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Biden’s Diplomats Are Pouring Into the Russian Zone. Even Some Supporters, Though, Are Sceptical.

As the US rallies other countries to confront a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been talking to all the usual suspects. Of course, the world’s Britains, Frances, and Germanys are included.

However, Blinken’s contacts with some less visible nations, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, have brought up Ukraine’s issue. Brazil, as well. Ukraine has also been discussed by Blinken and other Biden administration officials with nations like India, Japan, and South Korea.

The outreach exemplifies the scope and complexity of the Biden administration’s anti-Moscow diplomatic strategy. From CIA Director William Burns’ travels to Moscow and Kyiv to an array of ambassadors across Europe and beyond checking in with colleagues, it’s been a flood-the-zone operation that has seen practically all of Biden’s top foreign policy advisors participate.

Biden's Diplomats Are Pouring Into the Russian Zone. Even Some Supporters, Though, Are Sceptical.
Biden’s Diplomats Are Pouring Into the Russian Zone. Even Some Supporters, Though, Are Sceptical.

The objective is to persuade other countries that Russia’s actions might establish a hazardous precedent while eroding global state sovereignty principles.

“It’s a ‘go everywhere’ policy,” a senior State Department source explained, “because a fresh Russian invasion of Ukraine will have consequences everywhere.”

The Kremlin is reminded of America’s global reach through its alliances with Seoul and Tokyo. Chatting with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, both big energy producers send a message to Russia that the US has a plan in place for what will happen if Moscow shuts off Europe’s gas supply.

However, the diplomatic onslaught appears to be not affected Vladimir Putin’s calculations thus far. The Russian president, who invaded Ukraine once before in 2014, seems more concerned with redrawing the world map to his favour than with the intrigues of a US government he expects to outlast.

Some of the nations on America’s outreach list, such as Brazil and India, have their own economic and military ties with Russia, making the Biden administration’s work much more difficult. Even America’s traditional allies, like Germany, are considering their economic links with Russia as they consider how to respond to an invasion.

Russia is making the rounds as well. Putin, who is notorious for his silence, planned to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron later this week and met with Italian business leaders on Wednesday.

And Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov have been saying that the threat of conflict is being escalated by the Biden administration, not Moscow.

“This is an administration that has several red flags running,” Sen. Chris Murphy said in Washington (D-Conn.). “I think it’s harder in Europe when you have certain allies who aren’t confident this is going to happen,” Murphy said, praising the Biden team’s all-out diplomatic effort on the Ukraine situation.

Unpredictable and Unstable

Biden's Diplomats Are Pouring Into the Russian Zone. Even Some Supporters, Though, Are Sceptical.
Biden’s Diplomats Are Pouring Into the Russian Zone. Even Some Supporters, Though, Are Sceptical.

Last November, Putin began amassing soldiers near Russia’s Ukrainian border. Even though Putin had dispatched troops to the border in the spring, the latest deployment was far larger.

According to a senior administration official, the new Russian roles have a variety of skills, including support functions and the ability to quickly deploy reservists. Biden’s ambition for a “stable and predictable” relationship with Russia was jeopardised by the scenario.

Biden and his staff vowed from the outset of their tenure that they would address global issues with a “diplomacy-first” strategy, in contrast to Trump’s tweet-fueled vitriol. And they’ve worked hard to keep that promise, right up to Biden himself.

In late December, the president spoke with Putin, telling him that if he and his nation violate Ukraine’s sovereignty again, he and his country will face harsh economic sanctions and other punishments.

In the weeks following, administration officials have been on the phone, on the road, and Zoom, hammering home the same message while coaxing more governments to join in.

On both bilateral and multilateral levels, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of encounters. Along with diplomats like Blinken, everyone from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Treasury Department officials has participated in outreach.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has been one of the busiest, taking the lead in a series of discussions involving Russia, the United States, and European and NATO countries the week of January 10. Blinken, too, has been on the road and the phone, including a recent encounter with Lavrov.

Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor, and Jon Finer, his primary deputy, have also met with their counterparts. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, ambassadors Julianne Smith and Michael Carpenter, as well as the CIA’s Burns, are all crucial participants.

Sullivan and Finer were seen as less hawkish on Russia than Blinken and Nuland earlier in the administration. Biden’s decision to restrict the penalties he imposed on Russia and Germany over the disputed Nord Stream 2 project is said to reflect these divisions.

However, foreign policy experts say the administration now looks to be more internally united than ever on the need to confront the Kremlin.

“Reality has struck them in the face, and they understand that the Russians are the current threat to them,” said William Taylor, a former US ambassador to Ukraine.

Still a Stalemate

Biden's Diplomats Are Pouring Into the Russian Zone. Even Some Supporters, Though, Are Sceptical.
Biden’s Diplomats Are Pouring Into the Russian Zone. Even Some Supporters, Though, Are Sceptical.

Even America’s NATO and European partners, despite the diplomatic push, are not confident that they are united against Putin.

Different leaders have said different things, with some promoting their ideas on how to engage Russia. For example, France’s Emmanuel Macron has suggested that the European Union begin its engagement with the Kremlin.

The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has been open about its support for the US stance, announcing military supplies to Ukraine and revealing that it had learnt that Russia was preparing to create a puppet state in Kyiv.

Many European nations have stronger energy and other commercial ties with Russia than the United States, which contributes to some of the hesitancy.

Germany, which has long advocated for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, looks wary of retaliating too harshly against the Kremlin at times. The earlier discussion of cutting Russia off from the SWIFT banking network, for example, appears to have died down, despite reports that some European nations are concerned about.

Internal politics in certain European nations, like in Croatia, might lead to contradictory messages regarding their commitment.

During a recent press conference, Biden conceded that America’s European partners were not all on the same page when it came to responding to Putin’s aggression, in part because it may involve the cyber arena or fall short of a full-fledged military invasion. “In NATO, there are disparities in what nations are ready to do depending on what occurs — the degree to which they can go,” Biden added.

However, US diplomacy on the Ukraine issue extends well beyond Europe, and Biden has played a part in it.

He had a virtual meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week. The two “agreed to work closely together to discourage Russian aggression against Ukraine,” according to a White House statement.

Following repeated efforts by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to restore relations with Russia, with whom it has some outstanding territorial issues, Japan’s relationship with Russia has cooled in recent years. Japan has been wary about Russia’s expanding relations with China.

Tomita Koji, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, told POLITICO that his country has been attempting to persuade Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

If Russia goes forward with an invasion, he refused to specify whether or how Japan will respond with economic penalties. He explained, “Really, each country has a distinct approach to sanctions.” “I don’t believe there will be a unified response.”

South Korea is another important US ally in the Indo-Pacific, and Blinken met with its foreign minister in mid-January to discuss Ukraine.

South Korea has traditionally attempted to preserve good relations with Russia while maintaining its alliance with the United States, and it is uncertain where it will end up if the Russia-Ukraine conflict spirals out of control. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, lauded Seoul in October for attempting to “build a close connection with the Russian Federation.”

Biden's Diplomats Are Pouring Into the Russian Zone. Even Some Supporters, Though, Are Sceptical.
Biden’s Diplomats Are Pouring Into the Russian Zone. Even Some Supporters, Though, Are Sceptical.

Sherman spoke about Ukraine with India’s foreign secretary last week, another Asian country that must strike a balance between Russia, China, and the United States.

While the US readout of the call referenced Ukraine, the Indian readout, which was distributed via Twitter, did not, indicating the sensitive nature of the topic in New Delhi. Despite the two nations’ shared concerns about China, India and Russia declared in December that they were strengthening their defence ties, making India’s relations with the US a little more problematic.

Discussions about Ukraine with countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are likely to focus in part on how those energy-producing nations can help make up for any supply shortages if Russia cuts oil and gas flow to European countries crisis worsens.

Officials from the United States have declined to say which countries they are speaking with about the issue, citing sensitivity and market implications.

However, a senior administration official said on a call about the topic Tuesday that the outreach has spanned “various areas of the world — from North Africa and the Middle East to Asia and the United States.” (The United States is a big energy exporter.)

With his Brazilian counterpart earlier this month, Blinken discussed the “need for a strong, united response against further Russian aggression against Ukraine.” Brazil is a major oil producer, but it also has generally improved relations with Russia, so it is unlikely to support the US in a dispute with Moscow.

Trump-like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is expected to visit Russia soon.

Officials from India, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait did not respond to requests for comment.

Murphy believes the administration must spell out the precedent Russia may set if he tries to annex Ukraine and encounters little international opposition.

“Big countries like India and Brazil must comprehend the implications,” Murphy added. “India, in particular, must realise that if Russia gets away with this, their difficulties with China would only grow worse.”

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Murphy expressed his scepticism about a substantial diplomatic breakthrough but said it was critical to lay out the implications for Putin, as this might influence how far he’s ready to go. “I believe Putin is still debating whether a full-fledged invasion is justified,” Murphy added.

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