US urges new tactic to curb Putin’s war machine and lower fuel prices
By Jim Tankersley
Four months into Russia’s invasion, unprecedented Western economic retaliation and military aid to Ukraine have not curbed Vladimir Putin’s ability or apparent determination to wage war, leaving leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies grasping for new ways to deter him.
Meeting earlier this week in the Bavarian Alps, President Joe Biden and the other leaders of the Group of 7 industrialized nations were poised to embrace an aggressive but untried plan to manipulate the price of oil and restrict the revenue that underwrites Putin’s war machine.
Even as they searched for different tactics to hinder Moscow, Russia launched a barrage of missiles deep into Ukraine, striking civilian targets including, Ukrainian officials said, a crowded shopping mall where at least 13 people were killed. In a statement condemning that strike, the G-7 leaders said: “Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account.”
Allied leaders had hoped that economic sanctions would damage the Russian economy so severely and quickly that Putin would face economic and political pressure to cut short the war. Instead, Russian oil revenue remains high, internal opposition has been muzzled and, as Putin gloats, it is the West that is suffering high fuel prices that risk domestic political backlash.
Russia will no doubt suffer more over time — its economy will shrink by nearly 10% this year, economists predict, and a European Union embargo on most imports of Russian oil will take effect in December. But as Ukraine and Russia know all too well, every day counts in a war of attrition.
Administration officials said Monday that Biden would send advanced anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine, and NATO announced plans to raise the number of troops stationed in Eastern Europe and vastly increase the troops ready for rapid deployment.
But the most novel — and, administration officials said, possibly the most consequential — move came from the G-7 meeting, where leaders were nearing an agreement in principle to adopt price caps on Russian oil, restricting the cash flow to the Kremlin.
A price cap would allow Russia to keep selling oil abroad but sharply limit its revenue. It is the brainchild of Janet Yellen, Biden’s treasury secretary, who has told world leaders in recent weeks that such a cap would be the best way to reduce oil prices and avert a global recession.
The details are likely weeks or more away from completion, requiring intense negotiations by G-7 finance ministers, private companies and leaders of countries in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere that buy Russian oil. There is no guarantee that the plan will come together quickly, or at all, or that it will succeed as the G-7 leaders hope.
On Sunday, the G-7 leaders said they were banning imports of Russian gold, another sign that the West is looking for new ways to isolate Moscow financially.
The G-7 nations “are steadfast in our solidarity with Ukraine,” Biden and his fellow leaders said in a written statement on Monday, “and reaffirm our unwavering commitment to support the government and people of Ukraine in their courageous defense of their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Biden did not speak to cameras or reporters Monday, keeping an unusually low profile at the summit. His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, speaking by video link, had told the G-7 leaders that “he believes that a grinding conflict is not in the interest of the Ukrainian people, for obvious reasons.”
“So he would like to see his military and those in the West who are supporting his military make maximum use of the next few months,” Sullivan said, “to put the Ukrainians in as good a position as they can possibly be in with respect to the situation on the ground.”
But events outside the Alps underscored how Putin still holds a strong hand, with Russian energy revenue running at roughly $1 billion a day, allowing him to raise pensions and wages at home while keeping up a war effort that has broadened in recent days.
On Monday, Moscow pushed forward with slow but steady gains in Ukraine’s east, with both sides suffering heavy casualties, while maintaining persistent shelling of cities throughout Ukraine.
In Kremenchuk, a city far from the front lines in central Ukraine, an explosion reduced a shopping center to a flaming, partly collapsed ruin, and officials said it had been struck by a Russian missile. They said at least 13 people were dead, 10 missing and 25 hospitalized.
The mall had “no strategic value,” Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram. “Only the attempt of people to live a normal life, which so angers the occupiers.”
Northeast in the city of Kharkiv, a missile strike killed four people and injured 19, including four children, according to the regional governor, Oleg Synegubov. He wrote on Telegram, “The enemy deliberately terrorizes the civilian population.”
The strikes came a day after missiles rained on Kyiv, the capital.
Zelenskyy’s first request to G-7 leaders Monday was for anti-aircraft systems to defend against cruise missiles, Sullivan said, and Biden “was able to be positively responsive to him on that.”
Officials said the United States would supply Ukraine a NASAMS — an advanced, medium-to-long-range surface-to-air missile defense system. Sullivan said the administration would also send more ammunition for artillery and counter-battery radar systems.
In Brussels, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, said member nations would increase the troops kept “on standby,” meaning ready for rapid deployment, more than sevenfold, from 40,000 to 300,000, and would sharply increase the number stationed in countries bordering Russia and its ally, Belarus.
The announcement came ahead of a NATO summit to begin Tuesday, where the alliance is expected to update its strategic mission statement for the first time in 12 years, identifying Russia as an adversary rather than a potential partner, and China as a possible threat.