‘Bottom-out’; Biden announces ban on all Russian oil imports

Striking harder at Russia’s economy, US President Joe Biden has announced a ban on Russian oil imports in retaliation for Vladimir Putin’s onslaught in Ukraine. The major trade action, responding to the pleas of Ukraine’s embattled leader, thrust the US out front as Western nations seek to halt Putin’s invasion. The imports have been a glaring omission in the massive sanctions put in place on Russia over the invasion. Energy exports have kept a steady stream of cash flowing to Russia despite otherwise severe restrictions on its financial sector.

“We will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war,” Biden said, calling the new action a “powerful blow” against Russia’s ability to fund the ongoing offensive. Biden said the US was acting in close consultation with European allies, who are more dependent on Russian energy supplies and who he acknowledged may not be able to join in immediately. The announcement marked the latest Biden attempt at cutting off Russia from much of the global economy and ensuring that the Ukraine invasion is a strategic loss for Putin, even if he manages to seize territory.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a tweet praised Biden’s action: “Thankful for US and @POTUS personal leadership in striking in the heart of Putin’s war machine and banning oil, gas and coal from US market. Encourage other countries and leaders to follow.” Unlike the US, which is a major oil and gas producer, Europe relies on imports for 90 per cent of its gas and 97 per cent of its oil products. Russia supplies 40 per cent of Europe’s gas and a quarter of its oil. The US does not import Russian natural gas. The issue of oil sanctions has created a conflict for the president between political interests at home and efforts to impose costs on Russia. Though Russian oil makes up only a small part of US imports, Biden has said he was reluctant to ban it, cutting into supplies here and pushing gasoline prices higher.

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