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Washington insists that its decision to release five million barrels of crude from its vast strategic reserves is merely a test of the distribution system and is not designed as a warning to Russia, as some analysts have speculated.

The timing of the first such sale in nearly a quarter of a century seems suspicious, coming just days before the “referendum” in Crimea to join the Russian Federation. But if the idea is to remind Russian President Vladimir Putin of the economic risks of his Ukrainian adventure, freeing up less than 1 per cent of the mammoth U.S. oil hoard sends a pretty feeble message.

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