A little-known Hong Kong-based trading company, Guron Trading, recently emerged as the new owner of 100,000 tonnes of Urals crude carried by a Liberian-flagged oil tanker, Leopard I, which set sail from Russia’s Ust-Luga port in May.
The rise of such obscure trading firms has been witnessed in the wake of sanctions imposed due to the Ukraine war.
At least 40 middlemen, including previously unheard-of companies, have handled Russian oil trading between March and June this year, accounting for at least half of Russia’s overall crude and refined products exports.
This growing network of pop-up traders has transformed these lesser-known entities into some of the world’s largest oil traders, filling the void left by major oil firms and commodity houses that withdrew from business with Russia.
The complex web of transactions and multiple trades during sea voyages has made it challenging for sanctions enforcement agencies to track Russian oil transactions and prices effectively.
With Western shippers avoiding old oil tankers, the new trading practices also pose financial risks for Russian oil companies engaging with unknown entities.
Despite concerns, the trades do not appear to violate sanctions explicitly.
However, the constant flux of the trading network makes it challenging to identify those involved in moving the oil.
The sudden rise and fall of these traders have been compared to the transient nature of TikTok stars.
The situation reflects a significant departure from the previous system dominated by well-established oil majors and top trading houses.
The emergence of these enigmatic firms has helped sustain and even boost Russia’s oil exports, particularly to China and India, as these countries have not imposed sanctions on Moscow.
While the source of ultimate ownership of these new trading companies remains unclear, they continue to play a vital role in the dynamic world of Russian oil exports, amid geopolitical tensions and economic sanctions.