What now for Russia’s exports after the Ukraine invasion?

  • The war in Ukraine has focused attention on Russia’s global exports.
  • Russia is a key supplier of not just oil and gas, but also wheat, metals and fertilizers.
  • Sanctions on Russia have led to sharp rises in various commodity prices.

Russia’s response to international sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine has been to order a halt to exports of more than 200 products. But what exactly does Russia export and where do its shipments go?

Media attention has focused on Russia’s role as a major supplier of oil and gas, but the country also exports many other commodities and products.

Crude oil is Russia’s biggest export, accounting for $123 billion of its export revenues, data for 2019 shows. Next on the list are refined petroleum – things like petrol and diesel – at $66.2 billion, gas at $26.3 billion and coal at $17.6 billion.

But Russia is also the world’s largest exporter of wheat, bringing in $8.14 billion from sales in 2019. It is also a big exporter of semi-finished iron – this includes iron bars and other items used to make iron products – with sales worth just under $7 billion in 2019, and a large supplier of nickel ($4.03 billion) and nitrogen-based fertilizers ($3.05 billion).

Energy and raw materials, such as metals, are actually exempt from the export ban, although Bloomberg quoted Moscow as saying it has suspended timber exports “to states that are undertaking hostile actions against Russia”. The ban also covers telecoms, medical, vehicle, agricultural and electrical equipment.

These are the commodities that made up Russia’s $474 billion of exports in 2019.

These are the commodities that made up Russia’s $474 billion of exports in 2019.

Image: Harvard Center for International Development

Russia: a commodity superpower

In terms of raw materials, Russia is also the second-largest exporter of cobalt, one of the key elements used in making rechargeable batteries. It is also the world’s second-largest supplier of vanadium, which is used in large-scale energy storage and in steelmaking.

The country is the sixth-largest exporter of gold, accounting for 4.4% of the world’s supply, and the 10th biggest supplier of lead.

Russia accounts for 10% of the world’s supply of nickel, which is used to make stainless steel and vehicle batteries. The price of nickel soared by 250% in a day on fears that sanctions would hit supplies, and the London Metal Exchange even suspended trading of the metal because of the unprecedented price rises.

Russian exports of platinum account for 12.3% of global supply, and the country is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of tungsten. The country also supplies smaller quantities of manganese (which is used in glassmaking, drinks cans and as paint pigment) and zinc (used in making car bodies).

Russia covers about 3.5% of global demand for copper, and copper prices have hit record highs this month.

Who buys Russia’s exports?

China is the leading destination for Russia’s exports, taking 14.9% of the total by value in 2020. Next is the Netherlands, whose 7.4% share is largely accounted for by oil and gas imports.

Other significant commodity export markets for Russia include the United Kingdom, which in 2020 took 6.9% of Russia’s total exports by value (worth $23 billion), Germany (5.5%) and Belarus (4.7%).

Russia is a key supplier of the world’s wheat.

Russia is a key supplier of the world’s wheat.

What does the Ukraine invasion mean for wheat supplies?

Russia also exports significant quantities of grains and has imposed a halt on grain shipments to its neighbours in the Eurasian Economic Union until the end of August to “maintain stability on the Russian market”.

Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, and global wheat prices are reaching record highs because of the war’s impact on shipments.

The two largest buyers of Russian wheat exports are Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, and Turkey. However, with Black Sea ports closed because of the conflict, both countries are likely to import less from Russia in 2022, the US Department of Agriculture says.