WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden has decided to ban the import of Russian oil, intensifying the blows to Russia’s economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the case.
The move stems from requests from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to US and Western officials to halt imports, which was a clear omission of the massive sanctions imposed on Russia over the invasion. Energy exports maintain a steady flow of money to Russia, despite severe restrictions on its financial sector.
Biden was due to announce the move on Tuesday, the man said, speaking on condition of anonymity, to discuss the issue before the announcement. The White House said Biden would speak on Tuesday morning to declare “action to continue bringing Russia to justice for its unprovoked and unjustified war with Ukraine.”
The United States will act alone, but in close consultation with European allies, who are more dependent on Russian energy supplies. Natural gas from Russia accounts for one third of Europe’s fossil fuel consumption. The United States does not import Russian natural gas.
Two weeks ago, Biden explained his reluctance to impose energy sanctions at the very beginning of the conflict, saying he was trying to “limit the pain the American people are feeling from the gas pump.”
News of his decision on Tuesday was first reported by Bloomberg.
Prior to the invasion, Russian oil and gas accounted for more than a third of government revenue. World energy prices have risen since the invasion and continue to rise, despite the coordinated release of strategic reserves, making Russian exports even more profitable.
The United States and international partners have imposed sanctions on Russia’s largest banks, its central bank and finance ministry, and have blocked some financial institutions in the SWIFT messaging system for international payments.
But regulations issued by the Treasury allow Russian energy transactions to continue to pass through unauthorized non-US banks to minimize any disruptions to global energy markets.
Inflation is at its peak in 40 years and is largely fueled by gas prices, politically harming Biden’s voters heading for the November election.
The sanctions created a possible compromise for the president between his political interests at home and abroad. By invading Ukraine, Russia has potentially contributed to supply chain problems and inflation, which have been a serious weakness for Biden, who is now trying to find a balance between punishing Putin and pitying American voters.
Biden especially singled out Russian energy resources as a virtue because they will help protect American families and businesses from rising prices.
“We have specially designed our sanctions package to allow us to continue paying for energy resources,” he said.
Restricting the world’s largest natural gas exporter and second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia could damage the unity that U.S. officials say is key to Putin’s confrontation.
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