French cash, Russian fuel, Ukrainian blood

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: United Kingdom

Publishing organisation: Global Witness, Le Monde

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-08-24

Language: English, French

Authors: Louis Goddard, Louis Wilson, Sam Leon, Mai Rosner, Lela Stanley, Ben Ayre, Jon Gant, Julien Boissou, Emmanuel Grynszpan


The ‘Stop Russian Oil’ team at Global Witness was formed in the months after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, to tackle both the climate impact of Russian fossil fuel exports and their funding of the war. Since then, we have worked on dozens of high-profile stories in collaboration with talented investigative journalists, including – as in this case – Julien Boissou and Emmanuel Grynszpan from _Le Monde_.

Project description:

Using satellite imagery and Russian rail freight data, Global Witness revealed links between Western joint venture gas and condensate fields in the Russian Arctic and the supply chain for military jet fuel.

Impact reached:

The story had a direct and immediate impact on the conduct of TotalEnergies’s business in Russia. On the day of publication, speaking on French television, Clément Beaune – the transport minister – called for an official investigation into the allegations. Two days after the story was published, Total announced the sale of its stake in Terneftegaz – the joint venture company at the centre of the story – to Novatek, its partner. A few months later, in December, Total announced the full withdrawal of its directors from the Novatek board and a write-down of its investment’s value in its annual accounts.

Techniques/technologies used:

The primary tool for this story was Russian rail freight dispatch data provided by the [Anti-Corruption Data Collective](https://acdatacollective.org/), combined with commercially available pipeline flows data from Refinitiv. This data, providing a near real-time view of flows of crude oil, condensate and refined products within Russia, allowed us to pinpoint where condensate from a TotalEnergies joint venture field entered a processing plant, before a proportion of the finished product was sent for refining into jet fuel.

The rail shipments data in particular also allowed us to track shipments from the refinery to Russian military air bases around the border with Ukraine. From further open source research, we were able to determine that these bases had likely played host to fighter-bomber aircraft used in the all-out Russian assault on Ukraine, including serious incidents in which civilians appeared to have been deliberately targeted.

The project would not have achieved the impact it did without the skilled work of Ben Ayre, Global Witness’s interactive developer, who brought this complex supply chain into focus with a series of maps and graphics that travelled widely on social media and elsewhere. At the same time, the political and commercial nous and contextual understanding brought by the reporters from _Le Monde_ helped to ensure that the the story’s findings reached fellow journalists who could amplify its findings, company executives and policymakers.

Context about the project:

This story was developed in the context of an ongoing war, with a very high sense of urgency. Due to the availability of the data described above, the actual process of investigating it and building out the supply chain was relatively straightforward, with Global Witness’s data investigations team easily able to handle the analysis involved.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

This story neatly demonstrates the power of commercially available commodities industry data to illuminate trade flows both internationally and at the national level, revealing stories that might otherwise have remained available only to well-resourced players in the industry itself.

By creating links between a subject-focussed investigative organisation with data expertise and access to high-quality industry data (Global Witness) and highly experienced and motivated journalists at a publication with a strong record of work on the company concerned (Le Monde), this project created the necessary conditions for those stories to reach a much broader audience.

Project links: