WaPo writes about the diverging views between Europe and the Biden administration on the conduct of the war by Ukraine, in re the Russian oil refineries:

When Vice President Harris met privately with Volodymyr Zelensky at the Munich Security Conference in February, she told the Ukrainian leader something he didn’t want to hear: Refrain from attacking Russian oil refineries, a tactic U.S. officials believed would raise global energy prices and invite more aggressive Russian retaliation inside Ukraine. [...] Washington reinforced the warning in multiple conversations with Kyiv, including by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who traveled to Ukraine’s capital in March, and other senior U.S. defense and intelligence officials.

Instead of acquiescing to the U.S. requests, however, Ukraine doubled down on the strategy, striking a range of Russian facilities, including an April 2 attack on Russia’s third-largest refinery 800 miles from the font.

[...] Meanwhile, another senior Pentagon official, Celeste Wallander, suggested that the key distinction the Biden administration is concerned about is Ukraine hitting military versus civilian targets. “The issue on attacking critical infrastructure is when those are civilian targets, we have concerns because Ukraine holds itself to the highest standards of observing the laws of armed conflict, and that’s one of the elements of being a European democracy,” she told a House panel last week.

But (some) Europeans don't seem to care about that 'European standard' being set in Washington:

The U.S. positions all stand in contrast to Washington’s allies in Europe, who have barely disguised their pleasure with the Ukrainian campaign. “The Ukrainian people [are] acting in self-defense, and we consider that Russia is the aggressor,” French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said when asked about the strikes during a news conference with Blinken. “In such circumstances, there is hardly anything else to say. I think you understood me.”

Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, has also defended Ukraine’s right to hit Russian energy targets. “It’s not as if Russia is limiting itself to only hitting military targets or only attacking on the front. It’s attacking all over Ukraine,” he told The Post.

Why is that? How comes Europe is less dovish on Russian oil refineries than the administration in Washington?

  • 2
    Maybe change "dovish on" to something more specific like "Why are the Europeans less critical about Ukraine's targeting of Russian oil refineries than the US?". From the title, it's not exactly clear who supposedly to be saying what, but a deeper dive in the quotes makes it apparent. FWIW I think I saw somewhere than they had knocked out 10-15% of refining capacity at some point, so not a trivial amount, esp if troop requirements start interfering with civilian needs. Commented Apr 15 at 23:25
  • The question is about motivations.
    – Morisco
    Commented Apr 16 at 6:14

3 Answers 3


Joe Biden currently faces a heavy re-election battle this year, and petrol prices are already on the rise. And nothing terrifies a sitting American president more than a surge in pump prices during an election year (Financial Times). Ukraine attacks on Russian oil refineries raise the global oil prices. This economical argument is important and likely the main one.

This issue may not be equally hard-pressing for other countries at the moment.

  • That maybe one of the factors in the US calculation. But that reasoning assumes 2 things - (1) that UK and France don't care about the US at all as they are still publicly urging Ukraine to keep attacking the refineries and, (2) that the US will allow Ukraine to bomb Russian refineries after the election is over.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Apr 17 at 19:09
  • 1
    @sfxedit I don't see how this implies they "don't care about the US at all" - we're talking about a rise in fuel prices and it's link to elections. At most a personal motivation for Biden and his party. Commented Apr 23 at 7:48

This question is a good example of "politics within politics" playing out between the superpowers, fighting to protect their self-interests. (Superpowers are countries that can extend their political and economic influence, and military might, on other countries.)

In Europe, France, UK and Russia are the major superpowers that compete for influence in Europe and around the world. The relationship between the French and the Russians has seen a downturn during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, who the Russians now believe is trying to undermine it in Europe, and was directly challenging Russian interests in Libya and Syria:

The true crisis in the bilateral relations between Moscow and Paris began in 2020 as Russia’s position in the Libyan conflict kept growing stronger ... Paris had been a key ally of the Libyan National Army (LNA) ... Following the weakening of French positions in Libya, Russian influence began to penetrate the Sahel countries (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) .... France is a dominant power in the region, especially in political and military terms. It has a wide array of military bases across the Sahel: in Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania (France abandoned its bases in Mali in 2022) (Senat.fr, 2023). France is a major arms supplier for Morocco and cooperates extensively with Tunis and Rabat on security matters (SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, 2023). Paris is also a key player in the ongoing second Libyan civil war.

... Paris is interested in ensuring its dominance in the Sahel due to its strategic importance and its influence on the littoral states of Western Africa. Sahel is strategically important for France because of its uranium deposits. One-third of French uranium for peaceful uses (electricity generation) and 100 percent of uranium for military purposes comes from Niger, where the French company Orano owns uranium fields through its subsidiaries and ships it to France significantly below the market price (Filippov, 2017). Tuareg-fueled instability directly threatens French interests in Niger, where Tuaregs make up about 10 percent of the population. Furthermore, insecurity in the Sahel may spill over into countries with significant economic importance for France, such as Cote-d’Ivoire and Senegal. Rare-earth metals from Western Africa are critically important for the European Green Deal as well (Usman et al., 2021). Thus, by ensuring primacy in the Sahel, France guarantees not only its own strategic depth but that of the EU.

As the relationship between Putin and Sarkozy deteriorated, Russia aggressively started interfering and undermining French interests in Africa too. The result was the recent news from the African continent highlighting the tense situation developing between western powers (mostly France) and some African groups and nation. These unstable political situations have developed because Russia (with some support from China) has astutely managed to tap into the nationalists sentiments there, and use the political discontent in Africa against France and other western nations into political action with their backing.

Russia’s return to Africa is by no means new or underreported as the presence of private military groups such as Wagner, meddling with elections as in Madagascar, signing arms and mining deals with countries such as Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR), as well as backing Libyan warlords is the ‘new normal’ for Russia in Africa. What is underreported, however, is Russia’s use of Pan-Africanism to increase anti-Western sentiment and in turn, increase its influence on the continent.

... Pan-Africanism is a global social, cultural, and political movement that embraces increased solidarity among all ethnic groups of African descent stemming from the early 1900s. The movement embraces all African diaspora in the world with the belief that the diaspora should uplift each other. Another feature of Pan-Africanism for some is what is referred to as afro-centric Pan-Africanism which became prominent in the 1980s and 90s. The element of Afrocentrism largely focuses on driving out the Eurocentric elements from the African societies stemming from colonial times, in particular, culture in forms of literature, music, and theatre.

... Evidently, Russia does have a grand strategy in Africa and one important aspect of it is to drive France out of its former colonies. With diminishing French influence, Russia can increase its own and, in the greater scheme, diminish Western influence on the continent and establish many alliances which could be very beneficial for Russia, enabling increased arms export, mining concessions, oil and gas concessions, infrastructure projects (particularly nuclear energy and railways), as well as military cooperation. - How Russia Is Hijacking Pan-Africanism to Drive France out of Africa

The current Russian strategy in Africa is a fine-tuning of its cold-war strategy that it has used effectively with many former western colonies in the past. It also helps that French foreign policy in Africa still bears a colonial legacy:

Over the decades, Africa has been largely a French exclusive sphere of influence ... While other major powers exercise influence over their respective spheres quite tactfully, France exercises it in Africa, in a quite domineering way, thereby overshadowing countries like South Africa and Nigeria; and indeed rendering them bereft of continental influence befitting their weight in the continent.

Besides, French activities in the continent have always been enmeshed in one controversy or another. From particularly blatant exploitation to subversive activities against many governments including its supposed allies, France is largely viewed in the continent as a bully too strong to be tamed by its victims, and too influential to be challenged by its fellow superpowers whose interests are, after all, never affected anyway.

French forces are spread across many countries in the continent supposedly on a mission to fight terrorism and other forms of organised crime. There are also many French-linked “humanitarian organisations” ostensibly providing humanitarian services to the displaced. However, there has always been a quite credible suspicion of their involvement in the perpetuation of insecurity and instability amid which they perpetuate the systematic plunder of the countries’ mineral resources.

Likewise, many incidents of government overthrow and/or assassination of politicians opposed to French activities in their countries have been linked to Paris. Many instances of the rise and reign of governments and political elites committed to doing the French biddings at the expense of their respective countries have been equally linked to successive French governments. - How Russia overshadows France in Africa

The French response to this, under Sarkozy, has been to try and further undermine Russian interests in Eurasia:

In a plot full of political intrigues and strategic interests, France seems to seek a vendetta, that is, retaliation against Russian interference in its African sphere of influence. Moscow’s increased influence in the region, through the Wagner Group (and now Africa Corps), has caused a decline in French influence, evidenced by the withdrawal of its troops from countries such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

However, France does not remain passive in the face of this advance, retaliating with a series of initiatives aimed at undermining Russian interests in territories historically aligned with Moscow in Eurasia, such as Armenia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. This contest is not just a battle for influence, but a struggle for prestige and global power, the consequences of which could reshape the balance of power beyond Europe.

Considering Russia’s encroachment into the French sphere of influence, Paris is adopting a similar approach to Russia’s to engage with Caucasus and Central Asian countries, which are within Moscow’s sphere of influence, as a form of provocation ...

... France is intensifying its military cooperation with Armenia ... seeks strategic alliances with Armenia, a country that was “abandoned” by Russia during the war with Azerbaijan ... Kazakhstan is an important ally of Russia, and the growing French presence may undermine this alliance ... Uzbekistan is strategically important in Central Asia, and France is interested in strengthening its ties with the country to expand its geopolitical presence in the region ... Uzbekistan has historically maintained close ties with Russia ... The intensification of French support for Ukraine can also be seen as a direct challenge to Russian influence in the region. Russia views Ukraine as part of its sphere of influence (or even as part of Russia itself) and has sought to maintain control over the country through massive military invasion (and attempted occupation and annexation) and constant military support to separatist groups. Therefore, increased French support for Ukraine may undermine Russian efforts to maintain its dominant position in the region. - How France Is Taking Revenge on Moscow for Russian Meddling in Its Former African Colonies

The British have always had a less than amicable relationship with the Russians and consider them their main rival in Europe. Even when France and Germany were willing to engage with Russia, diplomatically and economically, the British were always privately hostile to any kind of alliance between them. It is also the biggest opponent to Russia's integration with Europe, as it fears Russia's presence in Europe will shift political alliances that could weaken British influence substantially. So it is not at all surprising that it seeks to undermine it in Ukraine too, and is happy to work with the French on this. (The French losing influence in Africa also effects it as the French also worked to protect the interests of the western alliance in Africa).

  • Interesting point but i think your narratives looks incomplete without such facts like: tass.ru/info/17845181 and this: «Il est évident que les actions de la France, qui arme massivement l'Arménie et encourage le militarisme dans la région, ne servent pas la paix» a dénoncé mercredi la diplomatie azerbaïdjanaise. - lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/… . The story have no neutral accents, no information of involving sides except Russia and China making it mislead and ... it's outdated? Commented Apr 17 at 11:38
  • @άνθρωπος Sure, as politics in Armenia / Azerbaijan evolve the role of Russia and France too may be changing there. I however obviously can't cover the details of each political issue where France and Russia are competing to increase and hence have only outlined the broad idea of the tussle between France and Russia in each others sphere of influence. The superpowers (the UN P5) have an understanding with each other of their spheres of influence. They also compete to expand this. And so we see conflicts in the world.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Apr 17 at 17:28
  • "The superpowers (the UN P5) have an understanding with each other of their spheres of influence." - when? Commented Apr 17 at 17:51
  • 1
    <<"rule based order" was later created by the west, after the collapse of the USSR, as a "gentleman agreement">> it's different to "the UN P5" - there is no "the UN of 5" or "the west", UN only is legal, but it is not work while "rule based order" was later created by the west. Distorted logic, that is tying to justify the outlaw rules-based-order Commented Apr 17 at 18:10
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    @άνθρωπος After the collapse of the USSR, the west (mainly the Anglosphere) treated the Russian leaders (Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin) like idiots - these Russian leaders naively believed that ending the cold war, and being transparent, would lead to a new alliance and world order with them. They were ignorant about the western power structures, and acted like total amateurs even as Russia was being undermined (because the west no longer believed Russia to be a superpower like them). Putin is the only one who suddenly realised this, stopped being a fool and so he is now vilified as a "villain".
    – sfxedit
    Commented Apr 17 at 19:02


Why is Europe (at least France and the UK) less dovish than the US administration on Ukraine striking Russian oil refineries?

Joe Biden's principal goal is to keep NATO unified in the face of an outside threat. Unified NATO is stronger. Joe seeks this through consensus agreement on action among the US's NATO allies. So Joe can only be as Hawkish public ally as his most Dovish ally, cough cough GERMANY!!

So as long as Germany is averse to escalation the United States is going to keep talking with them. The alternative is to go into this with NATO fractured and ultimately go around an important ally on a security matter which most directly affects them.

The UK and France play different roles. They are both trying to make their own public cases for more hawkish action as well as pursuing their own separate agendas.

From the Comments.

@LioElbammalf Individual statements make sense - obviously a unified NATO is stronger but then you conflate unified with identical. **(1)You state that the US cannot be more hawkish than Germany when the two countries are in completely different situations. (2) The Germans would suffer more from a directed retaliation (I.e. Russia restricting oil and gas to the Germany). (3) So there must be another reason I'm ignorant of that limits the US's action, (4) is there a source for these?

  1. I never said The US had to have an identical position to Germany. I said that the United States principal interest when confronting an outside threat against Europe was to seek consensus with our allies. Consensus building like Democracies in general are sometimes inefficient.

  2. I think Russia restricting oil and gas to Germany is of lesser concern after Nor Stream two was blown up. But yes I think Germany has trade and security concerns which are unique to it. I would also mention though countries like Poland, Norway, The Baltic States, and Cech Republic which are closer to the threat have been more supportive of bolder action in support of Ukraine. I don't disagree with your point though Germany's government is obviously doing what they think is best given their circumstances.

  3. No there doesn't really have to be a different reason. Germany is an important ally to the United States. It is enough that Germany has serious reservations over support for Ukraine. They merit and should receive consideration from the United States to address their concerns. This doesn't mean the U.S. doesn't have it's own position nor does it mean the U.S. won't act independently. It does mean the U.S. has overwhelming reasons to act in concert with European Countries. Germany is certainly an important European country, and one who's support is critical.

  4. is there a source for these? ( to suggest the U.S. has been trying to work on concert with Germany in Ukraine? )

Here is a policy paper from the United States State Dept from 2022, revised 2024; which is fairly comprehensive. Integrated Country Strategy - Germany

There are lot's of Other sources both documenting Germany's ongoing concerns and the U.S. seeking consensus and joint action.

April 5, 2024, Will Germany’s Support for Ukraine Continue?

  • According to the Scholz government, further arming Ukraine is not a sure way out of the war.
  • If the German government fails to reach a political consensus on the future of military support to Ukraine, the country’s defense industry will be in a very difficult situation.
  • Germany is keen to end the devastating effects of the prolongation of the war on its economy and on the European economy in particular.

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. welcomed Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany to the White House today to continue their close coordination on shared priorities.

  • Is this an attempt to answer the question? As it stands it's a thinly veiled rant with no explicit logic or sources. Commented Apr 23 at 17:13
  • @LioElbammalf, You trolls really need to get new material. If you have a constructive comment, I would entertain it.
    – JMS
    Commented Apr 23 at 18:28
  • If "provide sources for your points" is a theme you're encountering perhaps you should consider it? Commented Apr 23 at 22:00
  • @LioElbammalf. Please specify which point I made which you are ignorant of or question you would like sourced, because the is nothing controversial or even debatable in my post. Trolls like yourself never like to get specific.
    – JMS
    Commented Apr 24 at 12:58
  • Individual statements make sense - obviously a unified NATO is stronger but then you conflate unified with identical. You state that the US cannot be more hawkish than Germany when the two countries are in completely different situations. The Germans would suffer more from a directed retaliation (I.e. Russia restricting oil and gas to the Germany). So there must be another reason I'm ignorant of that limits the US's action, is there a source for these? Your emotive response indicates criticism upsets you quite a bit, I apologise for making you feel attacked, I'd just rather we stick to facts. Commented Apr 24 at 15:51

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