Biden announces a ban on Russian energy imports

“Today I announce that the United States is targeting the main artery of the Russian economy. We are banning all imports of Russian oil, gas and energy,” Biden said in statements from the White House. “This means that Russian oil will no longer be accepted in American ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine,” he added.

Sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas industry were seen mostly off the table, as officials in the United States and Europe worried about rising global prices. But pressure has been mounting on Biden to act, including from the Ukrainian president and US lawmakers of both parties, as Russia’s offensive in Ukraine increasingly targets civilians.

Biden acknowledged in frank statements from the White House that the move is likely to lead to higher costs for Americans, a powerful political issue that is already leading to attacks from Republicans.

Biden blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the price hike, calling it “Putin’s price hike.”

The United States expected to take this step unilaterally, without its European allies, due to disagreement among European countries over whether to ban Russian energy imports. European Union countries are exposed to Russian energy to a much greater degree than they are to the United States. Shortly before Biden’s announcement, the UK announced that it plans to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

American officials, given the intense political pressure at home, decided that they could act without their full alliance and not create major issues. Bloomberg was the first to report the movement.

Biden stressed in his statements that his decision is likely to harm Americans in pumping gas.

“Today’s decision is not without cost here at home,” Biden said. “Putin’s war is already hurting American families at the gas pump. Since Putin started his military build-up on the Ukrainian border, since then, the price of gas at the pump in America has gone up 75 cents, and with this measure he will go even further. I will do everything I can to reduce Putin’s prices are high here at home.”

The president also warned companies against price gouging in times of crisis.

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“To the oil and gas companies and the finance companies that support them: We understand that Putin’s war against the Ukrainian people is causing prices to go up. We understand it. This is self-evident. But, but, but … there is no excuse to practice excessive price increases or cut profits. Or any kind of effort to exploit this situation or exploit American consumers, Russia’s aggression is costing us all. And it’s not time for profiteering or price gouging,” Biden said.

US imports from Russia constitute a small segment of the US energy portfolio – about 8% in 2021, of which only about 3% is crude oil. Officials say White House economic officials have been involved for more than a week in how to manage any decision to cut off those imports. The Ministry of Energy said That in the last two weeks of February, Russian oil imports fell to zero as American companies cut ties with Russia, effectively implementing their own embargo.

After Biden’s announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to her colleagues that the House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on a bill to ban imports of Russian oil and energy products.

Pelosi said the bill would take steps to review Russia’s access to the World Trade Organization “and explore how we can further downsize Russia in the global economy” and “reauthorize and strengthen the Magnitsky Global Human Rights Accountability Act so that the United States can impose further sanctions on Russia.” .

“Today, President Biden once again demonstrated America’s strength and determination to hold Putin accountable for his premeditated and gratuitous war against Ukraine,” Pelosi wrote in the letter. “Congress commends the president for declaring action to halt the import of Russian energy products into the United States — which we will support today by passing strong bipartisan legislation to that effect.”

‘Great damage to the Russian economy’

The sanctions imposed by the West on Russia after its unjustified invasion of Ukraine have so far excluded oil exports.

Biden administration officials also traveled to Venezuela over the weekend for discussions about possibly allowing Venezuela to sell its oil on the international market, which would help replace Russian fuel. Biden may also travel to Saudi Arabia as the United States is working to persuade the kingdom to increase its production. The talks underscore how the Russian invasion has upended international relations, forcing the United States and other countries to seek solutions in places they would normally avoid.

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The move comes at a time when gas prices have skyrocketed in the United States as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rocked the global oil market. The average price of a gallon of regular gas broke the 2008 record, reaching $4.14 on Monday, according to the Oil Price Information Service, the company that compiles and calculates AAA prices. This breaks the previous record of $4.11 a gallon since July 2008.

Biden said the package of economic sanctions and export controls the United States had already imposed on Russia had caused “significant damage to the Russian economy,” and that the Russian ruble had fallen in value since Putin launched his attack on Ukraine.

“One ruble is now worth less than one American penny,” Biden said. The president said that Russia would not be able to boost the ruble’s value because the West isolated Russia’s largest banks from the international financial system.

The president noted that major companies have independently suspended their services in Russia, including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Ford, Nike and Apple.

“The private sector is united against the vicious war of Russia of choice,” Biden said.

The White House focuses on gas prices

In both public and private conversations, top US allies said the US would likely act alone if it targeted Russian energy imports. That raised his own concerns in the White House, where US officials remain wary of pursuing any action that would fragment the carefully coordinated coalition that has served as the focal point of the response up to this point.

However, political pressure from both Republicans and Democrats made postponing the ban untenable.

One Democrat directly involved in negotiations between the White House and Congress said that in recent days, lawmakers have put a lot of pressure — both in public statements and private communication — on the Biden White House to join the Russian oil embargo. Imports into the United States.

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Just as Biden himself has said publicly in recent days that a Russian energy embargo remains on the table, his top aides have simultaneously made clear to lawmakers that they are concerned about what that could mean in terms of increased gas prices, the Democrat said. . They also made it clear to members that they were trading carefully to take into account the position of the United States’ European allies on the issue.

Bipartisan support for banning Russian oil imports into the United States has grown on Capitol Hill in recent days, as Senators Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski and Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Brian Fitzpatrick have submitted bills in both houses.

A White House official said he would reject any suggestion that congressional pressure had prompted the White House to announce Tuesday that it would ban Russian oil imports, telling CNN it would welcome support from members who have been leading the issue. The official said the White House has conveyed to lawmakers the importance of reducing US consumption of Russian energy while at the same time mitigating the impact on global supplies and working in consultation with US allies.

The president also called on Congress to provide $12 billion in additional humanitarian, security, and economic assistance to Ukraine and its allies in the region. The new money will be on top of the more than $1 billion the United States has provided Ukraine over the past year.

“We will continue to support the brave Ukrainian people as they fight for their country,” Biden said, adding: “We will support them against tyranny, oppression, and violent acts of oppression.”

“Russia may continue to advance at a terrible price, but this is already clear: Ukraine will not be a victory for Putin,” Biden said. “Putin may be able to take a city, but he will never be able to take over the country. If we don’t respond to Putin’s attack today, the cost to the American people will be greater tomorrow.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

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