The United States has banned imports of Russian oil, firing one of its biggest economic weapons against Moscow over the war in Ukraine.
Britain said it would join the United States in phasing out Russian oil by year’s end while oil giants BP and Shell announced an immediate halt to Russian oil and gas purchases. The European Union also said it would slash gas imports by two-thirds.
The spike in energy prices caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine will produce effects comparable to the 1973 oil shock, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire warned on Wednesday.
“This has a name: stagflation, and it’s precisely what we want to avoid in 2022,” Le Maire told a conference in Paris.
The current energy crisis was “comparable in intensity, in brutality, to the oil shock of 1973,” he said.
“In 1973, as you know, the response caused an inflationary shock, leading central banks to massively increase their rates, which killed off growth,” Le Maire added.
The first oil shock in the early 1970s was caused by the Yom Kippur war when Egyptian and Syrian forces launched an offensive against Israel.
Six Arab members of the OPEC oil cartel declared an embargo on exports to countries supporting Israel, notably the United States.
They quadrupled the oil price to $11.65 a barrel, provoking recessions in Western countries and steep inflation.
On Tuesday, the United States also said the Kremlin’s prize geopolitical energy project, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, was now dead.
“It is a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea, I don’t think it will ever be revived,” Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told US lawmakers.
New humanitarian corridors were set to open Wednesday for civilians trying to escape besieged cities in Ukraine.
Russia said the routes would open in five cities that its forces have been shelling, but Kyiv has repeatedly warned Moscow is not genuinely looking to allow civilians to flee and on Tuesday accused Moscow of bombing one corridor.
“Such actions are nothing other than a genocide,” the Ukrainian defense ministry wrote on Facebook.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday the US oil embargo on Russia would cut “the main artery” of Moscow’s economy and vowed Ukraine would “never be a victory” for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The invasion has sparked the biggest war in Europe and the continent’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, while the West has responded with sanctions on Russia that have reverberated around the global economy.
The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine increased by more than 140,000 in 24 hours, according to United Nations figures issued Wednesday, with more than 2.15 million now having fled since Russia invaded on February 24.
“Behind the monolithic statistics are two million stories of separation, anguish, and loss,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said.
Families have been “senselessly ripped apart,” plunged into “despair and unimaginable suffering” by the “brutal war,” he said.
The next step in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to urban warfare, an immense challenge for even numerically superior armies with deadly consequences for civilians caught up in the fighting, experts say.
Fears are growing that troops are preparing to launch major moves on Ukrainian cities that have so far escaped their grasp.
Russian artillery and rockets have been striking cities including the capital Kyiv, as well as smaller regional centres such as Kharkiv, Mariupol, and Chernihiv.
Inhabitants there, as well as in the southern port of Odessa, another strategic target, are now preparing for possible ground attacks.
“You still see them (Russians) holding back compared to what they could be doing,” said Michael Kofman, a specialist on the Russian military at the US-based Center for Naval Analyses (CNA).
“But I’m fairly concerned that that might actually turn into some smaller or lesser version of Grozny,” he said, referring to Russia’s offensive against the capital of separatist-controlled Chechnya in the 1990s.
“I doubt that they will try to level cities the way they did in Chechnya but nonetheless I think they’re going to see heavy destruction if they attempt an urban assault.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has complained he needs more air support to fight Moscow’s offensive, with the invading forces maintaining a devastating bombing campaign.
But Washington on Tuesday rejected an offer from NATO ally Poland to give Kyiv jets via an American air base because of fears of a wider conflict with Russia.
The new humanitarian corridors were set to open in the capital Kyiv, port city Mariupol, and Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv, at 0700 GMT, Russian defense ministry officials said, according to TASS state news agency.
It did not say if the corridors would lead to Russia or Belarus, a condition that Kyiv had rejected in previous evacuation plans.
The United Nations said more than two million civilians have flooded across Ukraine’s borders to escape Russian shelling.
Successful evacuations from some of the agreed humanitarian corridors have been reported.
At least 5,000 people were freed in the northern city of Sumy, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday, after days of heavy fighting and an air strike that killed 21 people.
Evacuations also took place outside the capital Kyiv.
But attempted evacuations from the port town of Mariupol have failed on several occasions, with Kyiv saying Moscow refused to allow children, women or the elderly to leave.
“This situation is really apocalyptic for people, it is getting worse,” said Ewan Watson, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
A six-year-old girl identified only as Tanya died from dehydration under the rubble of her destroyed home, said authorities in the southern hub, which has had no water, power or heating since Friday.
Russian troops are slowly encroaching on Kyiv despite intense efforts by outgunned Ukrainian forces and moving faster through the east and north of the country.
In the suburb of Irpin, seen as a critical point for the advance on the capital, civilians fled in icy wind and thick snowfall, AFP reporters witnessed.
People waited in a long line to cross over the Irpin river on makeshift walkways of planks and mangled metal after the Ukrainians blew up the bridge leading into the capital to hamper any Russian advance.
“I didn’t want to leave, but there’s nobody left in the homes around us, no water, no gas, and no electricity,” Larissa Prokopets, 43, told AFP.
In a defiant speech to British lawmakers, Zelensky invoked Winston Churchill’s resistance against Nazi Germany as he vowed to “fight to the end.”
“We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets,” he told the packed chamber, which gave him a standing ovation.
Western governments have baulked at the idea of a no-fly zone to defend Ukraine’s skies despite his requests.
The Pentagon on Tuesday rejected the Polish plan to deliver Mig-29 fighter jets to a US air base in Germany, saying it was not “tenable.”
“The prospect of fighter jets… departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.