US quietly backtracks on Russian oil ban – media

Senate unlikely to pass House-approved energy import restrictions

The US has been vocal about restricting Russian oil imports, but sources say an actual ban is unlikely as it would further propel gasoline prices, which are already record high.

On March 8, President Joe Biden announced his administration was banning Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports to the US as part of a sanctions package in response to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. Two days later, the House of Representatives passed a bill to ban Russian energy imports. The media, which speculated how long it would take for sanctions to turn toward energy carriers, quickly picked up the news, with some Western experts saying the US move could be followed by other countries.

However, according to CNN, US Senate sources are now saying it’s unlikely their chamber will move on the bill to turn it into law. The sources explain that the move by the Senate is considered unnecessary after the president took executive action to ban the imports. Also, according to Senator Joe Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, the House bill is weaker than Biden’s executive action, so the Senate is reluctant to move on the measure.

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FILE PHOTO. © AP Photo/Channi Anand
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If the Senate does not approve the bill, the import ban won’t turn into law, and US importers can continue buying Russian energy.

According to official data, Russia supplied 8% of US imports of crude oil and petroleum products last year. With gasoline prices in the country hitting record highs this month, any disruption could push prices higher.

At the same time, the loss of the US market would barely impact Russia’s oil earnings, because the country has much bigger importers across the globe. To be effective, individual country bans would need to be mirrored by a number of states to actually affect the Russian energy export sector. Some analysts say that may be the reason Washington decided to introduce the ban in the first place – as a symbolic gesture to raise pressure on other countries and oil companies to follow suit and cease energy purchases from Russia.

However, widely banning supplies from the globe’s second-biggest crude producer would hurt Western countries as much as Russia. Higher oil prices would inevitably lead to higher levels of inflation and be a strain on consumer budgets. And this, in turn, could lower the readiness of voters to support the sanctions policy.

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