Biden rushes to expand coalition against Russia but meets resistance

WASHINGTON — Even before the war in Ukraine began, an international alliance to rally the world against a Russian invasion came together so quickly that President Biden later amazed to the “purpose and unity found in a few months that had taken us years to accomplish”.

Now, as the conflict enters its fourth month, US officials face the disappointing reality that the powerful coalition of nations – stretching from North America to Europe and Asia of the East – may not be enough to break the impending stalemate in Ukraine.

With growing urgency, the Biden administration is trying to coax or cajole countries perceived by Washington to be neutral in the conflict — including India, Brazil, Israel and Arab Gulf states — into joining. to the campaign of economic sanctions, military support and diplomatic pressure to further isolate Russia and bring the war to a decisive end. So far, few if any of them have been willing, despite their partnerships with the United States on other major security issues.

Mr. Biden is making an extraordinary diplomatic and political gamble this summer by planning to visit Saudi Arabia, which he had called a “pariah”. And on Thursday, he met with President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. Mr Bolsonaro visited Moscow the week before Russia invaded Ukraine and said “solidarity” with President Vladimir V. Putin.

In Los Angeles, Mr. Bolsonaro preempted any push from Mr. Biden on Russia, saying that while Brazil remained open to helping end the war, “given our dependence on certain foreign actors, we we have to be careful”.

“I have a country to run,” he said.

US officials acknowledge the difficulties of trying to convince countries that they can reconcile their own interests with the US and European drive to isolate Russia.

“One of the biggest problems we face today is the problem of fence guards,” Samantha Power, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said on Tuesday after delivering a speech on efforts to administration to strengthen freedom of expression and fair elections. and other democratic systems against authoritarian rulers around the world.

She said she hoped Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine would persuade neutral states to join the coalition against Moscow, “given our collective interest in the rules of the road that we would all like to see observed, and that none of us would like to see it used against our citizens.

Russia and its partners, notably China, have denounced the US government’s efforts to expand the coalition which, in addition to European nations, also includes Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

“In the modern world, it is impossible to isolate a country, especially a country as large as Russia,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday, according to state media.

In Beijing, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Monday that the United States “forced countries to take sides in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and threatened without reason to impose unilateral sanctions and long-armed jurisdiction”. He added, “Isn’t that coercive diplomacy?

Russia’s currency, the rouble, crashed shortly after Mr Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine in February. But he has since bounced back as Russia continues to earn hard currency by exporting energy and other goods to many countries including China, India, Brazil, Venezuela and Thailand.

For some countries, the decision whether or not to align with the United States can have life-or-death consequences. Washington has warned drought-stricken African countries not to buy grain that Russia stole from Ukraine at a time when food prices are rising and millions are starving.

“Key strategic middle powers such as India, Brazil and South Africa are therefore toeing a very clear line in trying to preserve their strategic autonomy and cannot be expected to be content with side with the United States,” said Michael John Williams, professor of international science. relations at Syracuse University and former advisor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“Washington thinks this war will be won in the West,” Mr. Williams said, “but the Kremlin thinks it will be won in the East and in the Global South.”

In a vote in March on a United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, 35 countries abstained, mainly from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. This alarmed US officials and their allies, who nonetheless noted that 141 of 193 states censor Russia. Only five states, including Russia, voted against the measure.

Brazil voted to condemn Russia and Mr Bolsonaro pushed for negotiations to end the war. But his country continues to import fertilizers from Russia and Belarus, an ally of Moscow.

India and South Africa both abstained in the vote at the UN. India has a decades-long strategic partnership with Russia and depends on it for oil, fertilizers and military equipment. The Biden administration had little luck getting India to join its coalition.

Indian officials say their Russian imports are modest. During a visit to Washington in April, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar dismissed questions on the matter, saying “probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe makes in one after -midday”.

“So you might want to think about that,” he said.

But Europe is now reducing its energy imports, under a partial embargo on Russian oil, while India apparently in talks with Moscow to further increase its already growing purchases of crude oil.

South Africa’s ties to Russia date back to the Cold War, when the Soviet Union backed the anti-apartheid movement that transformed the country’s internal power dynamics.

Trade between the two countries is modest, but South Africa, like many other countries, has long been wary of Western colonialism and the United States as an unrivaled superpower. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa accused NATO to provoke Russia into war and called for the resumption of diplomatic talks. In a phone call in April, Mr Biden urged him to accept “a clear and unified international response to Russian aggression in Ukraine”, according to a Statement from the White House.

A month later, Mr. Ramaphosa lamented the impact the conflict was having on the “spectator” countries which, he said, “will also suffer from the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia”.

Brazil, India and South Africa — along with Russia and China — are part of a group of nations that represent a third of the world economy. In an online meeting of the group’s foreign ministers last month, Moscow proposed to create oil and gas refineries with its fellow partners. The group also discussed expanding its membership to other countries.

Other countries that abstained in the UN vote, including Uganda, Pakistan and Vietnam, have accused the US-led coalition against Russia of shutting down any chance of peace talks with its backing. military to Ukraine. US and European officials argue that the weapons and intelligence they provided are only used to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian military.

The growing urgency of the Biden administration is embodied in the president’s plans to visit Saudi Arabia, despite his previous exposures of his murderous actions and potential war crimes. Mr Biden’s effort, which is already criticized by leading Democrats, is partly aimed at getting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help Ukraine on the sidelines. One of the goals is for these nations to coordinate a substantial increase in oil production to help bring down world prices while the United States, Europe and others boycott Russian oil.

US officials have been disappointed by the proclaimed neutrality of the two Gulf Arab countries, which buy US weapons and pressure Washington for a policy against Iran, their main rival.

Israel, which also buys American arms and is the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East, expressed solidarity with Ukraine. At the same time, however, he resisted supporting certain sanctions and directly criticizing Russia.

Until Mr. Biden offered to meet him in Los Angeles, Mr. Bolsonaro had signaled that he would not go to the top of most heads of state in the hemisphere. It took a direct call from former Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the summit’s special adviser, to convince Brazil to attend.

Valentina Sader, Brazil expert at the Atlantic Council, said the Biden administration must continue to talk to Mr. Bolsonaro about Brazil’s ties to Russia and China.

But, she said, Mr. Bolsonaro was unlikely to walk away from Mr. Putin. “Brazil takes into account its own interests,” said Ms. Sader.

US officials came to the same conclusion about China, which is Russia’s most powerful strategic partner. They say China has clearly chosen to stand with Russia – as evidenced by Chinese officials’ constant reiteration of Mr Putin’s criticisms of the US and NATO and their airing of misinformation and conspiracy theories that undermine the United States and Ukraine.

On February 4, three weeks before Russia began its full-scale invasion, Mr Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Beijing as the two governments declared a “limitless” partnership.

At the end of May, China and Russia held their first joint military exercise since the start of the war in Ukraine – flying strategic bombers over the seas of northeast Asia while Mr Biden was visiting. in Japan.

But China has also refrained from providing economic or military aid to Russia, despite requests from Moscow, according to US officials. Mr. Biden warned Mr. Xi in a video call in March that there would be “consequences” if China provided material aid to Russia, and Chinese officials and business leaders fear their companies will face sanctions if companies provide substantial support to Russia. .

“Secondary sanctions are struggling, and China doesn’t want that to affect their businesses,” said Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was recently appointed based in Moscow. “Many Russian sources tell me that they talk to the Chinese and they don’t hear anything back.”

Michael Crowley contributed report.

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