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Congress to mull ban on Russian energy imports, Pelosi says

House speaker reveals envisioned law would also aim to block Moscow from World Trade Organization; Western nations ask Interpol to boot Russia

A worker pumps gas at a Lukoil station in Newark, New Jersey, on March 2, 2022.  (AP/Ted Shaffrey)
A worker pumps gas at a Lukoil station in Newark, New Jersey, on March 2, 2022. (AP/Ted Shaffrey)

Congress is exploring legislation to further isolate Russia from the global economy, including banning the import of its oil and energy products into the US, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday.

Pelosi’s statement, in a letter to Democrats released Sunday night, came as countries around the world advanced efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its invasion last month of Ukraine.

Amid rising gasoline prices in the US, the Biden administration has yet to call for an oil import ban on Russia, which is being hit with sanctions by numerous countries.

Pelosi said the legislation under consideration would also repeal normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus and begin the process of denying Russia access to the World Trade Organization.

Pelosi said the House would also empower the Biden administration to raise tariffs on Russian imports.

Congress intends to approve the Biden administration’s request for $10 billion in humanitarian, military and economic support for Ukraine, Pelosi said, as part of omnibus government funding legislation this week.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, of California, speaks to the media, March 3, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In New Zealand, the government said Monday it planned to rush through a new law that will allow it to impose economic sanctions against Russia.

Unlike many countries that have already introduced sanctions, New Zealand’s existing laws don’t allow it to apply meaningful measures unless they’re part of a broader United Nations effort. Because Russia has UN Security Council veto power, that has left New Zealand hamstrung.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the new legislation would allow it to target people, companies and assets connected to those in Russia associated with the invasion, including oligarchs. It would allow New Zealand to freeze assets and stop superyachts or planes from arriving.

“A bill of this nature has never been brought before our parliament, but it is essential given Russia’s vetoing of sanctions through the UN,” Ardern said.

The bill will be specific only to the Ukraine invasion but could allow New Zealand to impose sanctions on countries seen to be helping Russia, such as Belarus.

The Russia Sanctions Bill is scheduled to be heard by lawmakers on Wednesday and could pass as quickly as the same day.

New Zealand has already banned exports to Russia’s military and security forces. It has also banned more than 100 people from traveling to New Zealand in a list that was made public Monday. At the top of the list is Russian President Vladimir Putin.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the post-Cabinet press conference in Wellington, New Zealand, March 7, 2022 (Mark Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP)

Also speaking out, Australia’s prime minister called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “a moment of choice for China,” urging Beijing to end its tacit political and economic support for the war.

Scott Morrison pressed China to shape the actions of its Russian ally and prove that Beijing is committed to global peace and the principle of sovereignty.

“No country would have a greater impact right now on Russia’s violent aggression towards Ukraine than China,” Morrison told the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based foreign policy think tank.

“The crisis that now grips Europe heralds a moment of choice for China,” he said.

Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping met in Beijing days before the war in Ukraine began, pledging friendship with “no limits.”

Since then, China has avoided direct criticism of the war, expressed sympathy for Russia’s justifications and refused to join Western sanctions.

Morrison accused Beijing of throwing Russia “an economic lifeline” by relaxing trade restrictions on the import of Russian wheat.

He also voiced concern that a Chinese firm may step in to replace Visa and Mastercard services that have been frozen in Russia.

This combination of file photos shows Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (L) speaking during a press conference in Canberra on August 17, 2021; and China’s President Xi Jinping (R) speaking at Macau’s international airport on December 18, 2019. (AFP)

“Today we even hear of UnionPay’s potential involvement out of China in supporting a payment system in Russia,” he said.

Australia last week promised Ukraine $50 million in missiles, ammunition and other military hardware to fight Russian invaders.

Morrison said on Monday: “Our missiles are on the ground now.”

Meanwhile, Beijing’s embassy in Ukraine announced that most of the approximately 6,000 Chinese nationals previously in the country had been evacuated, as Russia stepped up the shelling of multiple cities.

Unlike many Western nations, Beijing waited until after war broke out on February 24 to tell its citizens to evacuate.

“At present, most Chinese compatriots in Ukraine have already been evacuated,” the embassy said in a social media statement.

“At present, the tense situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate… the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine solemnly reminds remaining Chinese compatriots to leave the country as soon as possible.”

Some Chinese citizens have reported hostility or violence from locals over the Chinese government’s perceived support of Moscow.

South Korea said Monday it will halt all transactions with Russia’s central bank in the latest series of punitive actions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The foreign ministry said in a statement it had decided to ban all financial dealings with the Central Bank of Russia “considering the international community’s financial restrictions against Russia.”

It did not provide further details on the scope of the move, saying more coordination with related agencies was required.

South Korea earlier said it would tighten export controls against Moscow by banning shipments of strategic items. It also joined Western countries in suspending financial transactions with several major Russian banks.

The foreign ministry said it will reveal further sanctions after consulting with other government agencies. South Korea has already banned financial transactions with seven major Russian banks and, along with other countries, blocked Russian banks from the SWIFT global payments system.

Red notice

Several Western countries, including the UK and the United States, also called on Interpol to suspend Russia from the international law enforcement organization, according to British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

The UK, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have requested “the immediate suspension of Russia’s access to its systems,” Patel tweeted on Sunday.

The grouping asked Interpol’s executive committee to make a decision this week.

“Russia’s actions are a direct threat to the safety of individuals and to international law enforcement cooperation,” Patel added.

Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, England, Oct. 5, 2021. (Jon Super/AP)

While Patel did not specify the reason for the request, Western allies have been seeking to diplomatically and economically isolate Moscow over its invasion of Eastern European neighbor Ukraine.

Interpol, a network of 194 member countries, aims to facilitate the policing of international crimes.

No more TikTok or Netflix

Private businesses have also continued to announce they were cutting ties with Russia.

On Sunday, American Express announced it would suspend operations in Russia, as well as in Russian-allied Belarus. Also, two of the so-called Big Four accounting firms, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, said Sunday they would end their relationships with their Russia-based member firms.

KPMG said it was also pulling out of Belarus.

KPMG International said in a statement it would be “incredibly difficult” to have its Russia and Belarus firms leave the network. KPMG has more than 4,500 employees in the two countries.

The two other Big Four companies – Deloitte and Ernst & Young – didn’t immediately return requests for comment Sunday.

TikTok announced Sunday that Russian users would not be able to post new videos or see videos shared from elsewhere in the world. The company blamed Moscow’s new “fake news” law, which makes it illegal, among other things, to describe the fighting as an invasion. Netflix also cut its service to Russia but provided no details.

Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone maker, also announced over the weekend it had suspended all shipments of products to Russia due to “geopolitical developments.”

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