Isolation complication? US finds it’s hard to shun Russia

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration likes to say that Russia has become internationally isolated because of its… invasion of Ukraine. Yet Moscow’s top officials are barely locked up in the Kremlin. And now even the US wants to talk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with world leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a NATO member. Meanwhile, his top diplomat, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, flies around the world, smiling, shaking hands and posing for photos with foreign leaders – including some friends from the US.
And on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he wants to end the US’s months-long diplomatic estrangement with Lavrov to discuss the release of US prisoners and issues related to Ukraine. The call is not planned, but is expected in the coming days.
The handshakes and phone calls cast doubt on a core part of the US strategy aimed at ending the… Ukraine war: that diplomatic and economic isolation, along with setbacks on the battlefield, would eventually force Russia to send its troops home.
Even when he announced plans for the call, Blinken insisted that Russia is indeed isolated. He argued that his top officials’ travels are purely damage mitigation and a response to international criticism Moscow is facing over the war in Ukraine.
US officials say Russia is trying to strengthen what few alliances it has left — some of which are US adversaries, such as Iran. But countries that are ostensibly American partners, such as Egypt and Uganda, also warmly welcome top Russians.
And after claiming since February that there is no point in talking to Russia because Russia does not take diplomacy seriously and cannot be trusted, the US has admitted that it should also consult with Moscow.
Speaking to reporters in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Friday, Lavrov said he would be open to talking with Blinken, but any direct communication would have to wait until he gets back to Moscow. Lavrov said his ministry had only received a formal request for the call after Blinken made his announcement.
“I will listen to what he has to say,” Lavrov said.
The public aid to Lavrov coupled with the announcement of a “substantial proposal” to Russia to win the release of arrested Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner surprised many.
A Blinken-Lavrov talk would be the highest contact between the US and Russia since February 15, before the… Russian invasionand could set the stage for possible personal discussions, although government officials say there are no plans for that.
The Kremlin presumably enjoyed the news that the US is now seeking involvement and is likely to delay the process of arranging a call to maximize benefit.
“They will drag this out and try to humiliate us as much as possible,” said Ian Kelly, a retired career diplomat who served as U.S. Ambassador to Georgia in the Obama and Trump administrations. “I don’t think it goes along with the general policy of (the administration).”
Kelly said the request for a call is “counterproductive to our broader effort to isolate Russia”.
“Other countries will look at this and say, ‘Why don’t we deal more broadly with Lavrov or the Russians?'” he said.
Western calls to convince Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries to shun Russia already seem to have been ignored as Lavrov travels the world.
Yet Blinken downplayed the importance of Lavrov’s globetrotting. He said it was in response to the cold reception Russia has been getting with Ukraine-related wheat and grain shortages that now plague large swathes of developing countries, especially as a United Nations-backed deal to release those stocks has yet to be released. be implemented.
“What I see is a desperate defense game to somehow justify to the world the actions Russia has taken,” Blinken said. “Somehow trying to justify what is unjustifiable.”
US and European officials point out that Russia has been heavily criticized for the invasion of Ukraine and the resulting food and energy shortages.
Biden government officials, including Blinken, noted with satisfaction that Lavrov chose to leave a recent meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Indonesia after listening to a series of complaints from colleagues about the global impact of the war.
Despite this, there is no sign that Russia will be barred from major international events such as the Asean Regional Forum next week, the United Nations General Assembly in September or a trio of leadership summits in Asia to be held in November.
Russia continues to maintain close ties with China, India and many developing countries in Asia and Africa. Many depend on Russia for energy and other exports, although they also depend on Ukraine for grain.
India has not shied away from Russia despite its membership in the so-called Quad with the US, Australia and Japan. With a long-standing close relationship with Russia, India has ramped up energy imports from Russia, despite pressure from the US and Europe to move away from Russian gas and oil.
For example, India has used nearly 60 million barrels of Russian oil so far in 2022, compared to just 12 million barrels in all of 2021, according to commodity data firm Kpler.
On the other side of the coin, the Philippines, an ally of the US treaty, this week scrapped a deal to buy 16 Russian military transport helicopters over fears of possible US sanctions.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has denied the claims of Russia’s isolation by tweeting photos of Lavrov in various world capitals.
Below the photos: Lavrov at the G-20 meeting in Bali with the Chinese, Indian and Indonesian foreign ministers; in Uganda with President Yoweri Museveni, a longtime American partner; and in Egypt with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, also a US partner, whose country receives billions of dollars in US aid each year.

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