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Biden announces ban on Russian oil imports and warns Americans: ‘defending freedom is going to cost’

A ban on Russian oil imports would deal a significant blow to Russia’s government, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuel sales

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Tuesday 08 March 2022 18:20 GMT
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The United States will ban imports of Russian petroleum products into American markets in hopes of choking off funds for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, US President Joe Biden said Tuesday.

“Today, I'm announcing the United State is targeting the main artery of Russia's economy — we're banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy,” said Mr Biden, who explained that the ban would mean Russian oil “will no longer be acceptable in US ports”.

Mr Biden said the ban would enable the American people to “deal another powerful blow” to Mr Putin’s “war machine”. He added that such a ban has “strong bipartisan support” and strong support from everyday Americans who’ve “rallied to support the Ukrainian people”.

The president further explained how the decision to ban Russian oil imports had been made “in close consultation with our allies and our partners around the world, particularly in Europe,” though he acknowledged that many US allies that depend more heavily on Russian imports may not be able to join the US in prohibiting Russian petroleum from their markets.

He added that his administration has had “numerous conversations” with US allies about the need to “wean themselves off” Russian petroleum products, even though the result of those conversations was a realisation that such an action was “just not tenable”.

Mr Biden also noted that the robust US energy sector, which he said “ produces far more oil domestically than all of Europe, all the European countries combined,” is enabling America to cut off Russian imports.

“We're a net exporter of energy, so we can take this step while others cannot, but we're working closely with Europe and our partners to develop a long term strategy to reduce their dependence on Russian energy as well,” he said.

A senior administration official told The Independent that Mr Biden had not specifically asked European allies to join the US in implementing the ban, which they said will bar importation of “Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal”.

Specifically, the official said Mr Biden will sign an executive order to block “any new purchases of Russian crude oil and certain petroleum products, liquefied natural gas and coal” and “wind down the deliveries of existing purchases that have already been contracted for” over a 45 day period.

“It also bans new US investment in Russia's energy sector, which will ensure that American companies and American investors are not underwriting Putin's efforts to expand energy production inside of Russia,” they said, adding later that Americans will also be barred from participation in any foreign investment that would “flow into Russia’s energy sector”.

The official said the US was able to ban Russian imports “because of our strong domestic energy production and infrastructure”.

“We recognize that not all of our allies and partners are currently in a position to join us,” they added.

The president’s announcement came amid a clamour from US politicians who’ve called on Mr Biden to prohibit importation of oil and natural gas from Russia, thereby cutting off a major source of income for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s government.

The push to ban Russian fossil fuel products from the US market had even garnered bipartisan support in Congress, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi telling reporters last week: “I'm all for that. Ban it. Ban the oil coming from Russia”.

Different groups of legislators from both parties in the House and Senate have also been drafting legislation to mandate such a prohibition, the most prominent among the proposals coming from West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.

This infographic by Statista shows the countries which import the most Russian oil (Statista/The Independent)

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has also pushed US and European leaders to ban Russian fossil fuel imports in recent days, including during a Saturday videoconference with US senators.

One of his top advisers, economist Oleg Ustenko, also told Politico a US-led embargo on Russian oil exports would bring Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to a grinding halt because oil and gas revenues bring in an outsized share of revenue for the Russian government, and US and European sanctions have already made Moscow even more reliant on that income stream.

“They will not be equipped financially to continue war with Ukraine, and eventually they will need to stop it,” Mr Ustenko said, though he admitted such a step would be “costly for everybody”.

Even so, the announcement was a stunning reversal from Mr Biden’s previous position on a Russian oil ban.

Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the Biden Administration did not “have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy” because it would raise prices for American consumers.

But as he announced the new ban, Mr Biden said the measure was meant to “inflict further pain” on Mr Putin, but he warned that there would be “a cost” in the US as well.

“The decision today is not without cost to your home — Putin’s war is already hurting American families at the gas pump. Since Putin began his military buildup ... the price of the gas of the pump in America went up 75 cents. And with this action, it is going to go up further.,” he said.

“Defending freedom is going to cost us as well in the United States,” he added, though he stressed that “Democrats and Republicans alike” have “made clear” to him that a ban on Russian oil imports was something the United States “must” do.

“If we do not respond to Putin assault on global peace and stability today, the cost of freedom and to the American people will be even greater tomorrow,” he said.

Still, Mr Biden said he would do “everything” he can to minimize what he called “Putin’s price hike” on American consumers.

“We're taking steps to ensure the reliable supply of global energy,” he said, adding that he would “keep working with every tool at our disposal” to “protect American families and businesses”.

The president also issued a warning to oil and gas producers, who he cautioned against using the crisis brought on by Mr Putin to take advantage of US consumers at the pump.

“We understand Putin's war against the people of Ukraine is causing prices to rise — we get that, that's self evident — but it's no excuse to exercise excessive price increases, or padding profits or any kind of effort to exploit this situation, Russia's aggression is costing us all and this is no time for profiteering or price gouging,” he said, though he also acknowledged that many oil and gas firms have been “leading by example” by pulling out of Russia in the wake of Mr Putin’s invasion.

The president said the crisis precipitated by Russia’s war on Ukraine is a “stark reminder” of the need for US energy independence and motivation for the US to “accelerate the transition to clean energy”.

“Transforming our economy to run on electric vehicles powered by clean energy ... will mean that no one has to worry about price of gas pump in the future,” he said. “Tyrants like Putin won't be able to use fossil fuels as weapons against other nations, and it will make America a world leader manufacturing in exporting clean energy technologies of the future to countries all around the world.”

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