UNIVERSAL CITY — The invasion of Ukraine was top of mind Friday, Feb. 25, as San Fernando Valley congressional representatives gathered with an audience of local business people.
U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, and Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, found common ground in opposing Russia’s assault on the Ukraine. The invasion began Thursday and on Friday was moving into the small sovereign nation’s capital city of Kyiv, even as the two congressman spoke to an attentive audience of business leaders at the Valley Industry & Commerce Association’s annual Congressional Breakfast at the Hilton Universal.
At issue, however, was the impact of sanctions applied on Russia by the US and other nations. Both had questions about the heft of the current sanctions — but each had his own unique take on the measures.
Targeting Russia’s financial system, President Joe Biden on Thursday unleashed a series of new retaliatory sanctions on Russia, designed to block assets of large Russian banks, impose export controls aimed at the nation’s high-tech needs and sanction its business oligarchs.
But the question was, were the sanctions sufficient to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin, who some experts say has ambitions of redrawing of the geo-political landscape in Europe.
Sherman, whose district stretches from Studio City and Sherman Oaks to much of the West San Fernando Valley, delivered a mixed assessment, complicated by the politics of international supply lines of oil.
“The sanctions are fairly modest,” Sherman said. “Here’s a man named Putin who is willing to incur thousands of dead… . and there’s no appetite in Europe or the United States to see oil prices go higher or to interrupt flows. Missing in action here are our friends, the Saudi Arabians. They have not agreed to produce a single additional barrel. As long as the Saudis don’t produce more, Europe is dependent on Russia and the sanctions are in the modest to small category.”
As it stands, according to the Associated Press, Saudi Arabia has the ability to produce some 12 million barrels a day, but its output is around 10 million barrels a day in line with the OPEC+ curbs made during the coronavirus pandemic. The OPEC+ group has consistently rebuffed pressure from Biden to pump significantly more oil, deciding instead to stick with cautious monthly increases. The higher oil prices are a boon to the economies of both Saudi Arabia and Russia as Moscow faces possible Western sanctions over Ukraine.
Sherman, who has long pushed for sanctions against Russia in the wake of interference in the 2016 election, hinted at the potential need for more pointed responses, such as shipping weapons to Ukraine’s military. But such measures have not been announced and appeared to be off the table for now.
A chorus of US lawmakers — and Ukrainian officials — have called on Biden to do more.
“There is more that we can and should do,” said Sen Bob Menendez, DN.J., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, pointing to the possibility of removing Russian banks from the SWIFT international banking system and sanctioning Putin personally. “Congress and the Biden administration must not shy away from any options.”
Garcia aimed blunt criticism at the Biden Administration’s response.
Hearkening back to the days of President Ronald Reagan, doctrines of “containment and deterrence” and the Cold War, Garcia offered a blunt assessment.
“The old adage that Reagan had, which was peace through strength…” Garcia said. “If you believe in that like I do, then war is a product of weakness. When you demonstrate strength you actually prevent wars from breaking out,” he added, putting much of the blame on Biden for the current scenario.
“The problem that we have as a nation right now is that sanctions and diplomacy are effective against rational actors. For us to believe that diplomacy and sanctions are actually going to deter this man, who is willing to kill thousands of his own people and others in order to reclaim these territories, is delusional.”
Garcia said the US should be cutting off oil from Russia, and leaning more on our own oil supply.
“Now we’re literally buying oil and publicly touting like it’s a good thing from a country and leader who is today, right now, killing innocent babies in the nation of the Ukraine.”
Garcia called for a boycott of Russian oil, divestment and a sanction “package” against Russia. He did suggest if Russians targeted civilians with nuclear or biological weapons, and encroach on NATO countries, “we may have an obligation to act.”
About 7% of US oil exports come from Russia, according to the US Energy Information Administration, ranked third behind Canada at 52% and Mexico at 11%. In 2020, the US exported about 8.51 million barrels per day and imported about 7.86 million barrels per day of petroleum products, becoming a net annual petroleum exporter for the first time since at least 1949, the EIA said.
Meanwhile, Russia accounts for more than 30% of Europe’s gas for home heating, industry and generating electricity, and other potential supply sources are not adequately prepared to bridge the gap if Russian gas is curtailed, Rystad Energy analysts say.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.