Global Britain, the Black Sea and Ukraine

The British media inform us that ”Britain is co-ordinating with its allies on a potential plan to send warships to the Black Sea port of Odesa to offer a protective escort to ships exporting Ukrainian grain. Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said yesterday he had discussed the creation of such a ‘protective corridor’ from Odesa with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.” (Daily Mail 24.5.22)

Such a move on Britain’s part would certainly represent a dangerous provocation, considering the entry of warships through the straits at Istanbul is prohibited by international treaty, which Britain is a signatory to itself. Turkey won the right to be the guardians to the Black Sea through its defeat of the British Empire, a century ago this year. President Erdogan is unlikely to allow Britain to act as if it were what it was 100 years ago, before the founder of his state curbed its power.

Turkey closed the Bosphorus to all warships, as was its right under the Montreux Convention of 1938, which superseded the Treaty of Lausanne, on 28 February 2022. In doing so it recognised the conflict in Ukraine as a war, a status the West is in agreement with. In fact, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, James Stavridis, praised Turkey’s decision as a ”powerful, sensible and bold” move. Only Russian warships were permitted to enter the Straits, to return to their bases in the Black Sea.

The British Foreign Secretary seems to be unaware of all this. She seems to be of the belief that Global Britain gives her the right to ride roughshod over international treaty and behave as if she directs a foreign policy and commands a Royal Navy as British Foreign Secretaries did in the 19th Century.

Belligerent Britain

A noticeable feature of the conflict in Ukraine is the leading role of the UK government in encouraging the government in Kiev to wage war against Russia, facilitating the escalation of the fighting and the obstructing of its resolution.

Aside from the substantial military supplies Kiev has received from the UK, it is from London that the Zelensky government has received the strongest and most unrelenting moral support. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was the first Western leader to pledge lethal aid to the Ukrainians, the first Western leader to address the Ukrainian parliament and one of the few to visit Kiev (once it was known that the Russians had no intention of capturing it).

It is from the British government that there has been the greatest encouragement to Kiev to fight on until the end, regardless of cost. Johnson is also said to have been involved in dissuading Zelensky from continuing to negotiate with Russia at Istanbul to find a solution to the war. The British Foreign Secretary made it clear early in the war that she supported British volunteers going to Ukraine to fight the Russians and has recently said that Russia should be pushed out of Crimea, defining Ukrainian war aims in the most grandiose and unrealistic terms which Moscow would never accept short of complete defeat.

In Kiev the Ukrainians have reciprocated the British embrace developing a cult of Johnson and his Churchill rhetoric. While Zelensky has Europe in the palm of his hand, the British Prime Minister seems to have the Ukrainian leader in his.

The BBC has become the propaganda arm of the Ukrainian government, acting virtually as Kiev’s ministry of information in the West. It has played a sinister role in cultivating a false view that prolongs the war by pretending that Ukraine is winning it. The BBC has done this by presenting the Kremlin’s objectives in grandiose terms which it pretends the Russian army has been frustrated/defeated in achieving. It has knowingly exaggerated Ukrainian successes that are minuscule and inconsequential and on the periphery of the main conflict zone to give the impression of continued victories. It has, at the same time, left the serious losses and reverses that Ukrainian forces are increasingly suffering on the ground go unreported.

All in all, the BBC has cynically done everything it could to encourage the Ukrainians to fight and die so as to kill as many Russians as possible. Its role in the conflict has been both contemptible and despicable.

A number of theories have been put forward for the British assertiveness in Ukraine. One suggests that it was a useful distraction for the under-pressure Johnson government embroiled in “partygate” and having to answer for the serious failings and high UK death toll of the covid crisis. Some say it is all part of a leadership contest, between Truss, Wallace and others smelling Johnson’s blood and jostling for position by trumping each other through bellicose statements over Ukraine.

Another theory is that it is Britain’s attempt to continue to fight the historic battle against the Europeans through the Ukraine war, which is opportunistically being used to implode the German economy and French diplomacy/prestige by allying with the hate-filled Eastern European Russophobes, in order to disable the EU.

The British have even established a Joint Expeditionary Force, a Nato-aligned, non-EU military grouping embracing the UK, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Netherlands which gives the UK a military expression in Europe on the premise that “defence” is now a necessity against the marauding Russians. This is the same Russian army that has supposedly been defeated by Ukrainian resistance in Kiev and Kharkov, but which, any day, may suddenly invade Europe. The “European army” that the EU talked about for years, but never managed to organise, is now being led by Brexit Britain!

On 27 May it was reported that Prime Minister Johnson had proposed establishing a new political, economic and military alliance as an alternative to the European Union. The new alliance would have Great Britain as its leader and would include Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (as well as potentially Turkey at a later date) according to an Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera. This grand alliance, on the British initiative, is made up of countries which Britain has identified as “jealous of their national sovereignty, liberal in economy and determined to counteract Moscow’s policies.” The British Prime Minister shared his idea with President Zelensky during his visit to Kiev on April 9. Zelensky, it was thought, could take Johnson’s initiative seriously if the EU does not recognise Ukraine’s status as a candidate for accession to the bloc when its leaders meet for a summit on June 23-24.

Having left Europe, it is clear that Global Britain is not prepared to leave Europe alone to rest in peace.

From even before the Russian Special Military Operation in Ukraine the UK was clearly projecting itself, unshackled from the EU through Brexit, as Global Britain, with a new ambitious agenda in the world that involved it in Ukraine and fishing in troubled waters in the Black Sea.

The Black Sea Incident of June 2021

Britain was involved in one of the most provocative incidents during the period before the current war of 2022.

On 23 June 2021 the UK signed an agreement to support the enhancement of Ukrainian naval capabilities on the Black Sea. In this agreement, signed onboard HMS Defender, which was in Odesa as part of the Carrier Strike Group deployment, the UK, Ukraine and British private companies agreed to collaborate to boost Ukraine’s naval capabilities. The British warship was in the Black Sea ahead of the Sea Breeze naval exercise set to take place over 2 weeks from June 28. Co-hosted by the US and Ukrainian navy, it involved 32 countries, 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 18 special operations units. The Kremlin called upon the US to cancel the exercise, warning of an inadvertent military confrontation.

Onboard HMS Defender were senior Ukrainian and British government officials, including Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Defense and the British Minister for Defence Procurement. They signed a major bilateral naval agreement providing for substantial military aid by Britain for the Ukrainian navy and the creation of new naval bases in the Black Sea.

Contractual work was begun on the sale and delivery of missiles; integration on new and in-service Ukrainian Navy patrol and airborne platforms, including a training and engineering support package; the development and joint production of eight fast missile warships; the creation of a new naval base on the Black Sea as the primary fleet base for Ukraine and a new base on the Sea of Azov; the sale of two refurbished Royal Navy Sandown class mine countermeasure vessels to Ukraine and a further project to deliver a modern frigate capability to Kiev.

The context of the subsequent Black Sea confrontation that occurred between Britain and Russia is significant: In February 2021, the Ukrainian government had announced plans to “recover Crimea” as well as the Donbass. In May, NATO staged the large Defender 2021 exercise in the Balkans and Black Sea region, which involved non-NATO members Ukraine and Georgia. Under these conditions, the actions of the British ship HMS Defender had the character of a provocation.

On the same day as the signing of the military agreement between Britain and Ukraine HMS Defender undertook “a freedom of navigation patrol” through the disputed waters around the Crimean Peninsula. The Russian Ministry of Defence said they fired warning shots from coast guard patrol ships and dropped bombs from an attack aircraft in the path of Defender after the British warship had strayed for about 20 minutes as far as 3 km into waters off the coast of Crimea, which Russia had annexed in 2014.

There was a BBC TV crew and a Daily Mail reporter on board the British warship suggesting the voyage of the Defender was a deliberate, stage-managed act of provocation by the British government in full knowledge of the reaction it would produce from the Russians. According to British government planning documents reportedly found at a bus stop in Kent and subsequently leaked to the BBC, the decision for the HMS Defender to travel this particular route rather than a course that took it farther away from Crimea, outside of disputed waters, was made at the highest levels of British government. It was presumably believed in London that there would be an international incident and this would highlight British support for Ukraine.  

US reconnaissance aircraft were also operating in conjunction with the British action. Speaking during a live call-in show, Vladimir Putin said that the US was monitoring the Russian response to the British destroyer.

During his annual televised call-in show on June 30, Putin described the incident as a provocation that brought confrontation between the West and Russia to a new level. He stated that Russians “are fighting for ourselves and our future on our own territory. It was not us who covered thousands of kilometres by air and sea towards them; it was them who approached our borders and entered our territorial sea…” Russian officials threatened that if a Western warship entered Russian waters again, it could be fired on.

An obscure incident in the Black Sea in October 1914 widened the European war of August into the Ottoman Empire, effectively beginning the Great War.

Global Britain and the Black Sea

What was Britain up to, stirring up trouble with Russia in the Black Sea?

‘Global Britain’ and the Black Sea region’ is a policy document issued recently by the Council for Geostrategy. It is signed off by Sir Michael Fallon (UK Secretary of State for Defence, 2014-2017) who introduces it in the following passage:

“The Black Sea matters to us and to wider Euro-Atlantic security. Long before the renewed invasion of Ukraine last month, Russian aggression in the region began in Chechnya, continued with the invasion of Georgia (2008), and then the seizure of Crimea and the insurrection in the Donbas (2014).

I was the first British defence secretary to have to respond to this new area of threat: I sent the British Army in to train the Ukrainian forces, and I deployed the Royal Air Force for the first time to conduct air policing from Romania. Our Royal Navy destroyers also began a series of visits to Black Sea ports. We worked to persuade the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that its southeastern quadrant was just as vulnerable as the Baltic states further north.”

The Council for Geostrategy is a British foreign affairs think tank, recently established by James Rogers and Viktorija Starych Samuoliene, who both held positions at the neo-con Henry Jackson Society. The Henry (‘Scoop’) Jackson Society is an influential international think tank which had a programme of smashing up and re-ordering the Muslim world among other things.

The Council for Geostrategy is a British development from the Henry Jackson Society combining hostility toward Russia and China with a universalising environmental agenda directed against those two countries, as fossil fuel provider and user. It is what is known as an insider interest group, having direct access to the British Parliament and Government, and frequently has given “evidence” to UK Select Committees engaged in the formation of policy.

The Council for Geostrategy’s initial policy statement, ‘A Crowe Memorandum for the twenty-first century’ is written by Rogers and Alexander Lanoszka, Ernest Bevin Associate Fellow in Euro-Atlantic Geopolitics at the Council on Geostrategy. It is signed off by Tom Tugendhat, former British military and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

It is another example of how collaboration between Russophobe Eastern European academics and ex-British military figures is beginning to shape UK foreign policy in a similar way to what has occurred in the United States.

The Council for Geostrategy’s policy statement argues for “a robust deterrence strategy” aimed at “authoritarian powers” like Russia and China, and “expansion of the geographic vision of the free and open international order” and “assertion of red lines unflinchingly”.

It calls for a more robust and assertive British foreign policy based on the 1907 thoughts of Eyre Crowe, the hawkish senior officer in Sir Edward Grey’s Foreign Office:

“In December 2020, General Sir Nicholas Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, stated during his annual lecture at the Royal United Services Institute that the democracies needed a new ‘Long Telegram’ – à la George Kennan – to help them deal with a more volatile and competitive world.

However, the Long Telegram was written at a time when the Soviet Union had expanded due to the Second World War. It was a different sort of power than the authoritarian powers the world is now starting to face.

A better strategic document might be Sir Eyre Crowe’s famous Memorandum of 1907, which is said to have influenced the thinking of the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey. In a nutshell, Sir Eyre argued that Britain had to deter threats to the peace in Europe and could not isolate itself or act as an impartial bystander when weaker nations came under threat. His strategy is better for our times – times of growing great power competition.”

George Kennan’s containment strategy is rejected in favoured of Eyre Crowe’s preventative doctrine: Sir Eyre drafted his memo to deal with a rapidly expanding terrestrial power, while Kennan drafted his telegram to deal with one that had already become highly over-extended – a consequence of the Second World War.”

This is further explained:

“This ‘New Crowe Memo’ is offered to the UK… to help generate a new geostrategic approach fit for the twenty-first century. The biggest challenge facing… countries is authoritarian revisionism, which aims to alter or spoil the prevailing geopolitical order. Since the end of the Second World War, free and open nations, such as the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and certain European countries, have put this order together. The twentieth century showed that deterrence works more effectively than accommodation or acquiescence; whereas the leading democracies failed to prevent German revisionism in the early twentieth century, they successfully stood up to the Soviet Union. Today, the free and open international order needs their support – from both sides of Eurasia – to withstand China and Russia’s malign and revisionist pressure.”

Eyre Crowe’s ‘Memorandum on the Present State of British Relations with France and Germany’ of 1 January 1907 can quite reasonably be seen as part of Britain’s Balance of Power re-orientation that led to World War less than 8 years later. In it Crowe, reminded the British Foreign Secretary of the traditional Balance of Power policy which made it imperative that Britain combat the rise of Germany before it was too late. Crowe made it clear to his boss that whatever Germany’s intention, pacific or warlike, commercial or military, it did not matter. There should be no Liberal sensibilities about confronting a threat with war if necessary. Britain was prone to accommodate and appease. However, if any Power crossed British Imperial red lines it needed to be stopped and cut down to size.

In a significant passage Crowe wrote:

“It might be deduced that the, antagonism is too deeply rooted in the relative position of the two countries to allow of its being bridged over by the kind of temporary expedients to which England has so long and so patiently resorted. On this view of the case it would have to be assumed that Germany is deliberately following a policy which is essentially opposed to vital British interests, and that an armed conflict cannot in the long run be averted, except by England either sacrificing those interests, with the result that she would lose her position as an independent Great Power, or making herself too strong to give Germany the chance of succeeding in a war. This is the opinion of those who, see in the whole, trend of Germany’s policy conclusive evidence that she is consciously aiming at the establishment of a German hegemony, at first in Europe, and eventually in the world.”

Britain needed to organise a coalition of countries, in the cause of humanity, to defend the world order that Britain had created and was predominant within.

And the parallels with England/Germany in the decade prior to the Great War seem to be what now interest the promoters of Global Britain in relation to Russia and China.

Russia Trespasses on British interests

The 2022 ‘Global Britain’ and the Black Sea region’ policy document is firmly rooted in the British sea power narrative. It outlines Britain’s historic and “integral” geopolitical interest in the Black Sea, which the adjacent power, Russia, is now trespassing on:

“As an insular ‘seapower state’ adjacent to the European continent and dependent on access to its surrounding seas, the UK’s enduring geostrategic interest has been to uphold openness, both internationally and at sea. Since most global trade occurs by sea, an open international order, alongside freedom of navigation, allows an archipelagic trade-oriented economy such as Britain’s to flourish because it creates predictability and reduces the risk of predation.

Alternatively, large continental powers often seek to do the opposite: by ‘continentalising’ maritime spaces, they can reduce the influence of maritime powers or extract tribute when their ships pass into waters continental states claim as their own. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Britain identified the Black Sea region as integral to British interests: initially, because it provided a sea route to Persia that bypassed the Russian-controlled Caucasus; later, because, with the construction of the Suez Canal, the Black Sea could be used to exert pressure on the ‘Royal Route’ to the Middle East, Asia and Oceania.

Yet the geography of the Black Sea, which is sandwiched between Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East, and practically enclosed except for the narrow Dardanelles and Bosphorus, encourages geopolitical rivalry. Turkey and Russia both border the Black Sea, and the UK’s pervasive maritime presence, essential to uphold the openness of all European seas, substantiates competition. These three major powers have regularly fought one another to control access. In 1806, Britain warred with the Ottoman Empire to prevent France from closing the Black Sea, and in 1841 agreed to the London Straits Convention – closing the Dardanelles to all ships, including those from countries allied to the Ottoman Empire – out of fear that the Ottomans were incapable of ensuring the Black Sea remained open. Rivalry between Russia and the UK in the Black Sea has also been intense, culminating in the 1853-1856 Crimean War.

The opening of the Suez Canal – establishing the ‘Royal Route’ – only accentuated the Black Sea’s significance in the UK’s geostrategic calculus; any country lording over the region would be able to push down into the Eastern Mediterranean, potentially threatening the UK’s newfound economic lifeline. Early in the 20th century, however, Britain’s naval reach began to wane as the Soviet Union and Turkey emerged. Turkey thwarted the Gallipoli Campaign during the First World War. At the same time, the encroachment of Soviet continental power – particularly during and after the Second World War – eventually encased the Black Sea on three sides. Only through Turkey’s inclusion in NATO in 1952, which the UK came to support, was access upheld.

Despite falling tensions in the Black Sea after the Cold War, the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 gave way to a new round of ‘continentalisation’. Under cover of the Minsk Accords – from inception ‘a rotting corpse slumped over the conference table’ – Russia consolidated control over Crimea and the Donbas. The Kremlin developed sly ‘boa constrictor’-like tactics to close off the Sea of Azov and nearby maritime spaces, allowing it to extend Russian influence over the Black Sea. In turn, the Kremlin’s hand grew stronger in the Caucasus, thus putting more pressure on Georgia, as well as the Eastern Mediterranean, where Russia enjoyed a freer hand to meddle in Syria.

A strengthened Russia in the Black Sea region gains additional significance due to HM Government’s ambitions in the Integrated Review to ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific, where the UK aims to be ‘the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence’ in the Indo-Pacific zone by 2030. First, any power dominant in the Black Sea region would have extensive influence over the Eastern Mediterranean, which hosts British military facilities, and the critical ‘Royal Route’. Second, as competition between the United States (US) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) intensifies, the US will likely refine its Euro-Atlantic commitments in order to allocate more resources to the Indo-Pacific. Underwriting Black Sea security will become more of a task for, and thus much more significant to, the UK.

Should Russia be allowed to consolidate its position in the Black Sea region, it would almost certainly strengthen its reach into the Eastern Mediterranean, potentially threatening key NATO allies’ interests in the Indo-Pacific, not least those of the UK. At the very least, NATO allies have a clear interest in preventing the Black Sea from becoming a Russian ‘lake’ or a Chinese franchise. Besides being connected to the Mediterranean Sea, developments in and around the Black Sea also bear on the Baltic Sea, not least as any failure on NATO’s part to show resolution in resisting Russian adventurism in one region may encourage challenges in the other.”

It should be noted that it was a long-standing policy objective of maritime Britain to confine Russia to the continental sphere by denying it a warm water port, be that in the Mediterranean or the Pacific. The refrain of the famous “Jingo War Song” was “The Russians shall not have Constantinople!” and Britain was prepared to go to war to prevent that development. Russia was to be contained within the Black Sea and obstructed by the Straits. The objective today seems to be to deny the Black Sea completely to Russia and prevent its use of Sevastopol by making sure Crimea is included in Ukraine. The British insistence in providing the Ukrainians with sophisticated anti-ship missiles is an indication of the importance of denying the waters of the Black Sea to the Russians.

It was Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) who ended British interference in the Black Sea a century ago this year. He did this in alliance with Bolshevik Russia as part of the Turkish war of independence that defeated Britain at Chanak in October 1922 – the catastrophic event for the British Empire that threw Prime Minister Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Lord Curzon and “the men who won the war” out of power. And around the same time Boris Johnson’s Ottoman grandfather, Ali Kemal, was hung as a collaborator with the British occupation in Istanbul.

Successful British meddling in the Black Sea, which disrupts the existing regional balance, undoubtedly spells potential instability for states like Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Expect Colour Revolution agitation to increasingly come onto the agenda if the West gets a foothold in the region.

Is Europe aware that the conflict in Ukraine is being urged on Kiev and fuelled by Britain not just as a geopolitical war against Russia but as part of a new British Imperialist project to recapture global influence on the coat tails of the United States?

Even if it is, it seems that Europe is incapable of extricating itself from the position of subservience it has come to occupy in relation to Johnson and Zelensky within the great moral war over Ukraine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.