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Opinion: Has America's Payola President Sown the Seeds of War Over Control of the Black Sea?

Original artwork by Jonathan P. Henderson.

Joe Biden’s incompetence on foreign policy has reached full flower. Two months ago, 15 Russian warships were deployed to Ukraine in live drills after warning U.S. destroyers to turn back for their ‘own good’. Complicating matters, Ukraine then vowed to embark upon a nuclear weapons program to deter the threat of a Russian attack should the West fail to shut down Moscow or deny Kiev entry into NATO. Two months later on June 14th, President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that “NATO leaders confirmed that [Ukraine] will become a member of the Alliance.” The following day however, President Biden dismissed the possibility of an early entry for Ukraine, citing that Kiev must “clean up corruption” before it can be trusted by member nations.

The narrative gets creepier. Once Biden finally met with Emmanuel Goldste… er, I mean, Vladimir Putin, who he’d called a ‘killer’ during an interview with NBC in March, and after just threatening a military response before America’s NATO allies “if Russia continues its harmful activities,” he backtracked. Could the macho Joe Biden have been intimidated by the ex-KGB colonel in light of his inexplicable flattery of a ‘bright’ and ‘tough’ Putin? Why would he suddenly refuse to repeat that Putin is a ‘killer’? Zelensky, it should be noted, had previously expressed that he was ‘confused’ and ‘disappointed’ by Biden’s Russia policy after President Biden denied his request to meet before his summit with Putin on June 16th at Geneva, Switzerland. Consider that in his interview with NBC while in Geneva, Putin accused the Biden administration of jailing MAGA demonstrators who took part in the January 6th Incident at the Capitol Building. He likened it to ‘persecuting political opponents’ the way, say, a dictator (like himself) would. Then he asked the generic left-wing interviewer, “Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?” Biden had hammered Putin during his first visit to the State Department, outlining that Washington would no longer roll over “in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions.” He didn’t disappoint: he simply lifted sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline while handing a list of primary U.S. military targets over to Putin. He didn’t need to roll over then, but rather kick the can down the road. And that can landed last week when Russian fighter jets fired warning shots at British naval vessels in the Black Sea. The highly-editorialized narrative, spun as “the latest military muscle flex by (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,” according to the British tabloid The Sun, came after “(Putin) mobilised tens of thousands of troops” along Ukraine’s eastern border. Beginning in the Caspian Sea, the Russian Navy sailed across the Sea of Azov through a network of canals, rivers, and waterways―all of which have belonged to Russia since the tsarist army under Peter the Great captured it from the Ottoman Empire in 1696.

Excluding his increasingly obvious cognitive issues, we might begin addressing Biden’s ‘U-Turn’ by first determining who’s padding his bank account, and why reporters failed to ask the President about his personal experiences with Ukrainian oligarchs during the press conference. Recall that in 2014, President Obama tasked then-Vice President Biden with running the administration’s Ukraine policy. In the following years, ‘Papa’ Joe and his son Hunter have been the foci of investigations into the latter’s employment as an executive with the energy firm, Burisma Holdings. According to leaked emails, he was paid by oligarchs “as much as $50,000 a month” in exchange for influence and access to then-Vice President Biden, despite no prior work experience in the energy sector. In fact, President Trump’s first impeachment directly involved his first call with then newly-elected President Zelensky over information involving Biden providing $1 billion in ‘foreign aid’ in the form of a ‘quid pro quo’. "(I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars. … If the prosecutor [Viktor Shokin] is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.)"

In a similar scenario, Kazakhstan oligarch Kenes Rakishev and Hunter Biden reportedly explored business opportunities together. A photograph published by Breitbart on October 20, 2020 showed ‘Papa’ Joe posing with Hunter and Rakishev. This was released just one day before the publication Army Technology reported that Russia and Kazakhstan had signed an agreement to boost bilateral military cooperation between the two countries. In the words of Russian General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, “The Republic of Kazakhstan is Russia’s main strategic ally and closest partner.”

Joe Biden posing with oligarch Kenes Rakishev of Kazakhstan, who once reportedly explored business with Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

Hunter Biden’s bio while an employee with Burisma Holdings.


Russia’s latest deployment of tens of thousands of troops and tanks to the Ukrainian border may well be a worrisome escalation of tensions. But the struggle for influence in Central Asia between NATO and Russia in the post-Cold War period has a history prior to 2014. To better understand the Ukrainian conflict’s origins, one must revisit and understand the Budapest Memorandum. Within the document, the governments of Russia, Britain, and the United States pledged never to threaten or use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, Belarus, or Kazakhstan (which the U.S. and NATO violated in late 2013 by throwing a coup d’etat), nor to use economic coercion to subordinate Ukraine to their own interest. They pledged to refrain from subjecting the former Soviet republics to any military occupation, or to engage in other uses of force in violation of international law (which Moscow did in February 2014). All sides also agreed that no such occupation or acquisition will be recognized as legal. However, the document is not formal, and therefore no concrete “means of enforcement” exist, according to law professor Barry Kellman, director of the International Weapons Control Center at DePaul University’s College of Law.

It’s message, according to Kellman, is simple: “Don’t interfere.”

Furthermore, the conflict is closely linked to the presence of ethnic Russians, Pan-Slavism, and relations within the autocephaly of an Eastern Orthodox Church experiencing a miraculous resurrection after 70 years of suppression by the atheist Soviet state. It’s well recorded that Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban and right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen have declared Putin’s Russia to be ‘the defender of Christian civilization’ as the West rapidly secularizes. In 2008 for example, Russia fought a war with Georgia (whose primary religious institution is the Georgian Orthodox Church) in the Southern Caucasus, and still retains troops in the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. George W. Bush’s administration supported the Georgian government, angering Moscow enough to where this may have precipitated the conflict. Western allies fear that Russia will gain sovereignty over Belarus, a former Soviet satellite in which 48% of its population identify as Orthodox Christians.

The Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, Turkey.

In fellow NATO ‘frenemy’ and the lone member with a Muslim majority, Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has largely dismantled the secular nature of the Turkish state set up by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk after the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1923. Erdogan’s directive that the Hagia Sophia, the center of Orthodox Christianity located in Istanbul, be returned to its state as a mosque as it had been under the Ottoman Empire is but one example of this trend. Last December, Turkey announced its willingness to support the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula’s return to Ukraine (the world’s second largest Orthodox Christian population), according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, “especially in the areas of military cooperation and the defense industry.” Harun Karčić noted astutely in The National Interest, “Once almost equally divided between littoral states, the annexation of Crimea tipped the balance of military power in the Black Sea in favor of Russia.” This jeopardizes Turkey’s ability to defend the Bosporus Strait against Russia, which historically has sought to occupy Constantinople/Istanbul as a warm water port along the Mediterranean coastline. And the strategic calculus makes further sense here considering that two years earlier on June 10th, Speaker Andrey Paruby of Ukraine’s parliament had opined that Ukraine stands a good chance of joining the European Union between 2025 and 2027. In perhaps a diplomatic ‘quid pro quo’, Turkey, like Ukraine, seeks entry into the European Union. Thus Ankara leverages its role as NATO’s southern flank by blackmailing the EU, threatening to release the refugees from Syria it provides asylum into southern Europe. And the nation most impacted has been neighboring Greece.

From the 15th to the early 19th century, most of Greece and the Aegean islands belonged to the Ottoman Empire. In settling the war from 1922, Greece and the newly-formed Republic of Turkey agreed to a population swap in what was the first instance of ethnic cleansing recognized on the international stage. Now, 47 years after the last conflict with its fellow NATO ‘ally’ Greece after it invaded Cyprus, the paranoid Turkish government, “wracked by fissures after a failed 2016 coup” according to Victor Davis Hanson, engages in near-daily military altercations with its Hellenic rival in the Mediterranean over the Dodecanese Islands, which hold a demilitarized status according to the 1947 Treaty of Paris and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. Located there is an abundance of oil and natural gas. Greece―where 90% of the population identify as Orthodox Christians―shares religious and cultural ties with Russia. Like in 1974, any future conflict would surely end in a stalemate, an economic catastrophe (recall the Greek debt crisis and bailout in 2015, and near exit from the EU), and nigh destruction of NATO’s southern flank. Russia would doubtless profit, as relations with Greece have blossomed as a consequence of the troika-backed austerity program.

Whatever ramifications lie ahead for NATO after Britain’s game of chicken are unclear. London, which doesn’t recognize Russia’s claim over Crimea, vows to defy Moscow’s warnings and threats of military retaliation which included a possible nuclear response. Will the conventional wisdom from 2014, that Ukraine may yet fight Russia to maintain its remaining territory, but shouldn’t count on NATO for help, prevail? That’ll depend on whether the Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs are first to pad the cognitively-challenged payola President’s bank account, and if the threat of a nuclear Ukraine materializes because of it.

Original artwork by Jonathan P. Henderson.

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About the Author:

Jonathan P. Henderson (B.A. in History, Minor in Pol. Sci.; Univ. of Tennessee, 2012) is a resident of Knoxville, TN. He is Owner/Administrator/Editor-in-Chief of The Conservative Historical Review and a blogger/columnist for PolitiChicks and Intellectual Conservative.

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