Oleg Ustenko, a top economic advisor to Ukraine’s president, told CNBC on Monday he believes Western nations must stop importing Russian oil and gas, saying those transactions are “bloody money” that help Moscow finance its invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s just incredible because whoever is buying this oil and gas, they are responsible also for financing these aggressive” actions by Russia’s military, Ustenko said in an interview with CNBC’s Steve Liesman that aired Monday on “Closing Bell.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — now in its second week — is leading to “terrible, Dark Ages things in my country,” Ustenko said. “So for us, it’s extremely important to cut off them from these bloody money receipts. And we do believe that by doing this we will be able really to hit Russians very hard. … If this embargo is implemented, then we could be very much sure that they do not have economic power.”
Ustenko’s comments come as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also has called for a more expansive response to the Russian invasion. Ustenko has been an advisor to Zelenskyy since May 2019, according to the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council.
In his interview with CNBC, Ustenko painted a challenging humanitarian and economic picture. While he said the Ukrainian government has continued its social obligations, like paying the salaries of teachers, Ustenko said preliminary estimates suggest the country has suffered damages of roughly $100 billion.
Agriculture plays an important role in Ukraine’s economy, which had a gross domestic product of $200 billion in 2021, its highest level in decades. It’s a pivotal time in the year for Ukrainian farmers, Ustenko said, explaining that normally this is when they begin spring fieldwork for key crops. That work is typically finalized in April, he said.
“So, basically it’s a very, very short period of time when they’re able to do that kind of work. And if they’re not able to do that it’s going to be a significant, even further decline in our economy,” Ustenko said.
Ukraine is a major producer and exporter of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. Nearly half of the international sunflower oil market is supplied by Ukrainian producers, according to Ustenko.
In some areas, he said over 70% of Ukraine’s agricultural production is exported to global markets. He said Ukraine fortunately has enough wheat and grain in its own reserves to “feed our population” for the next year.
If need be, he said, “we will just stop exporting from the country.”