Washington - U.S. President Joe Biden onTuesday imposed an immediate ban on Russian oil and other energyimports in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine, amid strongsupport from American voters and lawmakers, even though the movewill drive up U.S. energy prices.
"We're banning all imports of Russian oil and gas energy,"Biden told reporters at the White House. "That means Russian oilwill no longer be acceptable in U.S. ports and the Americanpeople will deal another powerful blow to (Russian PresidentVladimir) Putin's war machine." The ban caps sweeping U.S. and European sanctions imposed onMoscow for launching the largest war in Europe since World WarTwo. Russian strikes have targeted Ukrainian cities and killedhundreds of civilians, some as they tried to flee their homes.
Biden, who has pledged that U.S. soldiers will not go to Ukraine to fight, voiced America's support for the Ukrainian people, and predicted their ultimate victory. "Russia may continue to grind out its advance at a horribleprice, but this much is already clear: Ukraine will never be avictory for Putin. Putin may be able to take a city, but he'llnever be able to hold the country," he said. Oil prices jumped on the news, with Benchmark Brent crudeLCOc1 for May climbing by 5.4% to $129.91 a barrel by 1345 GMT.
Retail gasoline prices in the United States surged to anall-time record on Tuesday, with the average cost of a retailgallon of gasoline hitting $4.173 early Tuesday, according tothe American Automobile Association. Biden signed an executive order on the ban soon after hisremarks.
The ban goes into effect immediately, but gives buyers45 days to wind down existing contracts, a senior administrationofficial told reporters. The move also bans new U.S. investment in Russia's energysector, and prohibits Americans from participating in anyforeign investments that flow into the Russian energy sector,the official said.
Biden has been working with allies in Europe, who are farmore dependent on Russian oil, to isolate Russia's energy-heavyeconomy and Putin. Britain announced shortly before Biden'sremarks that it would phase out the import of Russian oil andoil products by the end of 2022. The United States consulted closely with allies on the ban,but did not ask them to join in, and did not expect that theywould, the official said. Biden said sanctions imposed by the United States and itsallies had already caused the Russian economy to "crater" andvowed to continue ratcheting up pressure on Moscow to stop a warthat forced more than 2 million people to flee the country.
The United States imported more than 20.4 million barrels ofcrude and refined products a month on average from Russia in2021, about 8% of U.S. liquid fuel imports, according to theEnergy Information Administration. The United States alsoimports a negligible amount of coal from Russia. Biden predicted prices would rise further as a result of"Putin's war," but pledged to do all he could to ease the painfor the American people. He also warned U.S. companies againstprofiteering or otherwise exploiting the situation. "The decision today is not without costs here at home.Putin's war is already hurting American families at the gas pump... I'm going to do everything I can to minimize Putin's pricehikes here at home," Biden said. "Russia's aggression is costing us all. It is not time forprofiteering," said the Democratic president, who has repeatedlytargeted big U.S. companies for unfairly jacking up prices. In November, Biden had cited mounting evidence ofanti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies and asked theFederal Trade Commission to dig deeper into possible "illegalconduct" in the market.
Biden's Democrats face tough congressional midtermelections in November when Biden's handling of the economy, andparticularly rising prices, is expected to be a main issue withvoters. U.S. presidents are particularly vulnerable to criticismover high gasoline prices because of the country's reliance ongas-guzzing vehicles and lack of public transporation. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel was amongthe Republicans on Tuesday to blame Biden's policies for highgas prices, even though many supported banning Russian oilimports. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi laudedthe import ban and said the House would pass strong, bipartisanlegislation to support the move on Tuesday, including takingsteps to review Russia's access to the World Trade Organizationand paving the way for further sanctions. Biden rejected Republican claims that his administration'spolicies were restraining U.S. energy production, noting thatsome 9,000 permits were not being used by oil and gas firms. "We're approaching a record (level) of oil and gasproduction in the United States and we're on track to set arecord level of production next year," he said. U.S. Senator Chris Coons said gasoline prices would rise inthe United States and Europe. "That's the cost of standing upfor freedom and standing alongside the Ukrainian people, butit's going to cost us," Coons told CNN. Biden said the crisis also highlighted the importance oftransitioning to clean energy supplies.