The US government on Wednesday downplayed the likelihood of banning Russian oil imports in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine but said the option remains a possibility.
President Joe Biden said, “nothing is off the table” when asked by reporters if oil could be the next target of unprecedented US and Western sanctions against Moscow.
The United States, together with the EU and other allies, has already imposed sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian currency, commercial banking sector, airlines, and other targets.
However, with oil prices soaring around the world and Biden suffering political damage from inflation at home, the White House indicated that targeting energy-rich Russia’s oil was not a priority.
“We don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy,” deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
“That would raise prices at the gas pump for Americans… So that’s something that we’re very aware of.”
Jean-Pierre said the focus is instead on efforts to weaken Russia’s energy leverage — especially over highly dependent Europe — in the longer term.
“We and our allies and partners have a strong collective interest to degrade Russia’s status as a leading energy supplier over time,” she said.
Oil prices soared Wednesday above $113 per barrel and natural gas hit a record peak before edging down, as investors fretted over Russia’s intensifying invasion of Ukraine.
However, with the United States and its Western allies have already unveiled much of the available economic punishments, blocking Russia’s lucrative energy sector remains a potential weapon for future escalation.
“Every barrel of oil coming out of Russia has to blood in it,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, indicating the political pressure on Biden to get tougher still with Moscow.
EU countries depend on Russia for some 40 percent of natural gas supplies and about a quarter of their oil.
However, only eight percent of imports of crude oil and refined products to the United States come from Russia, said Andy Lipow at Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.