Timeline: Troubled Waters in the Black Sea (Updated: 19 January 2022)

By Na'omi Allen
Mrs Allen is a political science research assistant and this is her personal WIP blog.
She studies political phenomena through the lens of Realpolitik and Conservative Liberalism.

 

In late Spring 2021, Russia attempted to shut down traffic in the Black Sea, and our State Department condemned the move as an “unprovoked escalation”.

Current tensions in the Black Sea began in October of 2020, when Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy and Turkey’s President Erdogan announced their intentions to regain control of the Donbas, and to de-occupy Crimea and Sevastopol. This announcement was provocative for three main reasons.

  1. It established a policy of abandoning a political solution for the Ukrainian civil war, which could have (and eventually did) undermine Minsk Protocols that were put in place to end armed conflict.
  2. It established a policy of pursuing a military solution to the Crimea issue, which had never been done before.
  3. Perhaps the most dangerous provocation: It explicitly threatened to wrest Sevastopol from Russia, which would open up an entirely new area of armed conflict, certain to ignite a third global war.

Russia has used Sevastopol as a naval base for their Black Sea Fleet for centuries. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, when Crimea was made part of Ukraine, agreements were drawn up to treat Sevastopol as a breakaway state that would remain under Russian control. Under the Ukraine-Russia Friendship Treaty, Russia holds Sevastopol in lease (currently set to expire in 2042).

The Timeline:

On 16 Oct 2020, after signing military cooperation agreements of undisclosed terms, Zelenskyy and Erdogan released a joint statement to confirm their effort, “… towards de-occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, as well as restoration of Ukraine’s control over certain areas in Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.”

At the same time, Zelenskyy congratulated Erdogan for discovering large natural gas deposits in the Black Sea.

“I would like to congratulate the Turkish people on the confirmation of large natural gas reserves in the Black Sea. The development of the gas field will significantly change the balance of power in the region, in favor of the Republic of Turkey and your friends.” — Zelenskyy

Ukraine then contracted the UK Ministry of Defense to build Ukrainian naval facilities, and ordered warships from Turkey, patrol boats from the United States, and missile boats from the United Kingdom.

Erdogan also re-started his controversial Istanbul Canal Project, which has long been criticized as a threat to global peace and a violation of the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits.

On 18 Dec 2020, more details about the Turkey-Ukraine joint security agreement were revealed, and most of it focused on securing the Black Sea and repatriating Tatars to Crimea.

By the end of December, the emerging Ankara-Kyiv strategic axis gained notice from the diplomatic community who began guessing about Erdogan’s motives. Besides Erdogan’s affinity for Turkic ancestral homelands, speculation included a desire to limit Russia’s control of the Black Sea, and an attempt to regain US favor.

In February 2021, despite earlier promises to restore the peninsula’s water supply if needed to avert crisis, Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs said that, “Ukraine will not supply water to Crimea until it returns to Ukraine.”

On 01 March 2021, the US Department of Defense announced that they were sending military aid to Ukraine, as mandated by Trump’s 2021 NDAA, but the Biden administration would be withholding more than half of the package, due to non-compliance issues on Ukraine’s behalf.

On 23 March 2021, Zelenskyy formalized the Ukraine-Turkey military pact (forged in October, 2020) by signing an executive order to de-occupy Crimea and Sevastopol.

On 26 March 2021, the Ukrainian government released a joint statement of UN nations condemning Russia’s occupation of Crimea, and called on the international community to support its territorial integrity.

On 02 April 2021, Erdogan falsely notified Putin that the United States would be sending warships through the Turkish Straights on a mission to support Ukraine. Shortly afterward, a noticeable surge of Russian troops in Crimea and the Russian-Ukraine border began. Russia claimed their troop movements were part of routine military exercises, in preparation for Zapad-2021.

On 06 April 2021, John Kerry met with Russia’s Foreign Minister in India, purportedly to discuss climate change.

On 14 April 2021, the US Department of Defense denied that it was sending warships to “support Ukraine”, and cancelled “routine maneuvers” in the Black Sea. President Biden re-affirmed our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, but called on all parties to deescalate and return to Minsk protocols. He proposed detente with Russia, and was criticized for not advocating for Ukraine’s NATO membership.

The following day, Russia announced that they were closing off access to the Kerch Strait, which connects Crimea to Russia.

On or about 16 April 2021, Ukraine leadership rebuffed calls for deescalation and a return to Minsk protocols, arguing that NATO was the only thing that would stop Russian aggression. They also threatened to arm themselves with nuclear weapons if they are not granted NATO membership, despite failing to comply with basic standards (including human rights issues).

On 19 April 2021, it was announced that Putin accepted Biden’s invitation to meet virtually for Biden’s Earth Day Summit.

Notwithstanding President Biden’s call for deescalation and detente with Russia, the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee (chaired by Senator Menendez) announced that it had drawn up legislation to increase military aid to Ukraine, to “send a strong signal of support to our friends in the region”.

 

On 22 April 2021, Putin attended Biden’s Earth Day Summit, and Russian troops began withdrawal from the Russia-Ukraine border, but left their military equipment in place.

On 23 April 2021, it was leaked that the Biden administration did not believe that Russia was staging to invade Ukraine.

On 25 April 2021, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov stated that Biden had requested a face-to-face meeting with Putin, and that it was, “positively perceived”. The Kremlin announced that, “A final decision on the meeting had not been made but it could happen in June.”

On 27 April 2021, Biden replaced warships that were previously committed to support NATO maritime security in the Black Sea with a single Coast Guard Cutter.

On 11 June 2021, it was announced that Exxon Mobile and Chevron had secured contracts to extract natural gas from the Black Sea for the Turkish government.

On 16 June 2021, Presidents Biden and Putin met in Geneva.

On 25 June 2021, Ukraine and the Republic of Turkey forged an agreement of cooperation in the energy sector, in particular on the supply of liquefied natural gas.

On 12 July 2021, Putin wrote an open letter to the people of Ukraine that can be summarized: “Let us not fight. We are brothers.”

On 08 September 2021, after months-long preparation, Russia officially commenced Zapad-2021 drills. The infamous military exercise (routinely held every four years) was (and continues to be) portrayed across Western media as a provocative “amassing of Russian troops”.

In October 2021, Russia was accused of weaponizing energy against Europe… a charge that Germany insisted was not true.

On November 2021, a US barge delivered a small number of patrol boats that Ukraine had previously purchased from the US to “beef up” the Ukrainian navy.

On 03 November 2021, Ukrainian officials accused Russia of using Zapad-2021 to stage a military invasion of Ukraine. Similar accusations were made during Zapad-2017, which lasted from March through the end of November.

In mid November 2021, the Kremlin announced that arrangements were being made for another Biden-Putin summit, which would take place virtually.

By late November 2021, Ukrainian officials announced that Russian military invasion was imminent. Calls for intervention followed.

On 07 December 2021, a video conference was held between Presidents Biden and Putin, and red lines were drawn.

 

 

In comments to the press about the conference, and about whether the US would be sending US military troops to “protect the sovereignty of Ukraine”, President Biden stated that, “We have a moral obligation and a legal obligation to our NATO Allies. That obligation does not extend to Ukraine. ” Despite this, lawmakers escalated their call for US military action with demands for a “preemptive” first-strike against Russia, and some of their proposals included dropping nuclear bombs on Russia’s metropolitan cities.

On 19 January 2022, after meeting with US Secretary State Antony Blinken, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister stated that the conflict between Ukraine and Russia would not end until Russia has abandoned the Donbas, Crimea, and Sevastopol. The joint press conference set off mass panic in the country, prompting Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy to back-peddle on war rhetoric.

Read More: White House launches preemptive attack against independent thinkers who counter war propaganda.