Biden under pressure to ban Russian oil imports

Senators introduced a bipartisan bill to force president's hand on banning Russian oil amid fears that doing so could increase petrol prices and inflation

US senators at a news conference at the US Capitol on March 3, 2022 in Washington. Getty Images / AFP

Live updates: follow the latest news on Russia-Ukraine

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation this week that would ban US imports of Russian oil and gas over the Ukraine crisis — a move that President Joe Biden has so far ruled out.

The Ban Russian Energy Imports Act, introduced by Republican Rob Portman and a bipartisan group of 17 other senators — many of whom represent US states rich in energy and coal resources — would force the Biden administration to cut off the stream of Russian oil, gas and coal into the US.

“We must do all we can to bankrupt [President Vladimir Putin’s] economy and his war machine in order to defeat Russia’s assault on Ukraine,” Mr Portman said in a statement regarding the legislation.

“The United States should immediately stop buying Russian oil and increase domestic energy production here at home.”

Still, the legislation would need a buy-in from Democratic leaders to become law and the White House has indicated its opposition to banning Russian energy imports.

Mr Biden told reporters at the White House on Thursday that he would not ban Russian oil imports and he has vowed to mitigate the increase that the harsh US sanctions on Russia could have on rising petrol prices.

“We don't have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy, and that would raise prices at the gas pump for the American people,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.

Rising petrol prices, coupled with the potential for Russian sanctions to exacerbate the 40-year-high inflation within the US, could spell additional trouble for Mr Biden’s party in the midterm elections in November.

But that has not stopped high-profile Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, from rallying behind calls to ban Russian oil and gas imports.

And many US oil traders have already started avoiding the Russian energy market of their own volition.

Unlike in Europe, which is largely dependent on Russia’s oil and gas exports, Russian energy imports to the US account for a minuscule percentage of American energy supplies.

Russian crude oil makes for only 3 per cent of total US crude oil imports and 1 per cent of total crude oil processed in US refineries, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Trade Association said.

Most US crude oil imports come from Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Updated: March 04, 2022, 5:16 PM