India's April crude oil imports were the highest in three and a half years as the world's third biggest oil importer and consumer ramped up discounted Russian oil purchases to fuel a recovery in demand and fight high prices.
Crude oil imports increased by about 9.7 per cent from March and were up about 14.3 per cent from a year earlier at 20.87 million tonnes, the highest since October 2018, according to Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell data on Friday.
"Indian refiners continued to take extremely discounted Russian barrels, especially medium sour Urals grade, to capitalise on strong diesel cracks for domestic consumption and exports," said Janiv Shah, a downstream analyst at Rystad.
"Refiners delayed planned maintenance to take advantage of current market conditions as refinery runs exceeded beyond nameplate capacities," Mr Shah added.
India's imports of Russian oil have soared since the invasion of Ukraine, at a time when Western sanctions have prompted many oil importers to shun trade with Moscow.
Tanker tracking data this week showed Russia became the fourth-largest oil supplier to India in April.
Imports of oil products jumped 23.7 per cent to 3.79 million tonnes from a year earlier, while exports climbed 36.9 per cent. Of the 5.36 million tonnes of exports in April, diesel accounted for 2.69 million tonnes, government data showed.
UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo attributed the rise in imports to Indian demand, which has recovered, and the country making use of discounted Russian crude for domestic and strategic storage purposes to eventually refine that Russian crude and export it as oil product.
India, Asia's third-biggest economy, holds surplus refining capacity and exports refined fuels as well.
The country's wholesale prices last month accelerated at the fastest pace in at least 17 years as the Ukraine war and a weak rupee pushed up energy and raw material costs.