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Oil prices steady as Ukraine crisis cools

Oil prices were little changed Wednesday as concerns over Russia's military advance into Ukraine eased, but the situation remained tense overall.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was up 3 cents to US$103.36 a barrel at 0800 GMT in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell US$1.59 to close at US$103.33 on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, shed 12 cents at US$109.18 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday the situation in Ukraine was “gradually stabilizing,” helping to cool tensions after Russian troops took control of all Ukrainian border posts on the strategic Crimean peninsula. It also eased concerns of economic sanctions against Russia, which is one of the world's major oil suppliers.

Putin has pulled his forces back from the Ukrainian border, yet warned Moscow reserves the right to use all means to protect Russians in the country. He also said Western actions were driving Ukraine into anarchy and warned any sanctions the West might place on Russia for its actions will backfire.

Any economic sanctions against Moscow could limit world supply and push up prices.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline lost 0.2 cent to US$2.983 per gallon.

— Heating oil fell 0.4 cent to US$3.037 per gallon.

— Natural gas rose 4.2 cents to US$4.709 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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