US Congress moves to close Russian oil 'refining loophole'
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Bill introduced as Global Witness investigation reveals that US purchases of laundered Russian oil were worth $180 million to the Kremlin in 2023

On March 8, 2022, before grim evidence of the massacres in Bucha, Irpin and Borodyanka emerged, President Joe Biden signed the first executive order addressing Russia’s war against Ukraine. E.O. 14066 established a ban on the import of Russian oil, coal, and liquefied natural gas. With it, the president said, “the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.” The import ban was codified by Congress a month later. The United States did end direct imports of those fossil fuels, yet 20 months into the big war in Europe, Americans are still filling their tanks with gasoline originating in Russia. How?

Thanks to the loophole in the sanctions, Russian oil continues to flow into the United States via third countries. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) points to several main ‘laundromat’ countries, including India and Turkey. They are called so since they are now buying huge quantities of Russian oil, refining it, and legally exporting products from it (like gasoline) to countries that have sanctioned imports of Russian crude, including the US.

After months of extensive research, B4Ukraine’s member Global Witness revealed that American purchases of laundered Russian oil were worth $180 million to the Kremlin in the first nine months of 2023 alone. The investigation shows that refineries running on Russian oil exported 30 million barrels of petroleum products to the US between January and October of this year.

Following a Global Witness study, Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) this week introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to ban US imports of refined products made from Russia’s crude oil.

The Ending Importation of Laundered Russian Oil Act aims to sever that link at no additional cost to the taxpayer. If enacted, the legislation will prohibit the import of oil from refineries that import Russian crude, disincentivising purchases from Russia and reducing demand for the Kremlin’s main export.

The push to close the loophole in the US comes alongside a similar push in the UK. Original research by Global Witness found that the UK’s own refining loophole contributed at least £40 million to the Kremlin in the first half of the year, and that Russian oil fuelled 1 in 20 UK flights this summer. The investigation was reported widely in the UK in August after being broadcast on the BBC’s flagship news hour programme, Newsnight.

The bill has dozens of co-sponsors including both Republicans and Democrats.

“Every penny spent on Russian oil — whether it’s crude oil or refined product — helps pay for Russia’s war against Ukraine and war crimes against the Ukrainian people. That’s why B4Ukraine is proud to support this bill to stop refined Russian oil from reaching the United States,” said Eleanor Nichol, the Executive Director of B4Ukraine.

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