Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, has called the price cap an important “safety valve” and a crucial policy that has forced Russia to sell oil for far less than international benchmark prices. Russian oil now trades for $25 to $35 a barrel less than other oil on the global market, Treasury Department officials estimate.
“Russia played the energy card, and it didn’t win,” Mr. Birol wrote in a February report. “Given that energy is the backbone of Russia’s economy, it’s not surprising that its difficulties in this area are leading to wider problems. Its budget deficit is skyrocketing as military spending and subsidies to its population largely exceed its export income.”
Biden administration officials say that there is no evidence of widespread evasion by Russia, and that Mr. Cicala’s analysis of Indian customs reports does not account for the rising cost of transporting Russian oil to India, which is embedded in the customs data. A White House official told reporters traveling with Mr. Biden in Hiroshima on Thursday that the Group of 7 leaders would adopt new measures meant to counter price-cap evasion in their meeting this weekend.
There is no dispute that the world has avoided what was privately the largest concern for Biden officials last summer: another round of skyrocketing oil prices.
American drivers were paying about $3.54 a gallon on average for gasoline on Monday. That was down nearly $1 from a year ago, and it is nowhere near the $7 a gallon some administration officials feared if the cap had failed to prevent a second oil shock from the Russian invasion. Gas prices are a mild source of relief for Mr. Biden as high inflation continues to hamper his approval among voters.
After rising sharply in the months surrounding the Russian invasion, global oil prices have fallen back to late-2021 levels. The plunge is partly driven by economic cooling around the world, and it has persisted even as large producers like Saudi Arabia have curtailed production.
Falling global prices have contributed to Russia’s falling revenues, but they are not the whole story. Reported sales prices for exported Russian oil, known as Urals, have dropped by twice as much as the global price for Brent crude.