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US still weighing Russian sanctions that could cut off oil flows

Washington — The US is still deciding which sanctions to impose on Russia as part of mandatory penalties triggered in 2018 that could include blocking Russian petroleum imports into the US and banning US bank loans to Moscow.

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A Department of State spokeswoman said Wednesday the administration is still considering the impact the sanctions will have on US national security interests.

"We will proceed with our statutory requirements, but this process will take time," she said.

Blocking US imports of Russian oil would not have a significant market impact, but banning Russia's access to international debt and other measures to hamper Russian exports could deliver a severe blow to its economy.

The US imported about 317,500 b/d of refined products and 67,500 b/d of crude from Russia in the first 11 months of 2018, according to the latest Energy Information Administration data.

The Trump administration has so far held off on leveling new sanctions on Russia after an August finding by the State Department that Moscow violated a 1991 chemical and biological weapons law in the March 2018 poisoning of a former Russian agent and his daughter in the UK.

The State Department informed Congress in November that Russia had not met the law's conditions for verifying it no longer uses banned weapons and allowing inspectors. That certification triggers mandatory sanctions, but the White House has not decided which three of the six penalties in the law to impose.

In a call Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "reiterated the US determination to hold Russia accountable for its use of a chemical weapon in Salisbury, UK through sanctions as required by the [Chemical and Biological Weapons] Act," the State Department said in a readout Wednesday.

-- Meghan Gordon,

-- Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh,