Five countries US is trying to sway on Russia
The Biden administration has successfully rallied a number of Western allies to support its pressure campaign against Russia, but it has found it more difficult to get a number of other allies and key competitors on board in opposing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I would say building more than 50 percent of the world’s [gross domestic product] into a global coalition is hardly a failure. I don’t think anyone would call that a failure,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
Still, U.S. officials have engaged with nations around the world that have largely remained neutral in the conflict or declined overtures to further pressure Russia.
Here are five countries the administration is trying to persuade to do more to pressure Russia and blunt the global economic ripple effects of its invasion.
President Biden met virtually with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, less than two weeks after deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh traveled to New Delhi for meetings with Indian officials.
Biden has often touted the unity among democracies in opposing Russia’s invasion. But India, the world’s largest democracy, has continued to import Russian oil and has remained neutral in United Nations votes on human rights atrocities carried out in Ukraine.
Psaki told reporters that Biden sought to make clear the effects of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies during his conversation with Modi, and stressed that the U.S. would be willing to help India diversify its energy imports.
“The president also made clear that he does not believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy or other commodities as well,” Psaki said.
In a nod to how India has aligned with the U.S. in some respects, Psaki highlighted India’s condemnation of the killing of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, its support for calls for independent investigations into potential war crimes and its humanitarian relief efforts.
“So part of our objectives now is to build on that and to encourage them to do more,” she said. “And that’s why it’s important to have leader-to-leader conversations.”
The oil-rich Gulf countries and influential members of the core group of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+) have resisted calls by the U.S. to increase their oil supply in the global market to bring down prices that have risen amid efforts to sanction and curb Russian oil and gas exports.
Saudi Arabia in particular is heavily reliant on a deal made with Russia through OPEC+ on oil production and pricing that Riyadh has factored into their domestic economic planning for the future — part of efforts to diversify their economy away from reliance on energy.
Russia’s war also comes amid chilled relations between Riyadh and Washington in general, over the U.S. condemnation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Crown Prince Mohammed refused to speak with Biden about the U.S. banning Russian oil imports. The White House called the report inaccurate.
Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, refuted the idea that the stance by Saudi Arabia and UAE on Russia is a failure, instead describing it as “partial successes.”
“The UAE and Saudi have been ambiguous,” Ibish said, but added that the Gulf nations are likely preparing to confront hard choices being levied by Washington and the international community.
“I think they all miscalculated that the Ukraine invasion is a European and not a global crisis. They thought that they’d be pretty marginal to these events and that’s not true.”
Ibish added that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are looking for more security guarantees from the Biden administration, in particular to counter attacks from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, and that such a deal with the U.S. could move them on actions to increase costs on Russia.
“It may be that Saudi has to increase [oil] production and break the OPEC+ agreement with Russia,” Ibish said. “That will be a painful and unpleasant thing for them to do, but if they do it, at least they can be assured that they’re doing it to have a positive reset with Washington.”
The Biden administration has expended significant time and energy trying to discourage China from aiding Russia with military equipment or financial assistance.
Biden has spoken directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan has met with top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi. In each case, U.S. officials have warned Beijing against intervening in favor of Russia.
Administration officials have said it’s still unclear if China has firmly decided whether it will stay out of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. But thus far, Beijing has yet to send the military aid Moscow has reportedly requested.
Reuters has reported that China is honoring Russian oil contracts, but has yet to sign off on new ones, a sign Beijing is cognizant of the potential backlash from Western nations that it is economically entwined with.
One senior Biden administration official told reporters shortly after the invasion had started that they were optimistic Beijing would not come to Russia’s rescue, noting “China has tended to respect the force of U.S. sanctions.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was celebrated in the early days of Russia’s invasion against Ukraine for turning Berlin’s historical pacifist stance into hard action by delivering lethal military assistance to Kyiv and terminating the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, through which Russia planned to deliver more natural gas to Europe.
But that momentum has died down as the war enters its seventh week, and as Germany has voiced opposition to joining calls by the U.S. and other countries in Europe to further squeeze Russia’s war chest by cutting off global Russian oil and gas imports, which bring in about $1 billion per day.
Germany continues to rely on Russian natural gas delivery, through a Nord Stream 1 pipeline, and its top officials have warned that turning off the spigot is not an option for Europe’s most populated country.
A delegation of House lawmakers, led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), are traveling to Berlin this week to meet with Scholz as part of a multicountry trip to Europe.
Allies are cognizant of the difficulty of separating Europe, and Germany in particular, immediately from Russian energy.
“I don’t think it’s fair and reasonable to criticize the German government for living under the circumstances that have been created by a whole load of decisions in the decades leading up to now,” James Cleverly, Britain’s top diplomat for Europe and North America, said in an interview, and praised the steps Germany has taken.
“Chancellor Scholz has redefined German foreign policy in the last month as a direct result of the invasion of Ukraine,” Cleverly said.
Hungary is a NATO ally, but it has treaded carefully in how it responds to the Russian invasion and has proven a complex nation to deal with in the ongoing conflict.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, an authoritarian leader who has been in power since 2010, has condemned the invasion but has avoided speaking out against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As a member of the European Union, Hungary is part of the bloc of nations that has helped impose sanctions, but Hungary itself has taken steps to help prop up the Russian economy.
Orbán said last week he would be willing to purchase Russian gas in rubles, a step that would help stabilize the Russian currency at a time when many Western nations are seeking to limit or completely cut off energy purchases from Russia and isolate its currency.
“Hungary is a NATO ally, continues to be. We continue to cooperate on a range of bilateral and shared global interests, including on NATO defense and on humanitarian assistance,” Psaki said last week when asked if the U.S. was engaging with Hungary on the issue.
“They’re currently hosting forces from an Army Stryker infantry troop as part of a NATO battle group. We regularly conduct joint training exercises with them, and we will continue to work to strengthen our partnership with Hungary.”
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