Friday 25 February 2022

US will not target Russia energy sector with sanctions

 The U.S. and its allies will impose severe new economic sanctions on Russia Thursday after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine — but a major sector of Russia's economy will be exempt from the punishing measures.

Politico first reported that the major government-owned Russian energy corporation Rosneft is not expected to be targeted in the new sanctions package. The Biden administration is reportedly concerned about global energy markets, as the price of crude oil reached its highest level since 2014 on Thursday because of Russia's war in Ukraine.

One senior administration official told Politico "no option is off the table," but cautioned "starting out with energy could actually benefit Putin and pad his pockets. Given high oil and gas prices, cutting off Russian oil and gas will drive prices up to Putin’s benefit. And as we have said repeatedly on the record, on background [and] off the record, our sanctions are designed to harm Russia’s economy, not ours.”

President Joe Biden addressed the nation Thursday afternoon and announced the next round of sanctions against Russia, following actions the U.S. government took on Tuesday to target Russian financial institutions and members of the country's elite.

The president said new sanctions will target more Russian elites, top banks, and technology exports and will impose a "severe cost" to the Russian economy, "both immediately and over time."

“We have purposely designed these sanctions to maximize a long-term impact on Russia and to minimize impact on the United States and our allies," Biden said.

But he added that the sanctions package is "specifically designed to allow energy payments to continue" and said his administration was "closely monitoring energy supplies for any disruption." The president promised to release additional barrels of oil from U.S. reserves to head off surging energy prices.

Early Thursday, Putin sent troops into Ukraine from the north, east, and south and began attacking Ukrainian cities with airstrikes and precision-guided cruise missiles. A senior defense official told reporters that Russia plans to "decapitate" the Ukrainian government and install a puppet regime in Ukraine's capital of Kyiv, Politico reported.

Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with G-7 officials Thursday morning to negotiate the sanctions package.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was condemned by U.S. lawmakers of both parties, who supported the president's use of sanctions against Russia.

“It is important Congress unite to punish and crush Putin and his cronies,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted. He said there is bipartisan support for sending emergency aid to the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian military. He also called for a "task force to aggressively pursue Putin and his inner circle regarding the extravagant lifestyle they have become accustomed to after stealing Russia blind."

"If we do not treat Putin and his cronies as the war criminals they are, we will be making a huge mistake and sending the wrong message to other bad actors around the world," Graham said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement that Russia's "unprovoked attack" on Ukraine "has brought into sharp focus the need to expel the current Kremlin leadership from the international community."

But others called on Biden to go further. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said Biden "must act now to hit Vladimir Putin where it hurts, beginning with Russia's energy sector."

"The Biden administration should sanction Russian energy production to a halt, and help arm the Ukrainians to defend themselves. At the same time, the White House should reopen American energy production in full," said Hawley. "This is the time to show Russia and the world that America will not reward aggression and it will not be dependent on its enemies."

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