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Americans could feel the pinch as NATO sanctions hit Russia over Ukraine

Ukraine is half a world away, but if Russian President Vladimir Putin makes good on his threat to take over that country, Americans will likely feel some shock waves at the gas pump and in grocery stores, experts said.

Food and gas prices, which are already high because of pandemic-induced inflation and supply chain problems that President Joe Biden has been struggling to contain, could climb even higher because Russia is one of the world’s biggest exporters of oil and wheat, the experts said.

The United States does not import Russian wheat, said Phil Lempert, a food marketing and consumer behavior analyst.

Nor does it import much from Ukraine, which is known as the breadbasket of Europe because it grows much of the wheat, barley, rye and corn the continent relies on.

China also is a huge importer of Ukrainian wheat, the experts said.

“However, if a war does break out and other countries stop importing from them and shift to importing from the U.S., prices will go up (as following demand) and we could see some shortages,” Lempert warned.

War in Ukraine would disrupt the supply chains across Europe, Alan Holland, CEO and founder of Keelvar, a sourcing technology company, told CNBC.

“Even though harvesting season is still a few months away, a prolonged conflict would create bread shortages this fall,” he said.

Wheat and corn prices were climbing even before Putin ratcheted up the tension further by announcing he was sending troops into the pro-Russian separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.

And if the violence surges, prices are likely to skyrocket.

“Rising food prices would only be exacerbated with additional price shocks, especially if core agricultural areas in Ukraine are seized by Russian loyalists,” Per Hong, a senior partner at the consulting firm Kearney, told CNBC.

Same goes for oil and gas prices

“Rising tensions in Eastern Europe have added additional uncertainty to an already tight market,” said Frank Macchiarola, a policy expert at the American Petroleum Institute. “The best way to ensure energy security and provide affordable, reliable energy to Americans is to promote policies that incentivize U.S. production and send a clear message that America is open for energy investment.” 

A blockade of Russia means that the rest of Europe, which gets 40 percent of its natural gas and 25 percent of its oil from that country, will need to find it elsewhere — thus driving up those costs.

And Russia is also the second-largest exporter of oil to the U.S. after Canada because sanctions have dried up the supply from Venezuela, and the OPEC countries in the Middle East reduced shipments to keep the price high.

“Russia is incredibly unimportant in the global economy except for oil and gas,” Jason Furman, a Harvard University economist who was an adviser to then-President Barack Obama, told The New York Times. “It’s basically a big gas station.”

Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, a tax and consulting services firm, echoed Furman on that note, saying Russia is “primarily a giant gas station.”

But Russia is also a mineral-rich country that provides, among other things, 45.6 percent of the palladium used to produce microchips, and large quantities of nickel, as well as precious metals such as platinum and silver and other commodities, he told NBC News.

“So yes, the average American household is going to bear some of the burden of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” Brusuelas said. “But the effect, for now, will be indirect.”

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