After Russian invasion of Ukraine, Newark council will vote to suspend licenses of Lukoil gas stations

Published: Mar. 01, 2022

The Newark City Council will officially weigh in on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with a vote scheduled for Wednesday to suspend the licenses of local Lukoil service stations.

The stations are part of a network in 11 northeastern U.S. states operated by Manhattan-based Lukoil North America, a subsidiary of PJSC Lukoil in Moscow, one of the world’s largest oil companies. There are at least two Lukoil stations in Newark, both of them on McCarter Highway.

Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. said he would introduce a resolution to rescind the stations’ licenses at Wednesday’s noon council meeting. He said the action was an effort to join ruling bodies at all levels of government worldwide in opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its neighbor and former Soviet satellite state.

Ramos said Lukoil North America’s parent company was controlled by “oligarchs” who supported Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he held responsible for the invasion, and that suspending the Newark stations’ licenses was a legitimate response.

“I think the city stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine,” Ramos told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday, echoing the language of the resolution. “We are shocked by the actions of Russia.”

Ramos said the city’s law office told him that the council was within its authority to suspend the licenses. And he said there appeared to be broad support for the resolution among council members based on a discussion during Tuesday’s work session.

Mayor Ras Baraka issued a statement Tuesday expressing opposition to the Russian invasion while vowing to take any legal step to act on the resolution.

“We are unequivocally opposed to any nation violating the sovereignty and invading a democratically elected government and stand with the Ukrainian people,” Baraka stated. “We will look at our legal recourse to carry out such a request.”

Word of the resolution not sit well with Malamine Sylla, who works at the Lukoil franchise on McCarter Highway near the entrance to Route 78.

“Of course, if it gets suspended, we’ll be out of work,” said Sylla, 47, who lives with his family in East Orange. “I’ve got four kids.”

One of the station owners, Roger Verma, said the resolution was “totally absurd” and would put 16 full- and part-time employees out of work, most of them Newark residents.

“Every employee we have is American,” said Verma, a New Jersey resident. “The owners are immigrant Americans. The taxes are being paid in America. The work is being done and the gas is being bought in America. All the gasoline, the refineries, (Houston-based) ConocoPhillips, is the one that supplies Lukeoil. So the idea to jump on a bandwagon and say we want to do this is idiotic if not illegal.”

Sal Resalvapo, the executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline and Convenience Store Association, said the move was “wrong,” and possibly illegal.

“These guys are not Russia,” he said.

Ramos said he was aware that the license suspensions could hurt workers at the Lukoil stations, possibly Newark residents, even though they were unlikely to have anything to do with the conflict in Eastern Europe.

“It’s definitely not our intention to punish any Newark residents or local folks who may work at these gas stations,” Ramos said. “But there are different levels of government around the world who are taking action on this situation, and I think the City of Newark is taking the very strong position that we’re not going to let this kind of injustice happen without the city expressing its opposition to it.”

Numbers listed for the two McCarter Highway stations were not in service on Tuesday.

PJSC Lukoil and Lukoil North America did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. Resalvapo said there were probably somewhere around 100 Lukoil stations in New Jersey.

Ramos, who represents Newark’s North Ward, noted that the city’s West Ward has been home to a Ukrainian-American community and that the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church had held a memorial service last week for victims of the conflict.

The municipal legalese of the resolution is like that of any other measure the council might adopt in its normal course of business, though the substance is anything but.

“Whereas, Lukoil North America is a subsidiary of PJSC Lukoil, a Russian oil and gas company with deep ties to the Russian Federation and Russian oligarchs aligned with President Vladimir Putin,” the resolution states. And “Whereas, the operation of Lukoil and its franchisees in Newark serves to provide economic support to the Russian Federation in its efforts to overthrow the independent, elected government of Ukraine.”

Therefore, be it resolved, that — if approved by a majority of the city’s 9-member ruling body — “All existing business licenses for all Lukoil gasoline service stations and associated on-site businesses in the City of Newark are hereby suspended until further action by the City.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-03-02 02:52:56 -0800