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US, European allies ‘discuss banning Russia oil imports’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Photo by AFP)

The US says the country and its European allies are discussing banning Russian oil imports as a means of stepping up their punitive measures against Moscow over its ongoing military operation in Ukraine.

"We are now in very active discussions with our European partners about banning the import of Russian oil to our countries," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" show on Sunday.

On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, the two regions declared themselves new republics, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.

Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”

Washington and Europe were quick to start piling sanctions on Moscow over the operation. The bans have increased the price of a barrel of oil to nearly $120.

The White House has slapped sanctions on exports of technologies to Russia's refineries and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is designed to carry Russian natural gas to Germany, but has not been launched.

Germany has already suspended cooperation with Russia concerning the project.

“Europe relies on Russia for crude oil and natural gas but has become more open to the idea of banning Russian products in the past 24 hours,” Reuters cited a source familiar with the discussions between the US and its European allies as saying.

Blinken also stressed that while potentially banning the Russian crude imports, the Western allies must “at the same time, maintain a steady global supply of oil.”

US team in Venezuela for oil talks

Also on Sunday, The Financial Times reported that a high-level US delegation had met top government officials in Venezuela amid the prospect of the oil ban on Russia.

“Juan González, the top White House official on Latin America, was in Caracas on Saturday for meetings with President Nicolás Maduro’s government,” the paper wrote, citing a source familiar with the discussions.

The development, it said, “represents a big policy shift, as the US broke off diplomatic relations with Maduro in 2019 and closed its embassy, accusing him of stealing a presidential election the previous year.”

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