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OPEC and Russia to Meet as Global Forces Weigh on Oil Market


Oil officials from OPEC and Russia will meet on Sunday to think about production levels, just hours before the European Union begins an embargo of Russian oil and amid intense talks to set a price ceiling on Kremlin’s crude.

With a lot uncertainty, the group, generally known as OPEC Plus, may decide to stand pat. In October, it drew fire from the White House and other quarters after announcing a two-million-barrel-a-day cut.

The group may prefer a wait-and-see attitude, analysts say, as quite a lot of forces play out within the oil markets. The immediate challenges are the European Union’s embargo on most Russian crude, which begins on Monday, and the continuing negotiations in Brussels on a United States-led plan to set a ceiling on the worth of Russian oil exported to other destinations. But those aspects are only a part of the issue.

Global economic growth is slowing because of upper central bank rates of interest, supply disruptions and inflation. At the identical time, demand for oil by China, the most important importer of the fuel, has been dampened from Covid lockdowns which have taken a toll on the country’s economy and manufacturing capability. Oil imports by China in the approaching months are “going to be taking place, spectacularly,” said Viktor Katona, an analyst at Kpler, which tracks ship traffic.

That leaves OPEC Plus and its de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, with a tricky call to make.

“They haven’t faced a period of this much short-term uncertainty in a long time,” said Raad Alkadiri, managing director for energy, climate and resources at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm.

The end result of the worth cap and the embargo is difficult to forecast, but their impact could quickly eclipse any move that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decides to make over the weekend — and its members also risk taking a share of criticism within the West if prices rise.

“It appears like a time when OPEC Plus would moderately be within the background than the highlight,” said Richard Bronze, head of geopolitics on the research firm Energy Features.

Still, the cut that OPEC Plus announced in October, despite pressure from the Biden administration to extend production to ease gasoline prices, should dampen any hopes that Saudi Arabia and its allies will do anything but act in their very own interests, analysts say. Their primary goal is to hunt to stop the worth of oil from dropping.

Indeed, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi oil minister, warned recently that the group remained “able to intervene” by reducing supply to bolster prices. Analysts say that if oil prices fall in coming weeks, OPEC Plus won’t hesitate to chop production in January or February.

“I don’t think there’s anything that stops OPEC from taking oil off the market if it desires to,” Mr. Alkadiri said.

The war in Ukraine, after huge disruptions to the oil and gas industry from global Covid shutdowns, has created a possibility for the Saudis and their OPEC allies.

With uncertainty about supplies from Russia, considered one of the world’s key energy producers, Saudi Arabia’s ability to supply additional oil has rarely been so essential. This attribute, together with the relatively high prices for oil, now about $87 a barrel for Brent crude and $81 for West Texas Intermediate, give Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the dominion’s chief policymaker, the boldness and revenues to pursue a political course more independent of Washington than his predecessors.

However the inclination of Western governments to intervene in energy markets, an area that OPEC considers its purview, appears stronger than at any time in a few years.

Many traders and investors are skeptical about whether the worth cap and Russian oil embargo shall be effective. But those moves are threatening to the Saudis and other producers, analysts said, because they may mushroom right into a type of buyers’ cartel, turning the tables on OPEC. The concern is that these Western initiatives could lead to “the power to mandate what sort of oil is sweet oil,” and the way much it should cost, said Karen E. Young, a senior research scholar on the Columbia University Center on Energy Policy.

What seems likely is that tensions between the West and the Saudis and their allies will persist. Europe will want the Middle East producers to assist substitute for lost Russian oil. However the Saudis are unlikely to wish to seem to take sides against Russia, which has been a useful ally on oil matters since reaching a take care of OPEC in 2016. Before that, Moscow took advantage of OPEC’s production cuts to sell more of its own oil.

Europe is facing a very gargantuan task. First, it must replace a serious source of crude oil when the Russian embargo starts on Monday; then, in February, the embargo expands to cover Russia’s refined products, like diesel. Much of the switchover is already happening, with tankers bringing oil to Europe from the USA, Brazil, Guyana and the Middle East.

Because of this, analysts say, Europe may escape major problems — at the least within the early days. “There could be a little bit of disruption in the primary few days,” said Josh Folds, an analyst at FGE, a consulting firm. He said the plan to phase out Russian refined products in February might create greater problems, especially for diesel, which Europe has been importing from Russia in vast quantities.

Oil markets, too, have been calm, staying at just below the $90 a barrel for Brent crude, the international benchmark, a price level, analysts say, that the Saudis need to defend.

But much could also go mistaken. The world’s oil trade is being rerouted, often with for much longer journeys, straining the shipping fleet to close breaking point. And while it’s widely assumed that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia will allow operations to proceed as usual while the embargo and the worth cap kick in, some analysts worry that he could begin to withhold or obstruct oil, using the fuel as a weapon within the war in Ukraine just as he has by cutting natural gas deliveries to Europe.

“Now we have seen increasingly that Russia has done things that are driven by politics moderately than economics in terms of energy exports,” Mr. Bronze said.

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