The Double Standard of Sanction Politics in America

Following the United States’ suspension of its energy trade with Russia, the entire Western world commended the American president, saying that even in times of war, even if certain sanctions have negative consequences for America, Joe Biden is not afraid to remain take the moral high ground. However, there is a question about the considerable uranium Washington imports from Russia.

Not long after the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict, the United States formulated a serious list of sanctions against Russia, which, among other things, affected the energy trade between the two countries. According to the details, Washington has primarily prohibited new contracts for buying Russian petroleum and certain petroleum products, as well as liquefied natural gas and coal. The sanctions further stipulated that the contracts already guaranteeing the purchase of these materials would be terminated within 45 days. The United States further stipulated that American enterprises could no longer invest in the Russian energy sector, and there would be no exceptions for projects initiated by Russia to take place outside the country.

Undoubtedly, this list of energy sanctions linked to the president’s administration has great implications — such a comprehensive measure, preventing the importation of raw materials, is rare for the United States. As a result, it was no surprise that the pro-Biden world press and Western political circles regarded the measures as a historic step and viewed them as a beacon for political ethics, although they did not deny sanctions will hurt not only America but Europe as well.

At the same time, looking at the list of sanctions prohibiting raw materials, it is obvious that there is one main energy source exported from Russia that is missing: uranium. The fact that this radioactive chemical element is missing from the list of sanctions supports the position of the Nuclear Energy Institute — a trade association that includes various players in the United States’ nuclear market — that the United States is completely dependent on the uranium sourced from Russia and its allies, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In terms of numbers, this means that in 2020 alone, the U.S. purchased 10.3 million kilograms [approximately 22.3 million pounds] of uranium from the region, which was responsible for generating as much as 20% of American electricity.

Notably, the Biden administration — supposedly treading the political moral high ground — does not buy uranium from this region because it has the only quarries where the material can be easily mined, but because this is the easiest option for the United States. Canada and Australia are some of the world’s biggest uranium-producing countries, and as natural American allies, would be obvious alternatives for Washington. However, the current Democratic presidential administration is not inclined to pay a premium for its uranium imports, so, while it imposes harsh sanctions in the energy sector, it is willing to set aside its moral resolve toward Russia in weightier matters.

United States sanction policies are further influenced by the fact the U.S. once operated uranium mines. in fact, Texas and Wyoming have significant uranium reserves. However, extraction costs are astronomical compared to the inexpensive Russian uranium, and so this sector has practically disappeared over the years. Interestingly, even Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, noticed the energy dependency of the United States. Moreover, the Republican president was the first decision-maker in many years to recognize the danger of such a dependency, and as a result, in 2020 he recommended a so-called strategic uranium reserve worth $150 million in order to reduce Washington’s dependency in case of a global political crisis.

Interestingly, although Trump’s recommendation was not new, indeed there is a petroleum reserve based on a similar decree, which makes 714 million barrels of kerosene available in case of emergency, many Democratic lawmakers opposed it. Now it appears that American uranium mining could become relevant again, and could result in another Democratic turnaround on the issue. It needs to be said that such an effort would take significant time and the dependency of the United States is unlikely to lighten soon. This is not just a sobering message for the Biden administration as it treads the moral high ground, but it also provides an embarrassing explanation of why America’s sanction policies are nothing more than pursuit of its own interests.

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