundai Steel, and Nippon Steel.
Only companies with identifiable names are listed. Unidentified companies that received shipments are not included.
Only companies that have not publicly announced they would stop Russian energy imports are listed. Thus, despite having larger imports than some of the listed companies, ENEOS has been excluded.
Swipe through the slider below to see the value of shipments from the top importing companies in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.
JAPAN'S TOP SPENDER
In Japan, JERA was the largest importer in terms of monetary value as of July 31, importing an estimated 825.4 million euros' worth of LNG, crude oil, and coal.
East Asia continue to lag on energy import bans.
Though companies have not committed to an outright ban on Russian imports, some have taken steps towards ending Russian energy imports.
For instance, in February, at least one unit of Korea’s state utility KEPCO started “diversifying” its coal import sources away from Russia, according to an unnamed source at the unit. In March and April, Japan-based Kyushu Electric Power and ENEOS said they would no longer buy Russian crude oil and coal.
Japanese petroleum producer Taiyo Oil suspended signing new contracts for Russian crude oil following Japan's decision to ban Russian oil imports. Taiwan’s state-owned gas company CPC Corporation said it would not renew its five-year LNG contract with Russia, which ended in March. (Of note, CREA nonetheless tracked an import from a Russian port—most likely a spot purchase—in May.)
As of 31 July, however, other companies listed above have yet to present policies banning Russian imports outright.
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are all among the 10 largest importers of both LNG and coal from Russia, collectively importing more than nearly 5 billion euros’ worth of fossil fuels since the start of the invasion. Moving to a full ban on imports would show both important moral leadership and improve the countries' energy security by insulating them from energy blackmail. When EU countries' bans on Russian coal and oil take effect by the end of the year, countries in East Asia will essentially be left as the top buyers of Russian fossil fuels.
LEAD RESEARCHER AT CENTER FOR RESEARCH ON ENERGY AND CLEAN AIR
Fossil fuel consumption
doesn’t make sense globally—but also in Asia.
Fossil fuels don’t only spur geopolitical conflict –they also don’t make sense financially in many parts of the world, including East Asia.
The war in Ukraine has driven up global LNG prices to record levels, a hit for countries like Japan and South Korea, which depend heavily on imported LNG for their domestic energy supply.
Moreover, as seen from the chart below, solar energy is already cheaper or will be cheaper than gas by 2023 and by 2025 in South Korea and Japan respectively, according to the climate think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative per 8 April 2022 data.
The chart above shows an average of the values for both South Korea and Japan.
As the EU looks to the Middle East to replace Russian gas, South Korea has applied similar logic. According to a July report in Financial News, an online South Korean financial outlet, oil imports from the region to South Korea have risen 4.5 percent this year, despite a continued dip in the previous five years. However, sourcing fossil fuels from other regions is a false solution, as the costs of renewables continue to drop below those for coal, oil and gas globally.
Beyond the costs, experts say transitioning to renewable energy makes sense for long-term global stability. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), emissions from burning fossil fuels raise global temperatures, which increases the chance of food insecurity, migration and conflicts in countries with fragile political and social ecosystems. Energy systems that are dependent on renewables reduce those risks.
Continued investment in fossil fuels will accelerate climate change and continue countries’ dependence and vulnerability to often autocratic regimes. If countries embrace the necessary energy transition towards a fossil-free economy and invest in renewables, they might do more with less and ensure more resilient peace when the time comes.
DIRECTOR AND SENIOR RESEARCHER AT SIPRI'S CLIMATE CHANGE AND RISK PROGRAMME
What’s the alternative to fossil fuels?
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called renewable energy “the peace plan of the 21st century” in a speech at the Austrian World Summit this June.
Cutting East Asian financing for Russian fossil fuels is only the first step. Countries should aim to move their entire energy systems toward renewable energy. The economics – as well as global peace and temperatures – calls for it.
Had we invested massively in renewable energy in the past, we would not be so dramatically at the mercy of the instability of fossil fuel markets. The only true path to energy security, stable power prices, prosperity and a livable planet lies in abandoning polluting fossil fuels, especially coal, and accelerating the renewables-based energy transition.
What should countries
and corporations do to stop contributing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
Most are on the right track with sanctions and finding replacements for Russian fossil fuels. But execution, consistency and coverage are waning. There are several ways Asia can stop fueling the Russian war machine, according to CREA.
Buyers of Russian fossil fuels should:
END ALL PURCHASES
of Russian fossil fuels. This strengthens the effect of sanctions and weakens Russian war efforts.
on imports from Russia, if a full-ban isn’t appropriate during wind-down or transition periods, to discourage buyers and to curb the price paid to Russian suppliers on spot markets.
CREATE A PLAN
to replace Russian fossil fuels with renewable energy, as well as boost energy efficiency and energy savings measures as soon as possible. This will have far-reaching economic, health and national security benefits.
With the exception of the solar vs. gas costs in Japan and South Korea chart, all information shown on the site was provided by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and last updated on 31 July 2022. CREA uses scientific data, research and evidence to support the efforts of governments, companies and campaigning organizations worldwide in their efforts to move towards clean energy and clean air.