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Pipes at the landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipeline are pictured in Lubmin, Germany on March 7 2021. REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE
Pipes at the landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipeline are pictured in Lubmin, Germany on March 7 2021. REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE

Lviv/Irpin — The fear of an energy war between Russia and the West grew on Tuesday after the US pushed its allies to ban Russian oil imports as punishment for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, where talks on humanitarian corridors made little progress.

Russia warned it could stop the flow of gas through pipelines from Russia to Germany in response to Berlin’s decision last month to halt the opening of the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s gas.

“We have every right to take a matching decision and impose an embargo on gas pumping through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline,” Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said on Monday.

Novak warned that oil prices could more than double to $300 a barrel if the US and its allies banned imports of Russian oil, a crucial source of revenue after the country was effectively frozen out of Western financial markets.

Analysts at Bank of America said that if most of Russia’s oil exports were cut off there could be a shortfall of 5-million barrels a day or more, pushing prices as high as $200.

Oil prices see-sawed near 14-year highs on Tuesday, with Brent crude futures up $1.06, or 0.9%, at $124.27 a barrel at 2.23am GMT, after trading as high as $125.19.

US President Joe Biden held a video conference call with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain on Monday as he pushed for their support to ban Russian oil imports. The US was willing to move ahead without allies in Europe, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Many countries on the continent are heavily reliant on Russian energy.

Russia’s invasion, the biggest attack on a European state since World War 2, has created 1.7-million refugees, a raft of sanctions on Moscow, and fears of wider conflict as the West pours military aid into Ukraine.

Japan tightened its sanctions on Tuesday, freezing the assets of an additional 32 Russian and Belarusian officials and executives of companies with close ties to the government.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

Sieges and the bombing continued as Kyiv rejected possible humanitarian corridors to Russia and Belarus, but said limited progress had been made on agreeing logistics for the evacuation of civilians.

Moscow would give the residents of the Ukrainian cities of Sumy and Mariupol the choice of moving elsewhere in Ukraine on Tuesday, setting a deadline in the early hours for Kyiv to agree, Russian news agencies reported.

More than 1.7-million Ukrainians have fled to central Europe since the conflict began on February 24, the UN refugee agency said on Monday.

After the third attempt at talks in Belarus to ease the bloodshed, a Ukrainian negotiator said that though small progress on agreeing logistics for the evacuation of civilians had been made, things remained largely unchanged.

Russia has proposed two corridors in Ukraine, according to Interfax. Escape routes to Russia and Belarus, its close ally, were earlier called “completely immoral” by a spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would halt operations if Ukraine ceased fighting, amended its constitution to declare neutrality, and recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the independence of regions held by Russian-backed separatists.

A Russian strike on a bread factory killed 13 in the town of Makariv in the Kyiv region, Ukrainian officials said. Reuters could not verify the details. Russia denies targeting civilians.

In the encircled southern port city of Mariupol, hundreds of thousands of people remained trapped without food and water under regular bombardments.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, police said the death toll from the Russian bombardment was 143 since the start of the invasion. It was not possible to verify the toll.

Ukraine said on Monday its forces had retaken control of the town of Chuhuiv in the northeast after heavy fighting and of the strategic Mykolayiv airport in the south. Neither could immediately be verified.

A US defence official said Putin had now deployed into Ukraine nearly 100% of the more than 150,000 forces that he had pre-staged outside the country before the invasion.

Reuters

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