The U.S. is banning all imports of Russian oil and gas, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday — a move that he said "will deal another powerful blow to Putin's war machine" as Russian forces under the command of President Vladimir Putin continue their assault on Ukraine.
"This is a step that we're taking to inflict further pain on Putin," Biden said. "But there will be costs as well here in the United States."
Gas prices have already surged to over $4 a gallon, the highest seen in the U.S. since 2008. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said these higher prices can be blamed on one man.
"Americans are paying a higher price at the pump because of the actions of President Putin," she said. "This is a Putin spike at the gas pump, not one prompted by our sanctions."
But California Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy criticized Biden for not encouraging more American oil production.
"Democrats want to blame surging prices on Russia," he said. "But the truth is, their out-of-touch policies are why we are here in the first place. On Day One, the President canceled the Keystone Pipeline and stopped new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. Then he gave the greenlight to Putin's pipeline. These knee-jerk decisions had damaging effects up and down the supply chain."
The oil ban, outlined in an executive order, is the latest move by Washington to squeeze Putin and limit his ability to fund his attack on neighboring Ukraine. Putin, one of the world's wealthiest individuals, has been accused by critics of filling his pockets with ill-gotten gains from his energy-exporting nation.
Under the executive order, the U.S. is also banning all imports of crude oil, petroleum products, natural gas, coal and coal products and banning any American from investing in Russia's energy sector. The ban is immediate; existing contracts will have 45 days to wrap up, White House officials said.
Last year, the U.S. imported nearly 700,000 barrels per day of crude oil and refined petroleum products from Russia — a far cry from the 4.5 million barrels of Russian oil that Europe imports each day.
"We're moving forward on this ban, understanding that many of our European allies and partners may not be in a position to join us," Biden said. "The United States produces far more oil domestically than all the European countries combined. In fact, we're a net exporter of energy. So we can take this step when others cannot."
Meanwhile, Britain on Tuesday said it would phase out imports of Russian oil and oil products by the end of this year.
Kristine Berzina, head of the geopolitics team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund, said the impact of this ban depends on market forces.
"This is a very major additional step," she told VOA. "I think that it's hard right now to say exactly how much it's going to hurt, partially because the second piece of the puzzle is how much does each unit (of) that gas or oil cost? And paradoxically, the more you ban ... all of that becomes more expensive per unit. Russia can still make a significant amount of money with a little bit of gas. So actually, the ban has to be big enough to where the volume not sold is significant enough for it to hurt."
Biden also announced Tuesday that International Energy Agency members agreed to a collective release of 60 million barrels of crude oil from strategic petroleum reserves, with the United States committing half the amount.
"We believe that the impact of this oil ban we announced today will be not long term," Psaki said. "And what we're working to do is to take steps to mitigate it, which is in part the release from the strategic petroleum reserve, continuing to coordinate and communicate with global energy suppliers and continuing to consider a range of options."
Biden said he had received support from his political allies and critics. Republican U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said, "This action is a necessary step for the world. Vladimir Putin's war chest is dependent on revenue (that) comes from selling energy — some of it to Americans, when we have more than enough oil and gas for ourselves and most of the rest of the world."
He added, "Because of this, oil is a weapon for Putin. It's about time the Biden administration recognized this weaponization of energy. This import ban is designed to further cripple Putin's financial stream to wage war on the freedom-loving people of Ukraine and a host of other mischief."
Biden has repeatedly said that he has no intention of sending U.S. troops to Ukraine, and that these economic moves are a strong deterrent for Putin.
"Yesterday I spoke with my counterparts in France, Germany and the United Kingdom about how Russia is escalating violence against Ukraine, and the steps that we're going to take together with our allies and partners around the world to respond to this aggression," Biden said.
"We are enforcing the most significant package of economic sanctions in history, and it's causing significant damage to Russia's economy."
Source: Voice of America