Signalling their virtue over the ongoing war in Ukraine, New Jersey lawmakers have targeted a pair of American-owned Lukoil gas stations, forcing the suspension of the businesses’ operating licenses.
The crackdown on stations has been denounced as “nothing more than political theatre.”
On Wednesday, Newark city council voted unanimously to ask the city’s business administrator to suspend the gas stations’ operating licenses, citing Lukoil’s headquarters in Moscow.
As detailed by Philadelphia-based WPVI-TV, the action “may have predominantly been hurting Americans” as the gas stations are owned and operated by Americans, not Russians.
“They employ mostly New Jersey residents. And the gasoline sold at the stations comes from a local Phillips 66 refinery,” the news station explained. “The campaign targeting the gas stations is one example of collateral damage from the backlash against Russia, as government officials and customers race to show their support for Ukraine by boycotting products and companies — or things they perceive to be Russian.”
Speaking to the news channel, Roger Verna, a New Jersey resident who immigrated from India 45 years ago, has owned the franchise of one of the stations in the city since 2005.
He said that the decision to pull his licence “left him baffled and concerned that he could be put out of business, which would affect his 16 employees,” the station reported.
“Let me be clear that I stand with Ukraine and I'm fully in support of Russian sanctions,” Verma said Wednesday to the press at Newark's city hall.
“But I'm baffled and confused how people sitting in these positions without having any of their facts together and without having full knowledge of how things are done can introduce and change laws and change people's lives just like that.”
Calls have been made across social media to suspend the operating licenses of Lukoil gas stations, which are present in 11 states throughout the northeastern United States.
Newark officials defended their decision to yank the business licenses of the two gas stations, arguing that it was the moral thing to do.
“All of us are horrified by the images we're seeing” said council member Anibal Ramos. “Today, Newark is standing in solidarity with a number of countries around the world who are supporting democracy and taking sanctions against the Russian Federation.”
As detailed by the news station, Lukoil franchise agreements allow the parent company in Russia to act as the station’s landlord. The station’s owners must pay rent, taxes and utilities to the company and agree to buy a certain amount of fuel every month.
“All of the station owners condemn what Russia is doing in Ukraine, but do not deserve to lose their businesses and their investments because of Russia's bad behaviour," said Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience Store and Automotive Association, who called it “nothing more than political theatre.”
In other places, restaurants and bars have been dumping their stocks of Smirnoff vodka, not realizing that the beverages they’re destroying are owned by an English company and distilled in Illinois.
“It looks good doing it, but the stuff is already in the building and paid for. You're just hurting yourself dumping it down the drain,” said a Massachusetts bar owned who questioned the logic of their actions.