US bans Russian oil imports as warplane deal for Ukraine moves closer

Kyiv says compromise possible with Moscow but civilians struggle to flee onslaught

A mother sleeps with her children in a temporary shelter hosting Ukrainian refugees near the city of Przemysl, in southern Poland, on Tuesday. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images

The US has banned all Russian energy imports and appeared to move closer to brokering a deal for Ukraine to receive fighter jets from Poland, in moves that are likely to anger the Kremlin as it continues to attack Ukrainian cities and calls on Kyiv's forces to surrender.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed that his country would defy Russian aggression, but suggested that compromise could be found on key areas of dispute between Moscow and Kyiv, including Ukraine's Nato membership hopes.

Civilians managed to leave the northern city of Sumy and the town of Irpin, on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv, but a planned evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from the besieged Azov Sea port of Mariupol failed yesterday due to what Ukraine said was more indiscriminate Russian shelling.

"Today I am announcing the United States is targeting the main artery of Russia's economy. We're banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy," said US president Joe Biden. "That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at US ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to [president Vladimir] Putin's war machine."


Britain said it would phase out imports of Russian oil and related products by the end of this year, but many European Union states are reluctant to target the main source of the bloc's oil and gas supplies.

Mr Biden said he knew "many of our European allies and partners may not be in a position to join us. But we're working closely with Europe and our partners to develop a long-term strategy to reduce their dependence on Russian energy."

Fleet of jets

Poland announced last night that it intends to place its fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets at the disposal of the US in exchange for similar American warplanes, in a move that is expected to result in the MiG-29s being transferred to the Ukrainian air force.

However, late last night the Pentagon said Poland’s offer to give its MiG-29 fighter jets to the US so they can be passed to Ukraine raised serious concerns for the Nato alliance and the plan was not “a tenable one”.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the prospect of jets departing from a US/Nato base in Germany to fly into airspace contested with Russia in the Ukraine war was concerning.

He said it was not clear to the US that there was a substantive rationale for it. The US, he said, will continue to talk to Poland about the matter.

Ukraine’s ground troops are putting up fierce resistance to the Russian invasion, but it lacks air defences to counter Moscow’s missiles and huge fleet of warplanes, and Nato has rebuffed repeated pleas from Mr Zelenskiy to impose a no-fly zone over his country.

Russia has said it will view as a hostile act any attempt by Ukraine's allies to help guard its skies with warplanes, and it also threatened to retaliate to any European oil embargo by turning off gas flow to the continent through the major Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

Meanwhile, ratings agency Fitch downgraded Russia’s sovereign rating by six notches further into the junk territory to ‘C’ from ‘B’, saying a default was imminent as sanctions and trade restrictions have undermined its willingness to service debt.

The country’s financial markets have been thrown into a turmoil by Western sanctions after it invaded Ukraine, raising significant concerns over its ability and willingness to service debt.

Military neutrality

The Kremlin has said the war could end “in a moment” if Ukraine stopped fighting, changed its constitution to enshrine military neutrality, recognised occupied Crimea as Russian territory and accepted the self-declared independence of parts of eastern Ukraine that are held by Moscow-led militants.

Mr Zelenskiy told ABC News he was ready to seek “compromise” over Crimea and eastern Ukraine and had “cooled down regarding this question [of Nato membership] a long time ago, after we understood that... Nato is not prepared to accept Ukraine.”

During a defiant speech to the British parliament via video link, Mr Zelenskiy evoked Shakespeare's Hamlet and Winston Churchill. "The question for us now is to be or not to be... I can give you a definitive answer: it's definitely to be," he declared.

“We will not give up and we will not lose. We will fight to the end on the sea, in the air, we will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe