Gas War: Russian Oil Now Under New Embargo

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

With the Russo-Ukrainian War ongoing, sanctions against Russia have become increasingly common. Western nations are casting a wide net in the hopes that bankrupting Russian businesses will destabilize the country and nullify its ability to wage war. The newest financial offensive is here and it’s a big one. As of December 5th, the European Union and G7 countries have decided to cap Russian oil in the hope of reducing Moscow's export revenues. 

Though the whole situation effectively boils down to Western oligarchs trying to punish the Russian oligarchs that operate the county’s lucrative energy sector. The G7 ( officially the Group of Seven) is a body of elected officials, unelected bureaucrats, and wealthy business magnates operating as an inter-governmental political forum wielding real power. It consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – with the European Union serving as a highly influential, non-enumerated member. 

Several of these nations had already vowed to ban the importation of Russian oil early in 2022. The United States did so at the onset of the war, with the Biden administration often citing this as the primary cause for elevated energy prices. However, the truth of the matter is that fuel prices had already spiked dramatically in 2021 and that Russian embargoes had a much bigger impact on the European nations that were more reliant on imported fuel. Regardless, the war certainly hasn’t helped consumers living anywhere on Earth save on their energy bills. 

Meanwhile, oil companies continue reporting record profits. 

That’s likely a more complicated backstory than you’re accustomed to getting on why there's not enough oil. But it’s important to note that the geopolitical decisions being made around the war in Ukraine cannot be boiled down to everyone just wanting the conflict to be over. OPEC, which has been broadly aligned with Russian business for years, pulled back on production after being asked by President Joe Biden to open the taps in the hope that it would tamp down global fuel prices. They, like Western oil producers, want to get the maximum amount of money per barrel that’s possible. 

This latest round of sanctions is supposed to tackle exactly that. 

Starting today, the United States will introduce price caps on Russian oil that are designed to bankrupt the Kremlin while also helping avoid any forthcoming price shocks on already expensive fuels. The initiative is supposed to cap oil at $60 per barrel and has already been endorsed by other G7 nations, in addition to the European Union. 

However, the EU has made a few plays of its own, starting with new rules that would prohibit member nations from buying most forms of Russian crude. The general plan has been in discussions for quite some time, with critics saying that it might not make a big difference considering how many regional sections already exist against Russia. Industry analysts have likewise suggested that both initiatives probably won’t serve as deathblows for the Russian war effort. 

According to The New York Times, nobody really expected there to be an immediate impact on oil supplies anyway – mainly due to the fact that energy companies have started buying more oil from places like the United States, Brazil, Guyana, and the Middle East. The U.S. has even been in talks to lift sanctions on the famously troublesome Venezuela to help fill the vacuum left by banning Russian fuels.  

Analysts and traders are also reportedly concerned that these price caps could be nearly impossible to administer, with the Times finding at least one expert that believed the deal might still work. Though he previously worked for the U.S. State Department by leading the planning and implementation of sanctions to be levied against Russia, so his take is undoubtedly biased. 

“I suspect the compromise that was reached gives the policy the best chance it could have to succeed,” said Edward Fishman, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, told NYT

Ultimately, the whole plan hinges on shippers and insurers refusing to haul any cargo where the oil is priced above the $60-a-barrel limit. As of today, the average per-barrel price is just above $80 and is poised to go up as we move deeper into the cold-weather months. That means they’ll be turning away business if oil producers fail or refuse to adhere to the demanded caps. But with the global oil market in complete disarray, while also being highly lucrative, there are new black markets popping up everywhere. There are also loads of countries, China and India being the largest, that will happily continue buying from whoever is selling. Those two nations will likewise be the most impacted by this decision, as G7 countries already have embargoes in place that prohibit their buying from Russia. 

At the same time, Russia has said it’s not going to adhere to any price caps and even threatened to cut off supplies to countries that comply with the price-cap arrangement. We’ve already seen how axing natural gas supplies impacted countries like Germany this year. If Russia did the same with oil, there’s a pretty good chance that the entire market could become totally unmanageable. Though one might argue that that scenario has already come to pass and would only worsen. 

“These measures will undoubtedly have an impact on the stability of the global energy market,” Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, reportedly said on Monday.

The G7 believes some of the sting resulting from the above sanctions could be helped by leaning into climate initiatives. While the plans were being discussed in June, G7 leadership faulted “Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable war of aggression against Ukraine,” and vowed to “take immediate action to secure energy supply and reduce price surges driven by extraordinary market conditions.”

According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the group then promised to “stabilize and transform the global economy while tackling rising costs of living” and “reaffirm commitment to phase out … dependency on Russian energy, without compromising on … climate and environmental goals.” They then pledged to “coordinate on … economic security, strengthen the resilience of supply chains and secure a level-playing field.” 

As with other recent initiatives that are allegedly designed to help tamp down oil prices, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath until fuel prices drop. There’s a myriad of reasons why the market is in such ragged shape for consumers right now and Russia isn’t the whole story. Some of this amounts to little more than corporate warfare and maximizing political influence. Western governments also don’t seem to have much of an exit strategy in place for these sanctions against Russia. Many are asking for regime change or a complete pullout from Ukraine, neither of which appear to be things Russian leadership is interested in. Peace talks in France have repeatedly stalled, with the Kremlin saying that the West is asking for far too much and that there are no assurances that NATO will keep its distance. 

No matter which angle you come at it from, it sounds like the Ukrainian situation is far from resolved. Due to the fact that large swaths of the world are already looking at record-breaking energy prices going into next year, don’t expect to see any cheap gasoline in the months ahead. The deck seems to be stacked against the possibility in every conceivable way, with the only real relief coming to the citizens of countries that can supply their own energy needs – and even that is likely to be modest considering it makes more business sense to sell to countries that are desperate for oil and thereby willing to pay higher prices.

[Image: John Ruberry/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • MrIcky MrIcky on Dec 06, 2022

    COVID put the brakes on everything for a while, but the growth in energy demand seems to indicate we need to do ALL of it- gas, renewable, nuclear> keep pumping the oil while bringing renewables as quick as we can. Peak oil was a scam, but it's pretty clear oil is going to get harder to get to at some point. They were projecting a 10% increase in the amount of electricity demand between '20 and '25 before COVID.

    The reason nuclear keeps failing is lawsuits and nimby keeps getting in the way- it would not take nearly so long to bring on line if they didn't have to wade through so much red tape with every effort.

    On the oil cap on russia: Yes China will still buy Russian oil, but they'll pay less. Everyone will pay less because a large portion of the money at that table has put their thumb on the scale. Russian Oligarchs will still profit, but less so and now they'll be at China's table with their hat in their hand because their biggest remaining buyers are shrewd negotiators. Personally, I think it's more about that slice of humble pie to the Oligarchs because the only group who can ever get rid of Putin is them.

    • Jeff S Jeff S on Dec 06, 2022

      That would be a good thing if that happened and yes China might pay less for the oil but it would still be more than the EU.

  • Slavuta Slavuta on Dec 06, 2022

    Everybody knows, this is a scam. If Russia agrees to the price cap, all the countries that never produced a drop of oil will suddenly become an oil producer. And sell the $90 per barrel oil. Yes, the one they would buy for $60 from Russia. Russia will never agree to this because this is a back door. Tomorrow they will say, Saudi oil cap - $65, Iran - $55. No way OPEC buys into this.

    • See 1 previous
    • MrIcky MrIcky on Dec 07, 2022

      Russia and OPEC doesn't have to agree to an oil cap for it to push their prices down. In your example, an intermediate country buys the oil and resells it at market. That still means that the Russian price has to go down below market for the intermediary to be at market. Then China and India have a bargaining chip- basically there are 3 big players bidding for Russian oil at auction, 1 of those players (the EU) has tapped at 60. So now the remaining bids over 60 will be soft. Will Russia will still make money on oil but they'll make less. Even 10% less would be billions. Meanwhile other oil producing nations that have been on the outside looking in will be making new contacts and soaking up some outside investment and building market share, which shouldn't exist in a commodity market- but it does- people get comfortable dealing with contacts and knowing what they'll deliver and that's worth a little premium.

  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!
  • Teddyc73 Since when did automakers or car companies become "OEM". Probably about the same time "segment" or "class" became "space". I wish there were more sedans. I would like an American sedan. However, as others have stated, if they don't sell in large enough quantities to be profitable the automakers...I mean, "OEMs" aren't going to build them. It's simple business.
  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.