The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion $5 gas is largely Putin’s fault

Guy Benhamou sends a picture of gas prices to friends while pumping gas at an Exxon Mobil station on June 9 in Houston. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The United States has hit another uncomfortable milestone: $5 gas is now the norm. More than 20 states have prices above the $5 mark (California is above $6 a gallon), according to AAA. Record gas prices are a daily reminder of how different the current economy is from what many Americans are accustomed to: Inflation is at a four-decade high, and interest rates are rising at a pace not seen in two decades. People are anxious about this economy. Consumer sentiment is at a record low since the University of Michigan began tracking it in the mid-1970s.

This is largely Vladimir Putin’s fault. Gas prices are up nearly $2 in the past year, and 75 percent of that increase came since Putin’s Russian troops invaded Ukraine. The United States and many other countries rightly responded to this unjustified war by imposing heavy sanctions and halting purchases of Russian oil and grain. But that means supplies are down, and energy and food prices have soared to record highs around the world. Putin wants — and expects — the world to cave and lift the sanctions and cede parts of Ukraine to Russia in the face of these high prices. As hard as it is, we cannot let Putin win.

Our view: Putin is starving millions of people around the world

Stronger demand is also playing a role. As pandemic restrictions fade, Americans are booking trips to the beach, theme parks, and cities at home and abroad. Airport security checkpoints are processing nearly as many people as they did pre-pandemic. This is on top of many families driving to vacation spots and driving to the office and school again.

Letters to the Editor

counterpointThe Biden administration is culpable for high gas prices

In the short term, there’s not a lot President Biden can do. He already released the most oil ever from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a move we welcomed. To really drive a noticeable decline in prices will take more supply or a big drop in demand. There are early signs that lower-income and middle-class families are buying less fuel. Nearly 60 percent of adults say they are driving less, according to a Post-Schar School poll.

Our view: Biden’s release of U.S. oil reserves is the right call

On the supply side, major oil-producing nations outside the United States committed to increase oil production, but their efforts are modest so far. Mr. Biden should not resort to begging the Saudis, Iranians and Venezuelans for more oil. Lifting any sanctions or repairing relationships should only be done in exchange for substantial gains, including political concessions.

The big wild card is domestic producers. They say they are doing all they can. Oil production in the United States has increased since December, but it’s still well below early-2020 levels when oil prices briefly went negative as much of the world shut down for the pandemic and oil companies suffered huge losses. It would be a huge help to have more domestic oil production. Mr. Biden and his team need to engage more with domestic oil producers about what’s needed to spur more production — and remind companies that their soaring profits may please Wall Street, but they harm American families as well as the broader effort to end the war in Ukraine.