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    A cap on Russian oil prices? G7 eyes untried, risky plan

    NEW YORK (AFP) – Capping the price of Russian oil, an approach G7 members said on Friday they want to pursue “urgently”, would be an unprecedented move and one which some analysts say could backfire.

    Russian oil would be purchased at a discount from prevailing market prices, to limit Moscow’s profits as it prosecutes its war against Ukraine; but it would keep the price above the cost of production to ensure incentive for its export.

    The discounted rates, calculated separately for crude oil and refined petroleum products, could be regularly revised, according to a United States (US) Treasury official. There have been international systems aimed at preventing a nation from exporting oil – such as those now targetting Iran and Venezuela – or at limiting trade, as in the United Nations (UN) “Oil-for-Food” programme which, from 1995 to 2003, allowed Iraq to sell oil but only to pay for food, medicine and humanitarian needs.

    But there has never been an attempt to impose a differentiated price on a country.

    G7 members (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US) have already limited or suspended their Russian petroleum purchases.

    But for the plan to be effective, other countries will have to take part – particularly big countries like India and China, some of Russia’s most important clients.

    The logo of Russia’s energy giant Gazprom is pictured at one of its petrol stations in Sofia, Bulgaria. PHOTO: AFP

    While the G7 plan offers the prospect of lower prices, “China and India are already getting cheaper – cheap enough – oil”, said Bill O’Grady of Confluence Investment.

    “Russia could say, ‘Look, we’re just going to sell this oil at this price. We’re not going to sell it to Europeans.’”

    John Kilduff of Again Capital agreed.

    “I don’t think that the Chinese or the Indians or the Turkish will go on” with the G7 plan, he said, noting that those countries had not joined in Western sanctions punishing Russia for the Ukraine war. “I think the flows to those countries from Russia will continue.”

    For the price cap to work, Russia will have to yield to the pressure and continue exporting to the participating countries. But Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak warned on Thursday that Moscow would not sell petroleum products to countries capping their price, Russian news agencies reported.

    Global oil prices rose on Friday. Kilduff attributed that at least partly to the G7 announcement. He said it had raised fears of a contraction in world supply and thus a damaging new surge in prices.

    If petroleum prices have declined from their peaks shortly after the Russian invasion in February, they remain historically high, and extremely volatile.

    The EU (with the exception of three members) is preparing not only to ban Russian petroleum imports as of December 5, but also to block European insurers from covering transport costs to non-EU destinations.

    “I do think that Washington is really uncomfortable” with those insurance restrictions, said O’Grady, adding that they would “really be a big deal.”

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