US strikes harder at Putin, banning all Russian oil imports
By Zeke Miller, Mike Balsamo And Josh Boak in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden announced Tuesday the U.S. will ban all Russian oil imports, toughening the toll on Russia’s economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, but he acknowledged it will bring costs to Americans, particularly at the gas pump.
The action follows pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to U.S. 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.
“We will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war,” Biden declared, calling the new action a “powerful blow” against Russia’s ability to fund the ongoing offensive.
He warned that Americans will see rising prices, saying, “Defending freedom is going to cost.”
Biden said the U.S. was acting in close consultation with European allies, who are more dependent on Russian energy supplies and who he acknowledged may not be able to join in immediately. The announcement marked the latest Biden attempt at cutting off Russia from much of the global economy and ensuring that the Ukraine invasion is a strategic loss President Vladimir Putin, even if he manages to seize territory.
“Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin,” Biden said.
Zelenskyy in a tweet praised Biden’s action: “Thankful for US and @POTUS personal leadership in striking in the heart of Putin’s war machine and banning oil, gas and coal from US market. Encourage other countries and leaders to follow.”
The European Union this week will commit to phasing out its reliance on Russia for energy needs as soon as possible, but filling the void without crippling EU economies will likely take some time. The U.K., which is no longer part of the EU, announced Tuesday that oil and oil products from Russia will be phased out by the end of the year.
Unlike the U.S., which is a major oil and gas producer, Europe relies on imports for 90% of its gas and 97% of its oil products. Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s gas and a quarter of its oil. The U.S. does not import Russian natural gas.
The issue of oil sanctions has created a conflict for the president between political interests at home and efforts to impose costs on Russia. Though Russian oil makes up only a small part of U.S. imports, Biden has said he was reluctant to ban it, cutting into supplies here and pushing gasoline prices higher.
Inflation is at a 40-year peak, fueled in large part by gas prices, and that could hurt Biden heading into the November midterm elections.
“Putin’s war is already hurting American families at the gas pump,” Biden said, adding, “I’m going to do everything I can to minimize Putin’s price hike here at home.”
Gas prices have been rising for weeks due to the conflict and in anticipation of potential sanctions on the Russian energy sector. The average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. hit a record $4.17 Tuesday, rising by 10 cents in one day, and up 55 cents since last week, according to auto club AAA.
Biden said it was understandable that prices were rising, but cautioned the U.S. energy industry against “excessive price increases” and exploiting consumers.
Even before the U.S. ban many Western energy companies including ExxonMobil and BP moved to cut ties with the Russia and limit imports. Shell, which purchased a shipment of Russian oil this weekend, apologized for the move on Tuesday amid international criticism and pledged to halt further purchases of Russian energy supplies. Preliminary data from the U.S. Energy Department shows imports of Russian crude dropped to zero in the last week in February.
In 2021, the U.S. imported roughly 245 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia — a one-year increase of 24%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“It’s an important step to show Russia that energy is on the table,” said Max Bergmann, a former State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress.
Bergmann said it wasn’t surprising that the U.S. was able to take this step before European nations, which are more dependent on Russian energy.
“All of this is being done in coordination, even if the steps are not symmetrical,” he said. “We are talking to them constantly.”
The White House said the ban on new purchases was effective immediately but the administration was allowing a 45-day “wind down” for continued delivery under existing contracts.
The news of Biden’s decision Tuesday was first reported by Bloomberg.
The White House announcement comes amid bipartisan pressure on Capitol Hill to ban Russian energy and impose other economic costs.
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a big boost when she declared, “Ban it.”
On Monday, Democrats on the powerful Ways & Means Committee posted, then removed, an announcement on a bipartisan bill to ban Russian oil imports and slap further trade sanctions on the country, according to an aide, because of pushback from the White House to acting before Biden had made his decision.
“President Biden is finally doing what members of Congress have been pushing for all along,” Sen John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and a member of party leadership, said Tuesday. “His decision to ban Russian oil is a much-needed step to kill Putin’s cash cow.”
Said Jason Furman, a Harvard professor and former economic adviser to President Barack Obama: “The United States economy can fully handle any of the challenges associated with higher oil prices. But it will bring some challenges. We’re going to have higher prices at the pump, and there’s no way around that.”
Pelosi said the House would go forward with a vote Tuesday on legislation to ban the Russian oil imports, impose trade costs on Russia and expand sanctions authority against Russians for attacks on civilians in Ukraine.
Before the invasion, Russian oil and gas made up more than a third of government revenues. Global energy prices have surged after the invasion and have continued to rise despite coordinated releases of strategic reserves, making Russian exports even more lucrative.
As a consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. and international partners have sanctioned Russia’s largest banks, its central bank and finance ministry, and moved to block certain financial institutions from the SWIFT messaging system for international payments.
But the rules issued by the Treasury Department allow Russian energy transactions to keep going through non-sanctioned banks that are not based in the U.S. in an effort to minimize any disruptions to the global energy markets.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said he opposes a European ban on Russian energy imports and that there’s no other way to meet the European Union’s needs for motor fuel, heat and electricity, and industrial use. Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said Tuesday that when he visited Washington last week, U.S. officials acknowledged Europe was in a different situation.
“They told me in the talks that they will neither demand nor ask that Germany do the same. But I would extrapolate from that for us, and for me, that we need as soon as possible to create the possibility to take similar measures.”
While Russian oil makes up a small amount of overall U.S. energy imports, the U.S. could replace Russian crude with imports from other oil-rich nations, but that could prove politically problematic.
Key U.S. senators are warning the Biden administration from seeking any oil import deal from the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela.
“The Biden administration’s efforts to unify the entire world against a murderous tyrant in Moscow should not be undercut by propping up a dictator under investigation for crimes against humanity in Caracas,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement late Monday. “The democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people, much like the resolve and courage of the people of Ukraine, are worth much more than a few thousand barrels of oil.”
AP writers Matthew Daly, Lisa Mascaro and Chris Megerian contributed.
US to send ammunition, tanker trucks to Ukraine
President Joe Biden welcomes Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. A year ago, with Russian forces bearing down on Ukraine’s capital, Western leaders feared for the life of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the U.S. offered him an escape route. Zelenskyy declined, declaring his intent to stay and defend Ukraine’s independence. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
By Lolita C. Baldor And Matthew Lee in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is poised to announce that it will send Ukraine $350 million in weapons and equipment, U.S. officials said Monday, as fierce battles with Russian forcescontinue for control of the city of Bakhmut, and troops prepare for an expected spring offensive.
The latest package of aid includes a large amount of various types of ammunition, such as rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, and an undisclosed number of fuel tanker trucks and riverine boats, according to the officials. Officials said it will be announced later Monday.
It comes as Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow on Monday, giving a political lift to Russian President Vladimir Putin against the West just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for the Kremlin leader on war crimes charges related to Ukraine.
Officials said the American aid will be taken from Pentagon stocks through the presidential drawdown authority, so it will be able to be delivered quickly to the warfront. The U.S. has provided more than $32.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine.
Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the aid package has not yet been publicly announced.
UK: Russian advance in Bakhmut could come with heavy losses
Ukrainian paratroopers of 80 Air Assault brigade rest inside a dugout at the frontline near Bakhmut, Ukraine, Friday, March 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
By Karl Ritter in Kyiv
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces have made progress in their campaign to capture the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the focus of the war’s longest ground battle, but their assault will be difficult to sustain without more significant personnel losses, British military officials said Saturday.
The U.K. Defense Ministry said in its latest assessment that paramilitary units from the Kremlin-controlled Wagner Group have seized most of eastern Bakhmut, with a river flowing through the city now marking the front line of the fighting.
The mining city is located in Donetsk province, one of four regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last year. Russia’s military opened the campaign to take control of Bakhmut in August, and both sides have experienced staggering casualties.
Ukrainian troops and supply lines remain vulnerable to “continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south” as the Wagner Group’s forces try to close in on them in a pincer movement, the U.K. ministry said.
However, the ministry added, it will be “highly challenging” for Wagner’s soldiers to push ahead because Ukraine has destroyed key bridges over the river, while Ukrainian sniper fire from fortified buildings further west has made the thin strip of open ground in the city’s center “a killing zone.”
Russian military bloggers and other pro-Kremlin Telegram accounts claimed Friday that Russian forces had entered a metal processing plant in northwestern Bakhmut. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, also referenced geolocated footage showing Russian forces within 800 meters of the AZOM plant, a heavily built-up and fortified complex.
The institute reported in its Friday night assessment that Moscow’s apparent focus on capturing the plant, rather than opting for a “wider encirclement of western Bakhmut” by attempting to take nearby villages, was likely to bring a further wave of Russian casualties.
Ukraine’s ground forces on Saturday signaled their intention to hold out in Bakhmut, announcing on Facebook that their top officer was personally overseeing “the most important sectors of the front” to deny Moscow a long-awaited battlefield victory.
The post did not clarify whether Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi was in Bakhmut at the time of the Facebook post, although he has made several visits to the city and other front-line hot spots in eastern Ukraine in the past month.
Meanwhile, repair work continued Saturday across Ukraine following a massive Russian missile and drone strike two days earlier that killed six people and left hundreds of thousands without heat or electricity.
Ukraine’s state grid operator said power supply issues persisted across four provinces following the barrage, in which 80 Russian missiles and a smaller number of exploding drones hit residential buildings and critical infrastructure across the country.
In a Facebook post, Ukrenergo said scheduled blackouts remain in place in Kharkiv and Zhytomyr, as well as parts of the Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv regions. The company added that the situation in Zhytomyr was especially challenging, with some customers still without power.
Russian shelling on Saturday set a car driving through the southern city of Kherson on fire, killing one person inside and wounding two others, regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said in a Telegram post.
Earlier, authorities had reported that Russian shelling between Friday morning and Saturday morning killed at least five people and wounded another 19 across Ukraine’s Kherson and Donetsk provinces.
Donetsk, where Bakhmut is located, has been the epicenter of the fighting in recent months, while Ukrainian-held parts of the Kherson region have seen daily shelling from Russian troops stationed across the Dnieper River.
Ukrainian defense chief Oleksiy Reznikov welcomed his Norwegian counterpart to Kyiv on Saturday. Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram announced Norway’s decision to earmark $7.5 billion over the next five years for weapons and other aid for Ukraine.
According to a readout of the meeting published by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, Gram said the arms Norway planned to send included missile launchers and ammunition for NASAMS anti-aircraft systems.
Reznikov said that Ukrainian troops successfully operated some of the same weapons to shoot down the drones and missiles that Russia rained on Ukraine on Thursday.
“We know for sure that every 10 uses of the NASAMS system (…) mean downing 10 of the aggressor’s missiles, saving 10 buildings and infrastructure facilities, as well as hundreds of human lives,” he said.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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