By Steve Holland and Pavel Polityuk
WASHINGTON/LVIV, Ukraine – U.S. President Joe Biden was expected to announce a ban on Russian oil on Tuesday, people familiar with the matter said.
The White House said Biden was scheduled to announce unspecified actions against Russia over its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, in remarks at 10:45 a.m. (1545 GMT) on Tuesday.
Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of oil and natural gas, and until now its energy exports had been exempted from international sanctions. Although the United States is not a leading buyer of Russian oil, its allies are likely to come under pressure to also wean their economies off Russian energy.
Two people familiar with the matter had told Reuters on Monday that Washington was willing to move ahead with the ban without allies in Europe. A reporter for Politico said Britain was expected to announce steps on Tuesday to reduce dependency on Russian energy.
The U.S. announcement will intensify the impact of the war on a global economy already suffering supply shortages and price surges as it lurches out of the pandemic crisis. In the United States, gas pump prices have already hit a record since Russia launched the invasion, worsening inflation that was already at 40 year highs.
U.S. Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, said the administration was coordinating with European allies “and making sure that we’ve done the groundwork to understand how to effectively implement a ban on Russian energy.”
“We are going to see increased gas prices here in the United States. In Europe, they will see dramatic increases in prices. That’s the cost of standing up for freedom and standing alongside the Ukrainian people, but it’s going to cost us,” Coons told CNN.
In Ukraine, Kyiv accused Moscow of shelling a humanitarian corridor it had promised to open to let residents flee the besieged port of Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of people have been sheltering under relentless bombardment without water or power for more than a week.
“Ceasefire violated! Russian forces are now shelling the humanitarian corridor from Zaporizhzhia to Mariupol,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko wrote on Twitter, adding that 30 buses had been sent for evacuations.
“Pressure on Russia MUST step up to make it uphold its commitments.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said a child had died of dehydration in Mariupol because water was cut off. The claim could not be independently verified.
Russia opened a separate corridor allowing residents out of the eastern city of Sumy on Tuesday, the first successful evacuation under such a safe route.
Buses left Sumy for Poltava further West, only hours after a Russian air strike, which regional officials said had hit a residential area and killed 21 people. Russia denies targeting civilians.
The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine had surged past 2 million, in what the United Nations describes as one of the fastest exoduses in modern times.
Residents were also leaving the town of Irpin, a frontline Kyiv suburb where Reuters journalists had filmed families fleeing for their lives under fierce bombardment on Sunday. Residents ran with children in strollers or cradling babies in arms, while others carried pets and plastic bags of belongings.
“The city is almost ruined, and the district where I’m living, it’s like there are no houses which were not bombed,” said one young mother, holding a baby beneath a blanket, while her daughter stood by her side.
Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special operation” to disarm its neighbour and unseat leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext to invade a country of 44 million people.
Western sanctions have cut off Russia from international trade and financial markets to a degree never before imposed on such a big economy.
Britain’s Shell, one of several Western oil majors to announce it is pulling out of Russian projects, went further on Tuesday, saying it would no longer buy any Russian oil or gas and apologising for buying a Russian crude shipment last week.
The war could also worsen global shortages of other commodities since both Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of food and metals. Trade in London of the industrial metal Nickel was suspended on Tuesday after prices doubled within hours.
Corridors to let civilians escape and allow aid reach besieged areas have been the main subject of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations.
Russia’s Interfax news agency said Moscow was opening humanitarian corridors for the cities of Sumy, Mariupol, Cherhihiv, Kharkiv and the capital Kyiv. Ukraine has rejected Russian proposals for Kharkiv and Kyiv that would lead evacuees to Russia or its ally Belarus. Earlier attempts to evacuate residents from Mariupol failed on Saturday and Sunday, with each side accusing the other of continuing to fire.
Western countries say Russia’s initial battle plan for a rapid strike to topple the Kyiv government failed in the early days of the war, and Moscow has adjusted tactics for longer sieges of cities.
“The tempo of the enemy’s advance has slowed considerably, and in certain directions where they were advancing it has practically stopped,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told a televised briefing on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s defence ministry said Vitaly Gerasimov, first deputy commander of Russia’s 41st army, had been killed on Monday, the second Russian major general killed since the invasion began. Russia’s defence ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.
The main Russian assault force heading towards Kyiv has been stuck on a road north of the capital. But to the south, Russia has made more progress along the Black and Azov Sea coasts.
Within Russia, the war has led to a severe new crackdown on dissent, with the last remaining independent media largely shut last week and foreign broadcasters banned. Many foreign news organisations have suspended reporting after a new law imposed jail terms for reporting deemed to discredit the military.
The top U.N. human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, said 12,700 people in Russia had already been detained at anti-war demonstrations.