In latest steps against Russia, US and Europe target oil and gas imports

Biden announces US ban on all oil imports, UK says it will phase out such imports by end of 2022; EU plans two-thirds cut in Russian gas purchases this year

Gas prices are shown on March 7, 2022, in Tumwater, Washington, as the cost of gasoline hit the highest price that American motorists have faced since July 2008. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Gas prices are shown on March 7, 2022, in Tumwater, Washington, as the cost of gasoline hit the highest price that American motorists have faced since July 2008. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

US President Joe Biden announced a ban on US imports of Russian oil on Tuesday, in the administration’s most far-reaching action yet to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine. The move was coordinated with an announcement by the UK on phasing out Russian oil, on the same day that the EU said it would cut back on its imports.

“We’re banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy. That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at US ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to [President Vladimir] Putin,” Biden said in an address from the White House, adding that the decision was taken “in close consultation” with allies.

The action follows pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to US and Western officials to cut off the imports, which had 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.

The ban came with Democrats threatening legislation to force Biden’s hand, despite the likely impact on already soaring gas prices.

Russian oil makes up only a small part of US imports. Unlike the US, which is a major oil and gas producer, Europe relies on imports for 90 percent of its gas and 97% of its oil products. Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s gas and a quarter of its oil. The US does not import Russian natural gas.

Britain said Tuesday it would phase out Russian oil imports by the end of this year.

“This transition will give the market, businesses, and supply chains more than enough time to replace Russian imports — which make up 8 percent of UK demand,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted.

The oil sanction does not apply to Russian natural gas, which accounts for some four percent of UK supply. But Kwarteng said he was “exploring options to end this altogether.”

US President Joe Biden announces a ban on Russian oil imports, toughening the toll on Russia’s economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, on March 8, 2022, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

It risks exacerbating a cost-of-living crisis in Britain, with prices of petrol and diesel already surging amid market turmoil following energy-rich Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

But Kwarteng said most of Britain’s crude oil imports come from “reliable partners” such as the US, the Netherlands, and Gulf states.

“We’ll work with them this year to secure further supplies,” he said. “The market has already begun to ostracize Russian oil, with nearly 70% of it currently unable to find a buyer,” the business minister added.

Kwarteng announced a new government task force on oil to help companies transition away from Russian oil.

British dockers at a facility in northwest England on Saturday refused to unload Russian oil from a tanker, calling for the government to close a “loophole” in sanctions allowing deliveries from foreign-flagged ships.

Meanwhile, a top official in the EU said it wants to vastly reduce Russian gas imports this year.

Big tanks are seen at a BP oil refinery in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on March 7, 2022. Prices for gasoline and diesel reached new highs in Germany due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said it could erase a huge share of its dependency on Russia by tapping new gas supplies, ramping up reserves for next winter, and accelerating efforts to be more energy efficient.

“By the end of this year, we can replace 100 billion cubic meters of gas imports from Russia. That is two-thirds of what we import from them,” EU Commission vice president Frans Timmermans told reporters in Strasbourg, France.

“This will end our over-dependency and give us much-needed room to maneuver,” added Timmermans, who leads EU policy-making on energy and climate change.

In its plan, the EU said the bloc could become fully independent of Russian gas, oil, and coal by 2030.

Timmermans urged caution. Russia supplies 40% of the EU’s gas needs, with Italy, Germany, and several central European countries especially dependent. A quarter of its oil supply also comes from Russia.

“The reality is that there’s quite a number of our member states who would get into real trouble if overnight, all the energy would no longer be provided from Russia,” Timmermans told MEPs earlier. “So we need to make sure… we don’t do more harm to ourselves than we do to Putin,” he added.

The proposal, which is not binding, calls for 90% of gas storage capacity to be filled by September 30, up from about 30% now.

The recommendations from Brussels came just ahead of a meeting of EU leaders who will discuss ways to cut Europe’s energy ties to Russia for the long term.

The 27 leaders will agree “to phase out our dependency on Russian gas, oil, and coal imports,” according to a draft of a declaration intended to end the meeting and seen by AFP.

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