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Crude prices jump on Ukraine crisis; markets worry about anti-Russia sanctions

The price of oil jumped more than US$2 a barrel Monday as Russia's military advance into Ukraine raised fears of economic sanctions against one of the world's major energy producers.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery gained $2.33, or 2.3 per cent, to close at US$104.92 a barrel.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international varieties, rose $2.13, or two per cent, to US$111.20 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

While oil rose and gold rose, stock markets sank over the prospect of violent upheaval in the heart of Europe. Russian troops controlled all Ukrainian border posts on the strategic Crimean peninsula. Fears grew that the Kremlin might carry out more land grabs in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, adding urgency to western efforts to defuse the crisis.

Still, the West appeared to have limited options. The clearest weapon at the disposal of the EU and U.S. appeared to be economic sanctions that would freeze Russian assets and scrap multibillion-dollar deals with Russia.

Russia was the world's second-largest producer of oil in 2012, accounting for 12.6 per cent of global supplies, according to the International Energy Agency. It was also the world's top exporter of natural gas in that year, the IEA said. So, any economic sanctions taken against Moscow would limit world supply and push up prices.

"The lion's share of (Russia's) five million barrels per day of oil exports go to Europe, so it is hardly surprising that Brent has risen in response to the conflict, even though the risk of actual delivery outages is small," said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates, said traders are worried about a threat to the global balance of oil supplies.

"Major military events such as this can easily trigger a hoarding mentality in which additional barrels are contracted or moved into inventory as insurance against a major military confrontation," he wrote in a note to clients.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex, wholesale gasoline rose four cents to US$3.02 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres), heating oil added six cents to US$3.08 a gallon and natural gas fell 12 cents to US$4.49 per 1,000 cubic feet.


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