Trading house Trafigura is set to become the largest exporter of oil from Russian state-owned energy major Rosneft under a deal it is negotiating with the sanctions-hit company, industry sources told Reuters.
From April, Trafigura will start handling more than a dozen tankers or 1 million tonnes a month (240,000 barrels per day) of oil from Rosneft, over a tenth of Russia's overall oil exports, three trading sources familiar with the development told Reuters.
Rosneft and Trafigura declined to comment.
Since coming under U.S. and EU sanctions last year imposed over Russia's role in Ukraine, Rosneft has been working hard to raise short-term financing, still not forbidden by sanctions, in exchange for oil exports, to help it meet debt repayments.
The sanctions also blocked its ambition to expand into global oil trading, by killing off a deal to buy U.S. bank Morgan Stanley's oil trading division at the end of 2014.
The squeeze on Rosneft has been compounded by a collapse in oil prices and the rapid devaluation of the rouble -- a crisis the central bank said Rosneft contributed to when it borrowed a large sum through the local bond market in the run-up to the repayment of a $7 billion loan to Western banks in December.
Swiss-based Trafigura has been trading oil with Rosneft under a two-year old deal but volumes rarely amounted to more than two tankers a month -- dwarfed by deals with rival Glencore and Vitol as well as oil majors such as Eni, Total and Royal Dutch Shell.
It was not immediately clear whether the new deal would involve any short-term financing between Trafigura and Rosneft, or whether it would extend beyond oil trading.
In February, Trafigura surprised rivals by unexpectedly obtaining extra cargoes from Rosneft in exchange for short-term financing just ahead of another $7 billion debt repayment.
Rosneft has now passed the peak of debt servicing but needs dozens of billions of dollars to fund field expansion and its refinery modernisation programme.