Zick Miller, Mike Balsam and Josh Buk
WASHINGTON (AP) – On Tuesday, President Joe Biden dealt a tougher blow to Russia’s economy and ordered a ban on Russian oil imports in retaliation for Vladimir Putin’s offensive in Ukraine. The main trade action in response to requests from the leader of Ukraine, which is in dire straits, has thrown the United States forward as Western nations seek to stop Putin’s invasion.
Americans will also feel pain – at the gas station – admitted Biden, saying: “Protecting freedom will cost.”
Imports were a clear blunder in the massive sanctions imposed on Russia over the invasion. Energy exports have maintained a steady flow of cash to Russia, despite severe constraints on its financial sector.
“We will not be involved in subsidizing Putin’s war,” Biden said, calling the new action a “powerful blow” to Russia’s ability to fund an ongoing offensive.
Biden said the United States is in close consultation with European allies, who are more dependent on Russian energy supplies and who, he acknowledged, may not immediately join them. The statement was Biden’s latest attempt to cut Russia off from much of the world economy and ensure that the invasion of Ukraine becomes a strategic loss for Putin, even if he manages to seize territory.
“Ukraine will never be Putin’s victory,” Biden said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised Biden’s actions: “I am grateful to the United States and @POTUS for their personal guidance in striking at the heart of Putin’s military machine and banning oil, gas and coal on the American market. Encourage other countries and leaders to follow. ”
This week, the European Union will commit to relinquishing its dependence on Russia for energy needs as soon as possible, but filling the void without damaging the EU economy is likely to take some time. The UK, which is no longer part of the EU, announced on Tuesday that oil and petroleum products from Russia will be phased out by the end of the year.
Unlike the United States, which is a major producer of oil and gas, Europe expects to import 90% of gas and 97% of petroleum products. Russia supplies 40% of its gas to Europe and a quarter of its oil. The United States does not import Russian natural gas.
The issue of oil sanctions has created a conflict for the president between domestic political interests and efforts to impose costs on Russia. Despite the fact that Russian oil is only a small part of US imports, Biden said he did not want to ban it by cutting supplies here and raising gasoline prices.
Inflation is at its peak in 40 years, largely fueled by gas prices, and this could hurt Biden in the November by-elections.
“Putin’s war is already hurting American families at the gas station,” Biden said, adding: “I will do everything in my power to minimize the rise in Putin’s prices here at home.”
Gas prices have been rising for weeks due to the conflict and pending potential sanctions against the Russian energy sector. The average price per gallon of gasoline in the US on Tuesday reached a record $ 4.17, an increase of 10 cents in one day and 55 cents compared to last week, according to the AAA auto club.
Biden said it was clear that prices were rising, but warned the U.S. energy industry against “excessive price increases” and consumer exploitation.
Even before the US ban, many Western energy companies, including ExxonMobil and BP, went on to sever ties with Russia and restrict imports. Shell, which bought a batch of Russian oil this weekend, apologized on Tuesday for the move amid international criticism and vowed to halt further purchases of Russian energy. Preliminary data from the US Department of Energy show that imports of Russian oil in the last week of February fell to zero.
In 2021, the United States imported from Russia about 245 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products – an increase of 24% over the year, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
“This is an important step to show Russia that energy is on the table,” said Max Bergman, a former State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, which leans toward the Democratic Party.
Bergman said it was not surprising that the United States was able to take that step ahead of European countries that are more dependent on Russian energy.
“All this is done in a coordinated manner, even if the steps are not symmetrical,” he said. “We talk to them all the time.”
The White House said the ban on new purchases took effect immediately, but the administration allowed a 45-day “curtailment” to continue deliveries under existing contracts.
The news of Biden’s decision on Tuesday was first reported by Bloomberg.
The White House announcement came amid pressure from two parties on Capitol Hill to ban Russian energy and introduce other economic costs.
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a big boost when she said, “Forbid it.”
On Monday, Democrats in the influential Committee on Roads and Means published and then removed an announcement of a bipartisan bill banning Russian oil imports and imposing further trade sanctions on the country, according to the aide, because of a White House appeal against D.C. Biden made his decision.
“President Biden is finally doing what members of Congress have been pushing for,” said Sen. John Baraso, a member of the party’s leadership, on Tuesday. “His decision to ban Russian oil is a very necessary step to kill Putin’s dairy cow.”
But late Tuesday, the House of Representatives postponed a vote on a bill to ban Russian oil amid disagreements among lawmakers over details. The House of Representatives was expected to vote on the bill on Wednesday, according to an aide who was given anonymity to discuss the situation.
Jason Furman, a Harvard professor and former economic adviser to President Barack Obama, said: “The United States economy can fully cope with any challenge related to rising oil prices. But it will bring some problems. We will have higher prices for the pump, and this is unavoidable. “
Pelosi said the House of Representatives would vote Tuesday on legislation to ban Russian oil imports, impose trade costs on Russia and expand sanctions against Russians for attacks on civilians in Ukraine.
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.
As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and international partners have imposed sanctions on Russia’s largest banks, its central bank and the finance ministry, and have blocked some financial institutions in the SWIFT messaging system for international payments.
But regulations issued by the Ministry of Finance allow Russian energy transactions to continue to pass through unauthorized non-US banks to minimize any disruption to global energy markets.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said he opposes the European Union’s ban on imports of Russian energy and that there is no other way to meet the EU’s needs for motor fuel, heat and electricity, as well as industrial production. Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said Tuesday that when he visited Washington last week, U.S. officials acknowledged that Europe was in a different situation.
“During the talks I was told that they would neither demand nor ask Germany to do the same. But I would extrapolate from this for us and for ourselves that we need to be able to take such measures as soon as possible. “
While Russian oil accounts for a small amount of total U.S. energy imports, the U.S. may replace Russian oil with imports from other oil-rich countries, but this could prove politically problematic.
Key U.S. senators are warning the Biden administration against pursuing an oil import deal with the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela.
“The Biden administration’s efforts to unite the world against the tyrant-killer in Moscow must not be undermined by the support of a dictator under investigation for crimes against humanity in Caracas,” said Senator Bob Menendez, DN.J., chairman of the International Relations Committee. statement late Monday night. “The democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people, as well as the determination and courage of the people of Ukraine, are worth much more than a few thousand barrels of oil.”
AP writers Matthew Daly, Lisa Mascara and Chris Megerian contributed.