Can America Isolate Anyone?
U.S. attempts at isolation helped cement the very multipolar world Washington promised to prevent.
The U.S. hoped it had the power and influence to move the world to isolate Russia. Outside of Europe, that hope has proven difficult to realize, as the U.S. has struggled to convince Quad allies like India and even NATO allies like Turkey to join its effort to isolate the Kremlin. Washington has similarly been unable to move the giant China.
Even in Europe, American efforts to isolate Russia have proven hard to achieve. While Europe seemed to support the sanctions regime, Russian imports had almost crept back up to pre-war levels by April. That reversal is largely attributable to exports from countries, including European countries, who were signed up for sanctions.
Russia has now overtaken Saudi Arabia as the second-largest supplier of crude oil to India, which now imports 819,000 barrels of Russian oil a day. Moscow has also overtaken the Saudis as China’s largest supplier of oil, sending the Chinese 1.98 million barrels a day.
But it is not just a hunger for Russian oil thwarting Washington's aims. Though China expressed “questions and concerns” in its “balanced” approach to the war in Ukraine, and India said that “today’s era is not war” and praised “diplomacy and dialogue,” both nations continued to stress their diplomatic ties to Russia.
Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi said in comments after the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit (SCO) that “Relations between Russia and India have significantly improved.” Modi said that the two nations are "friends, and for decades we have always stood shoulder to shoulder. The whole world is aware of the nature of Russian-Indian relations, and the world also knows the deep friendship, in particular the personal friendly ties that bind us." Their relationship, he added, "will only improve and strengthen in the future.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to a readout from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that “since the beginning of this year, China and Russia have maintained effective strategic communication." Xi stressed that China and Russia "have maintained close coordination on the international stage to uphold basic norms of international relations,” and promised China would "work with Russia to fulfill their responsibilities as major countries and play a leading role in injecting stability into a world of change and disorder.” Importantly, Xi added that China "will work with Russia to extend strong mutual support on issues concerning each other’s core interests, and deepen practical cooperation in trade, agriculture, connectivity and other areas.” When it comes to multipolar international organizations like the SCO and BRICS, Xi said that the “two sides need to enhance coordination and cooperation.”
Isolating Russia has proven difficult not only economically and diplomatically, but militarily. On August 29, for example, Russia announced that September’s Vostok 2022 military exercise will include forces from Russia, China, and India.
And it is not only Russia where U.S. promises of isolation have faltered. Iran is also exposing the gap between U.S. promises and its capabilities. On September 15, the SCO signed a Memorandum of Obligations with Tehran that will soon make Iran a full member of an organization that represents 43 percent of the world’s population. Far from being isolated, SCO membership will grant Iran top-level contacts and economic cooperation with Russia, China, and India. At the recent summit, Iran was also joined by Turkey, who now has the status of "dialogue partner." In September 2021, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar were also admitted to the SCO as dialogue partners, joining Bahrain and the Maldives.
Iran is beginning to break out of regional isolation. In August, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait both announced that they will be returning their ambassadors to Tehran. Though Saudi Arabia has not yet gone that far, they have met with Iran several times and, on April 25, held their “fifth round of ‘positive’ talks in Baghdad…on normalising bilateral relations," per Reuters. On August 22, the Iranian foreign ministry said that “talks with Saudi Arabia over resuming ties are also going in a positive direction.”
In April 2021, Iran signed a 25-year strategic and economic partnership with China worth $400 billion. And in June of this year, Iran and Venezuela signed a 20-year cooperation accord that covers many areas, including oil, petrochemicals, defense, agriculture, tourism, direct flights and culture.
Venezuela, another country the U.S. has attempted to isolate, is also showing signs of escape. On August 29, Columbia returned its ambassador to Venezuela as newly elected Columbian president Gustavo Petro fulfilled his election promise to fully restore diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
Columbia’s opening to Venezuela is a significant defeat for the U.S. policy of isolating Venezuela. Colombia has long been the key to U.S. projection into Latin America and a base of operations against Venezuela. Biden wrote in an op-ed that he has "said many times that Colombia is the keystone of U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean." He has also called the relationship between the two nations "the essential partnership we need in this hemisphere," and Colombia "the linchpin...to the whole hemisphere."
In addition to the embassy opening, Petro and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro plan to fully reopen the border between the two countries and restore military relations.
Columbia’s re-establishment of relations with Venezuela follows Argentina’s April announcement that they will re-establish ties with Venezuela. Several other Latin American countries have reopened communications with Venezuela, including Mexico, Peru, Honduras, and Chile. Ecuador is also considering re-establishing diplomatic relations with Venezuela, while Argentine President Alberto Fernandez called on all Latin American countries to review their relations with Caracas.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
These openings to Venezuela come on the heels of both Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela being invited to the most recent meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). They also follow the boycotts and show of support for Venezuela and Cuba after Biden excluded them from this year’s Summit of the Americas. Several nations, including Argentina, Chile, and Belize protested. Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, and others boycotted the summit.
All three nations—Russia, Iran and Venezuela—demonstrate the difference between the claimed and actual capacity of the U.S. to lead the isolation of its opponents.
Washington's attempts to isolate countries that challenge its hegemony have, ironically, led to targeted nations turning to each other and forming a community of isolated nations. Indeed, U.S. attempts at isolation helped cement the very multipolar world Washington promised to prevent.