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US triggers Russia sanctions that could block crude, product imports

Washington — Fresh US sanctions imposed on Russia on Wednesday are not expected to impede energy trades, but a second round of sanctions that the law could trigger after three months would block a vast swath of Russian exports to the US, including crude and oil products.

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The US State Department notified Congress on Wednesday that it has determined Russia used chemical or biological weapons during the March poisoning of a former Russian agent and his daughter in the UK.

Under a 1991 law, the determination triggers a set of mandatory sanctions, including terminating arms sales and Russian exports of national security-sensitive goods and technology to the US.

A second, much larger set of sanctions would kick in if the White House determines that Russia has not met certain conditions related to chemical and biological weapons within three months.

That round of penalties "may include petroleum or any petroleum product," according to the legislation.

The US imports more refined oil products than crude oil from Russia. It imported 361,000 b/d of oil products in May, according to the latest Energy Information Administration data. The oil product imports averaged 336,000 b/d in 2017, down from 402,000 b/d in 2016.

The US imported 130,000 b/d of Russian crude in May, the highest monthly average since 165,000 b/d in August 2015. US imports of Russian crude averaged 49,000 b/d in 2017, up from 38,000 b/d in 2016.

"Hopefully we will not get to that point, but that's really [more] a question for Russia than for us," a senior administration official said during a briefing Wednesday.

The law has triggered US sanctions twice before, against Syria and North Korea.

--Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

--Edited by Wendy Wells, newsdesk@spglobal.com