British supermarkets are facing criticism for continuing to sell Russian diesel at their petrol stations almost four months after the invasion of Ukraine began.
Campaigners have plastered at least 4,000 “Pumping for Putin” stickers on petrol pumps to raise awareness and urge the retailers to end their trade in Russian oil, according to organisers.
As Europe wrangles over its strategy for stopping fossil fuel imports from Russia to starve Putin’s war effort, supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, and Asda have all made public statements of support for Ukraine.
But the retailers have confirmed that Russian-sourced diesel could still be flowing from pumps at their petrol stations until the end of the year, when the government says Russian oil imports must end.
Concerns have been raised since the beginning of the war about the sums of money being paid to Russia for oil and gas imports, which are smaller in volume than for many other European countries but are still estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
“UK retailers want us to believe they are ethically minded and support Ukraine, but if they are selling Russian oil they are complicit in the carnage”, said Matt Mellen, editor of online environmental magazine Ecohustler, which organised the campaign.
“People up and down the country want them to do more and do better. We need a brand to take the lead and find a way to ensure the fuel products being sold on their forecourt are not funding Putin.”
Chicken Kievs Renamed
Elena Polisano, oil and gas campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Supermarkets were quick to remove Russian vodka from shelves and rename their chicken Kievs as chicken Kyivs.
“Customers will be outraged if supermarkets are asking them to donate to Ukraine at the till, but passing their money to Putin at the pump.
“If Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons truly want to stand by Ukraine, they should make sure they’re not filling their pumps with Putin’s diesel that is directly funding his bloody war. At the very least, they should demand that the government implement an immediate ban on imports of Russian fossil fuels,” she said.
In March, the National Ecology Centre of Ukraine – the country’s biggest environmental organisation, joined with 22 other groups in calling on UK retailers to reveal what percentage of their petrol and diesel sales were sourced from Russia.
Responding to the criticism, Andrew Opie, director for food at the British Retail Consortium, whose members include the supermarkets in question, said: “Our members are fully committed to phasing out Russian oil in line with the government’s decision.
“However, this cannot happen all at once, or it would risk creating a supply issue that would further increase the price consumers have to pay at the pumps.”
Rhian Bartlett, food commercial director at Sainsbury’s, said: “We stand united with the people of Ukraine and have taken a range of steps to show our support – from helping to fund the humanitarian effort on the ground, to removing products from our stores which are 100 percent sourced from Russia.
“We have been working hard to reduce the amount of diesel we sell which comes from Russia since the early days of the conflict. This is a complex process but we are committed to working together with the rest of the UK fuel industry and government to support the ban on Russian oil imports, which is due to take effect by the end of this year.”
Tesco, Asda and Morrisons declined to comment. It is understood that all three are planning to phase out Russian fuel from their supply chains by the end of the year, in line with the government’s deadline.
BP, whose petrol stations are also being targeted by the activists, did not respond when contacted for comment.
Shell declined to comment but referred DeSmog to a note on its website which says the company has stopped new direct purchases of oil from Russia and its “long-term contracts” will cease by the end of 2022.
It adds that some “blended” fuel products such as diesel that contain liquids from Russia remain throughout the industry, and that “Shell has eliminated the vast majority of spot purchases of refined products that may contain a proportion of Russian fuel that was blended in further up the supply chain.”
A spokesperson for ExxonMobil, which owns Esso, said: “Since the embargo, there have been no deliveries of Russian crude to our refinery at Fawley – and no deliveries of Russian crude or refined products are scheduled for the UK. We support the internationally coordinated efforts to bring Russia’s unprovoked attack to an end, and are complying with all sanctions.”
Updated 17/6/22 at 5.40pm BST to include ExxonMobil comment.