President Joe Biden speaks at the White House
President Joe Biden, pictured last month at the White House, is expected to announce Tuesday that the U.S. is banning Russian oil imports.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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Biden blocks Russian oil imports in latest round of sanctions on Kremlin

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. will ban Russian oil imports, the latest sanction against the Kremlin over its unprovoked war in Ukraine.

President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that the U.S. will ban the importing of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal, broadening the economic sanctions leveled against Moscow over its war in Ukraine.

The decision to target Russia’s most lucrative industry despite the likelihood of higher energy prices at home comes as bipartisan support in Congress was coalescing behind restrictions on Russian energy.

The White House had initially shrugged off calls to ban Russian oil, arguing that the impact on global markets would be destabilizing to the West. Administration officials had also said that deep economic sanctions were already hitting Moscow’s biggest banks and several oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, weakening the ruble and the nation’s economy broadly.

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But Biden clearly warmed to the idea as support grew from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill for a bipartisan bill to ban Russian energy, even as some Democrats worried that they would pay a political price in November’s midterm elections for public frustrations about high gas prices.

In announcing the restrictions from the White House, Biden said the action was designed to target “the main artery of Russia’s economy,” adding that the ban would “deliver another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.”

It is the first time the U.S. has gotten ahead of its European allies in sanctioning Russia. That could be because Europe relies far more heavily on Russian energy imports. The U.S. imports around 700,000 barrels of oil a day from Russia, accounting for less than 10% of the nation’s energy supply. Europe, which has not yet banned Russian energy, is far more reliant on it, importing more than 4 million barrels a day.

Banning Russian oil imports would likely lead to higher prices at the pump in the U.S. Gas is averaging $4 a gallon nationwide, up from $2.77 a year ago, according to AAA. The average price of gas in California during that same period has risen from $3.75 to $5.34.

Until now, the economic strangulation of Russia by the West over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has avoided its robust energy sector. But as Russia increases its unrelenting bombardment of Ukrainian cities, political pressure on the West has grown to do more to put pressure on Putin to stop the onslaught. U.S. officials said the Biden administration is also considering easing restrictions on imports of oil from Venezuela to alleviate the void left by Russian oil bans, a politically problematic step.

The administration was facing pressure to enact an oil ban before Congress took action. Members of both political parties have introduced bills in both houses to block such imports.

Congress is weighing an oil ban as it pushes to pass a measure to send Ukraine billions of dollars in emergency assistance. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-New York) on Monday called for passage of a $12-billion aid package this week, saying it “will provide both humanitarian and military assistance for Ukraine: funding for refugees, medical supplies, emergency food supplies, as well as funding to support weapons transfers into Ukraine, and help for our eastern flank NATO allies.”

In a letter to House Democrats on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Congress intended to pass $10 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine as part of a larger government funding measure. The House is also exploring legislation that would “further isolate” Russia from the world economy, Pelosi said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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