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EU pushes back against claims Russian oil ban is hiking prices

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The EU is pushing back against accusations that its sweeping ban on Russian oil is hiking global prices and injecting further disruption into an already unpredictable energy market.

“That’s completely false,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief.

“The price of oil started increasing one month before the war, it was caused by the war. It has peaked since the beginning of the war,” he added. “And since we adopted sanctions, and since we banned the oil exports from Russia, the price of oil has decreased.”

While Borrell’s assessment is factually true – the benchmark price of Brent crude has fallen to around $106 per barrel compared to its peak of $123 in early March –, it paints an incomplete picture.

The oil ban agreed by member states in late May was designed as a gradual and structured measure: seaborne imports of Russian oil, both crude and refined products, will be phased out by the end of the year.

Hungary and other landlocked countries secured an indefinite exemption for pipeline imports.

The sanctions also included a prohibition to insure and finance the transport of Russian oil to non-EU countries, a sector in which the bloc enjoys a comfortable dominance. Obtaining high-grade insurance to cover potential liabilities is essential for oil tankers that carry oil around the world.

Overall, the EU has committed to do away with over 90% of its oil imports from Russia.

Pre-war figures indicate the bloc used to buy about 2.2 million barrels of crude oil, together with 1.2 million barrels of refined products, from Russia on a daily basis.

The ban, once completed, could remove up to 3 million oil barrels from the international markets. This would lead to a substantial re-adjustment of the supply-and-demand balance and could drastically push prices up if Russia fails to find new clients to sell all those barrels.

China and India are already boosting their purchases of Russian oil, which the Kremlin is offering with an attractive $30 discount, much to frustration of Western allies.

In a bid to prevent further market disruption, the United States is leading the cause to introduce a price cap on Russian oil. The idea was born out of the last G7 meeting but Washington is keen to bring the entire G20 on board to secure a larger and stronger majority.

The plan would see a group of countries acting as cartel and imposing a limit on the price they are willing to pay for Russian oil, probably between $40 and about $60 per barrel.

The companies and entities who agree to play ball and respect the cap would be exempted from the insurance ban, allowing them to transport and trade Russian oil. On the other hand, those who attempt to buy barrels above the agreed-upon threshold would be denied the provision of shipping, banking and insurance services.

The US believes the cap would automatically slash Russia’s soaring energy revenues while guaranteeing stable gasoline prices, a key priority for President Joe Biden ahead of crucial midterm elections.

“A price cap on Russian oil is one of our most powerful tools to address the pain that Americans and families across the world are feeling at the gas pump and the grocery store right now,” said Janet Yellen, US Secretary of the Treasury.

But several experts and think tanks have raised serious concerns about the plan’s feasibility and usefulness, warning it could easily backfire and trigger an even higher surge of prices.

Watch the video above to learn more about the disruption in oil markets.

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