Tag Archive for: Ukraine War

Christian Court Victory, Biden Abandons Americans, and More: 5 Stories You Missed

The news this week focused on a glut of truly momentous stories: President Donald Trump’s norms-breaking conviction, Joe Biden’s loophole-ridden executive actions at the border, and Biden’s attempt to draft D-Day veterans into his war to maintain the White House. But a week of consequential news often drowns out genuinely significant developments, as well.

This week, that included a transgender theorist’s admission that her work does target children, the unreported facts behind this week’s “strong” jobs report, the U.S. government’s war against a Christian business, a touching act of charity as a wounded politician publicly forgives his would-be assassin, and Joe Biden’s abandonment of Americans in yet another theater of combat.

1. A Christian business wins a small tag-of-war with the Biden administration.

As President Joe Biden used the venerable surviving veterans of D-Day as a backdrop for a domestic-themed speech, Christian businesses fought his administration’s attempts to deny the unalienable constitutional rights those veterans fought to preserve.

Shields of Strength began producing replicas of Army, Air Force, and Marines dog tags, inscribed with a Bible verse, in 2012. Their work brought comfort and solace to those killed in America’s decades-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins described in 2020:

“Her son, Sgt. Cole Wixom, was killed on duty — almost one year ago today. His body was flown home to Michigan a week later, but along the way, his mom says, someone gave the soldier accompanying his remains a dog tag with a Bible verse on it. In a letter, [Wixom’s mother, Robyn] tells Kenny Vaughan, the founder of Shields of Strength, that she’s ‘worn it ever since, along with the dog tag that was attached to his coffin. I can barely see the writing anymore. It’s tarnished, but I know what it says. It says, “I will be strong and courageous. I will not be afraid. I will not be discouraged.” You have no idea,’ the grieving mom said, ‘what this little piece of metal has meant to me…’”

Comforting the grieving proved too great an offense for the atheist activists at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which claimed the dog tags “poison[ed] the constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State.” In 2019, the Army withdrew its permission for the Christian company to recreate the faith-themed dog tags. They were followed by the Marines. Soon, the Department of Defense accused the company of trademark infringement.

This week, the Christian business cut a small hole through the enemy’s lines. With the help of First Liberty Institute, the business argued the Pentagon’s actions violated the freedom of speech rights recognized by the First Amendment. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division, allowed the company’s First Amendment case to proceed.

It’s a small victory, but true warriors know: Small victories lead to great triumphs. Yet the company should not have to prevail in court: The federal government can reverse its fear-filled attempt to placate secular maximalists and rescind its objections. The Biden administration should end its war against Christian retailers as precipitously as it did its war against Afghan terrorists.

2. Transgender theorist: Actually, we do groom children.

This Tuesday, during a little-viewed presentation, two largely obscure academics blurted out one of the most noteworthy if inadvertent confessions in the history of the transgender movement.

The moment came during an exchange between queer theorists Judith Butler of Berkeley and Judith “Jack” Halberstam of Columbia. Halberstam opened their conversation, hosted by Pioneer Works and Dia Art Foundation, by condemning a “strange set of accusations that people who believe in [extreme] gender [ideology] are trying to destroy the family [or] they are pedophiles themselves.”

Halberstam and Butler then proceeded to admit, in essence, many of their foes’ accusations are true.

“I was identified as representing gender ideology and a threat to children. My work would indoctrinate them. Or my work would license pedophilia. Or my work and the work of gender more broadly would teach them how to become homosexual or teach them they must become homosexual,” groused Butler.

“Which is kinda true,” replied Halberstam, who giggled as Butler cracked a smile. “Kinda worked, yeah!”

Butler confessed, “Of course, we know Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick said, ‘Yes, we do teach that!’ And that is one answer. If that is your desire, and you’re looking for ways to live according to that desire, come along, and we’ll make that easier for you.”

She proceeded to deny that, “as a group, people who advocate policy or teaching Gender Studies are in favor of indoctrination or unwanted seduction. In fact, we spend most of our time criticizing both.”

Charges that LGBTQ theory will erode basic societal guards against pedophilia are “a projection of ‘the Church’” trying to find evidence of its own crimes in those they [sic] wish to persecute.”

“This is how priests confess,” Butler averred.

In reality, Butler has personally written that it may “be necessary to rethink the prohibition on incest,” since “incest [is] necessarily traumatic.” Moreover, laws banning incest make it more difficult to realize “lesbian and gay forms of parenting.” As such, laws against incest may become the “instrument of a violation.” In her 2004 book “Undoing Gender,” Butler wrote:

“I do think that there are probably forms of incest that are not necessarily traumatic or which gain their traumatic character by virtue of the consciousness of social shame that they produce. … One of the symbolic consequences of the law [against incest] so formulated is precisely the derealization of lesbian and gay forms of parenting, single-mother households, blended family arrangements in which there may be more than one mother or father … It is important to note that not all forms of incest are necessarily traumatic … It might, then, be necessary to rethink the prohibition on incest as that which sometimes protects against a violation, and sometimes becomes the very instrument of a violation” (pp. 157-160).

Examples of LGBTQ literature glorifying adult-child sexual relations became so numerous that scholar Mary Eberstadt categorized them in a 1996 article titled “Pedophilia Chic.” Among them is Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” possibly the play that has enjoyed the single greatest amount of adulation from Gender Studies departments. In its original form, Ensler’s play featured a positive portrayal of a 24-year-old woman raping a 13-year-old girl. (The child’s age was subsequently raised to the still-illegal age of 16.) Similarly positive portrayals of pedophilia occur in Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” a book in many school libraries, which contains a boy fondly reminiscing about performing fellatio on a grown man.

Butler’s hero, Gayle Rubin, defended child pornography and “boylovers” in her 1984 essay, “Thinking Sex,” in which Rubin wrote, “The laws produced by the child porn panic are ill-conceived and misdirected.” For example, “some child pornography laws prohibit even the private possession of any sexual material involving minors.”

Rubin’s inverted moral compass depicted police as viciously devouring adult men who happen to have sex with underage boys:

“Like communists and homosexuals in the 1950s, boylovers are so stigmatized that it is difficult to find defenders for their civil liberties, let alone for their erotic orientation. Consequently, the police have feasted on them.”

Critiquing laws that prevent adults from sexually exploiting minors’ vulnerable mental state, Rubin believed children could be sexualized “in a caring and responsible manner”:

“The law is especially ferocious in maintaining the boundary between childhood ‘innocence’ and ‘adult’ sexuality. Rather than recognizing the sexuality of the young, and attempting to provide for it in a caring and responsible manner, our culture denies and punishes erotic interest and activity by anyone under the local age of consent. The amount of law devoted to protecting young people from premature exposure to sexuality is breath-taking.”

Rubin’s ideology would infect queer theory root-and-branch. Ten years after these words were written, Judith Butler interviewed Gayle Rubin, telling Rubin, “[Y]ou set the methodology for feminist theory, then the methodology for lesbian and gay studies.”

3. About that ‘strong’ jobs report ….

President Joe Biden continues to build a strong economy for illegal aliens and their employers.

The legacy media described the May 2024 jobs report as “strong,” a “blowout,” and “much-better-than-expected.” And Biden dubbed it evidence of “the great American comeback.” Those evaluations seem difficult to sustain, since the report actually shows:

  • 299,000 fewer native-born Americans held a job this year compared to last May.
  • 637,000 more foreign-born immigrants (legal or illegal) held a job during the same time period.
  • Bidenomics destroyed 625,000 full-time jobs since April — or 1.16 million year-over-year.
  • The Biden economy produced 286,000 more part-time jobs in one month — or 1.51 million since last May.
  • Consequently, 16,000 more people worked two or more jobs in May than in April — 629,000 more than last May.

Particularly, the benefits reaped by non-citizens does not represent a new trend: U.S. citizens hold fewer jobs today than before the pandemic, while foreign-born workers hold significantly more. “[A]ll post-pandemic job growth, coinciding with the millions of illegal aliens allowed into the country by the Biden administration, has gone to foreign-born workers,” notes the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

A “great American comeback” is precisely what unemployed and under-employed Americans need most.

4. A president forgives his would-be assassin.

One of the unreported stories this week involves a world leader who exercised the Christian virtue of forgiveness on an incalculable scale. On May 15, a gunman shot Robert Fico, president of Slovakia, four times in a failed assassination attempt. On Wednesday, Fico responded.

“It’s time for me to make the first move. And that is forgiveness,” said the wounded president during a 14-minute-long video posted on Facebook. “I feel no hatred towards the stranger who shot me. I will not take any legal action against him, nor will I seek damages compensation.”

“I forgive him,” said Fico. “Let him sort out what he did and why he did it in his own head.”

Such effusive displays of forgiveness have become exceedingly rare in our secularizing world. Fico joins a distinguished list of public officials who let their love of neighbor overcome an attempt on their lives, including:

  • Pope John Paul II, who met his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in prison, holding his hand.
  • President Ronald Reagan, whom son Michael revealed wanted to meet John Hinckley Jr. in prison in 1981. The former president would publicly express his forgiveness in 1990, saying, “I added him to my prayers that, well, if I wanted healing for myself and maybe he should have some healing for himself.”
  • Former Alabama Governor George Wallace, who wrote a touching letter to Arthur Bremer 23 years after Bremer’s attack left the 1972 presidential hopeful paralyzed. Wallace wrote, “I am a born-again Christian. I love you. I have asked our Heavenly Father to touch your heart, and I hope that you will ask Him for forgiveness of your sin so you can go to heaven like I am going to heaven.”

Fico said the man was “only a messenger of evil and political hatred,” which he accused his political opponents of stoking “to unmanageable proportions.” An official pre-trial detention order records that his attacker, 71-year-old Juraj Cintula, “decided to act,” because he views the Euroskeptic Fico “as a Judas toward the European Union” wants Fico to approve “military assistance to be given to Ukraine.”

Speaking of Ukraine ….

5. Biden abandons U.S. citizens in Ukraine, too.

Although Congress has approved $174.8 billion in aid to Ukraine in two years, the Biden administration is standing idly by while the President Volodymyr Zelensky attempts to draft U.S. citizens into his army.

As the Russian military takes its toll and Ukrainian opposition to prolonging the conflict grows, Zelensky has widened the population he’s drafted into the war effort. Zelensky signed legislation making every man between the ages of 18 and 60 eligible for military conscription. He’s also required every Ukrainian male between the ages of 18 and 60 to register with the government and carry registration documents with them at all times.

How does this affect U.S. citizens? Some Americans hold both U.S. and Ukrainian citizenship. Unfortunately for them, Ukraine does not recognize dual citizenship. Zelensky treats them as potential conscripts.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy essentially told U.S. citizens entangled in Zelensky’s laws that they’re on their own:

“U.S.-Ukrainian dual citizens are therefore treated solely as Ukrainian citizens while in Ukraine and are subject to the rights and obligations of Ukrainian citizens. Under Ukraine’s martial law, men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not permitted to leave the country. Previously, dual U.S.-Ukrainian citizens in this group could enter and then depart Ukraine if they had deregistered their Ukrainian residency and registered their U.S. residency. According to our information, this exception was revoked as of June 1.”

As a result, “There is an extremely high risk you will not be allowed to depart, even with a U.S. passport.”

“The U.S. Embassy is limited in our ability to influence Ukrainian law,” said the memo.

A casual observer might believe the United States has $175 billion worth of influence over Ukrainian law, which it might exert on behalf of its own people. Instead, Biden personally apologized to Zelensky that the U.S. democratic process helped up aid delivery to his country. The apology came as his government announced it would send $225 million more U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Zelensky government. Zelensky, in turn, criticized the U.S. and other nations for not training Ukrainian pilots to fly the U.S.-provided F-16s faster.

Biden’s ill-executed withdrawal from Afghanistan left thousands of Americans trapped by the Taliban. As of this writing, Hamas still holds eight U.S. citizens hostage in Gaza. The first American hostage freed from Gaza, four-year-old Abigail Mor Edan, is the niece of a Biden donor who purchased one of Hunter Biden’s “artwork.”

This week’s underreported stories show, in war as in the economy, the Biden administration always abandons America first.

Bonus stories:

  • Psst, on Wednesday House Republicans issued criminal referrals for Hunter Biden and the president’s brother, James Biden, for allegedly lying to Congress. Curiously few legacy media outlets chose to juxtapose President Trump’s conviction with the legal troubles of his opponent’s family.
  • After years of denialism, The New York Times ran an op-ed on Monday titled, “Why the Pandemic Probably Started in a Lab, in 5 Key Points.”
  • On Tuesday, 500 non-U.S. citizens voted in the District of Columbia’s elections.
  • Democratic Rep. Gabe Vasquez (N.M.) used an anti-black slur in a phone call to his former employer in 2004.
  • New Jersey Democrats voted for a dead man in Tuesday’s primary. Although former Rep. Ronald Payne Jr. died of a heart attack in April, he won his party’s nomination this week.
  • Joe Biden has threatened to veto funding for America’s veterans, because House Republicans stripped out funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out abortions, promote transgender procedures, and promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

AUTHOR

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2024 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

GOP to Biden: No Ukraine Funding until Southern Border Is Secure

As Congress kicked back into session following the Thanksgiving break, Republican lawmakers are making their position crystal clear regarding continued aid to Ukraine: if the Biden administration wants billions of additional dollars for Ukraine’s war against Russia, it must include legislation to provide solutions for the spiraling crisis at America’s southern border.

Since President Biden took office in January 2021, the explosion of illegal immigrants flooding America’s southern border has been unlike anything seen in the history of the U.S. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the total number of apprehensions of illegal border crossers from 2021 through fiscal year 2023 is a staggering 8.3 million. This does not count the number of individuals who escaped capture (gotaways) during the same time period, which is estimated at 1.7 million. Therefore, the number of illegal border crossers during Biden’s presidency so far is over 10 million, a total that is larger than the individual populations of 41 states.

Notably, this number includes 1,586 known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) that were apprehended. In fiscal year 2023, 736 KSTs were captured, the largest number ever recorded in a single year. In addition, almost 50,000 criminal noncitizens were apprehended during fiscal year 2023, the largest total in history. Alarmingly, the 1.7 million gotaways over the last three years is only an estimate, so it is unknown how many more KSTs and other criminal noncitizens managed to escape detection and enter the U.S. interior.

The rate of illegal border crossers shows no signs of slowing. On Monday, Fox News reported on trains seen in Mexico heading to the U.S. with hundreds of migrants openly riding on the top of rail cars. In addition, CBP announced they would be temporarily shutting down vehicle processing at ports of entry in Texas and Arizona in order to redirect personnel to assist the U.S. Border Patrol in taking illegal border crossers into custody. Just last week, CBP reported 15,300 illegal crossings at the Tucson Sector in Arizona, the highest ever weekly total.

The crisis has led Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), to demand that the Biden White House do something to stem the tide as a condition of continuing to aid Ukraine in its war with Russia. On Monday, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) joined “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” to discuss the situation.

“[We need more than] just legislative fixes, because we have a lawless administration,” he contended. “We have a president that wants an open border. And so we do need to change the law … [such as a] Return to Mexico policy … but we absolutely must make any funding to Ukraine contingent on actually securing the border. And that means benchmarks, metrics. The metric we should use is [the] number of migrants entering America, no matter how they come in, whether they’re encountered and processed and released, or whether we detect them as gotaways. … So, no [Ukraine] funding until you actually achieve those benchmarks on a month-by-month basis.”

Johnson went on to argue that the border crisis will not be solved simply by throwing more money at the issue, which the Biden administration has argued in favor of.

“[Q]uite honestly, providing this administration more money at the border, they’re just going to speed up the processing and dispersing,” he pointed out. “That’s been their whole goal. That’s why they think their policy is [a] success. [They say] we don’t have a crisis on the border. [They]’ve just gotten really efficient at encountering, processing, dispersing more than six million illegal immigrants into this country during their administration. So no, we don’t need [to give them more] money for the border.”

As to the question of whether at least 41 GOP senators will hold the line on the southern border crisis, Johnson expressed uncertainty, while also emphasizing the severity of the border issue.

“I’ve been making the point now for literally months that we need to stop taking whatever the Democrats want and finding just enough Republicans to join them to pass their priorities,” he underscored. “That has to end … particularly when you’re looking at an open border being a clear and present danger to America. Democrats [and] the president obviously want funding for Ukraine. A lot of Republicans do. I’m certainly sympathetic with the courageous people of Ukraine. But what must come first is our own homeland, our own national security. … So you’ve got to set your priorities, and our top priority has to be to secure that border. This is the only leverage we have with a lawless administration. We must use that leverage. And so all we have to do is make sure that 41 Republicans deny cloture on any bill that doesn’t include strong metrics that require … President Biden to secure the border [and] meet those metrics before money starts flowing.”

AUTHOR

Dan Hart

Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.

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EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

Ukraine, Israel, and the American World Order

An emerging stream of thought in American politics questions America’s longstanding international commitments because it doesn’t remember why we made them in the first place. Why is America supplying Ukraine with weapons in its war against Russia? What is America’s interest — as distinct from a Jew’s or Christian’s interest — in securing Israel’s victory over Hamas? Would America really put its own blood and treasure on the line to defend the sovereignty of faraway Taiwan?

When taken in isolation, these commitments may seem arbitrary. But understanding the history of American foreign policy can put them into their proper context.

America and Freedom

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of American foreign policy is the character of the American people. America is founded on free ideals. These include ironclad protections for free markets and free enterprise, a primary source of American strength. America’s strong and open economy means American producers can often supply goods to new markets — when they can find them.

Enabling American merchants to freely buy and sell in overseas markets has remained a core objective of American foreign policy throughout most of American history. This was true when Boston merchants loaded bales of tobacco and cotton onto wooden sailing ships bound for Europe. It remains true as Coca-Cola and Apple market soft drinks and iPhones to the interior parts of Africa. The Washington administration and the Truman administration had drastically different foreign policies, but they shared this in common.

In fact, the young federal republic fought its first wars to defend the freedom of American merchant shipping. In the 1790s, America’s first post-revolution naval actions were to defend American sailors being pressed into service in the British and French navies. In 1801, American marines assaulted “the shores of Tripoli” to end Mediterranean piracy against American vessels. Later, an American squadron in 1853 threatened military action against Japan to force that hermit kingdom to open its ports to American trade.

Non-Intervention

Throughout most of the 1800s, America was able to achieve its goal of protecting international trade while largely avoiding foreign entanglements because a more powerful nation had the same goal. Great Britain, a banking powerhouse, also pursued a merchant-focused foreign policy — mostly by trading with colonies it established around the globe — and it had the world’s most powerful navy to enforce its will. This left America largely free to settle the giant continent that lay before it.

The main exception to American non-intervention in the 1800s — after the foolish war of 1812, that is — was the Monroe Doctrine. As South and Central American colonies declared independence from European powers in the 1810s and 1820s, U.S. President James Monroe announced that the U.S. would oppose any effort by European powers to establish or re-establish a colony in the Americas. This policy was designed to keep the world’s most powerful militaries from establishing a base on America’s doorstep, but it also allowed the fledgling new nations to learn how to govern themselves without fear of imminent invasion (admittedly, many of them performed poorly). In other words, it was America’s first attempt at creating other nations like ourself.

From the 1890s through the 1910s (the Progressive Era), American presidents embraced a more muscular foreign policy. They fought and won a war against a European power (Spain), created the nation of Panama to build a canal, and elbowed America into World War I to influence the post-war settlement. The war elevated America to an international status close to that of the great powers, mostly because these were exhausted and devastated from years of hard fighting. However, the American people ultimately rejected the post-war League of Nations negotiated by President Wilson, and once again withdrew from foreign concerns during the Great Depression.

World War II

Then came World War II, which profoundly changed America’s relationship with the rest of the world. America was reluctant to interfere in foreign affairs and did not join in the war until we were attacked. But, once America was roused, our economy demonstrated just how powerful it was, as we basically outproduced our way to victory against Japan and Germany.

America emerged from World War II with only one close rival, the Soviet Union. Previous powers, such as Great Britain, France, and Germany, were devastated by the war. This role forced the U.S. to engage more actively in foreign relations. In particular, a war-weakened Britain no longer stabilized world finances or patrolled the world’s oceans; now America’s central bank and Navy would have to perform these functions if we were to protect our own trading interests.

America deployed the Marshall Plan to rapidly rehabilitate Western Europe, and even our recent enemies, Germany and Japan. Partly, this investment corrected the mistakes made after World War I, which left Germany humiliated, weakened, and eager to avenge itself in another war. Partly, this investment helped to fortify a bulwark against the Soviet Union, which was rapidly gobbling up eastern Europe. But partly, this investment helped to stimulate America’s own economy, because we needed trading partners wealthy enough to buy our goods.

America and other nations also sought to prevent a repeat of World War II, which began with a strongman and his military machine gobbling up smaller, weaker neighbors one after another, while other nations were reluctant to take responsibility to stop him. To that end, America and other nations formed the United Nations in 1945, with a resolve “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

The U.N. Charter’s very first article defined its purposes: “To maintain international peace and security … To develop friendly relations among nations … To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems … To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.”

Article 2 of the U.N. Charter set forth additional principles to govern international behavior. It affirmed “the sovereign equality of all its Members,” required member nations to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means,” forbade “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” and required member nations to make sure that non-member nations acted according to these principles.

This Charter is worth noticing carefully. Granted, the U.N. has many shortcomings and outright failures. It seethes with anti-Semitism, overextends its authority into the affairs of sovereign nations, is often taken captive by the worst human rights abusers, and often fails to have any positive effect when actual crises arrive. Granted, too, the Charter exudes an overly optimistic view of international relations that lacks realism.

But notice the Charter’s goals: maintaining international peace, acknowledging national sovereignty, and preserving the territorial integrity of nation states against aggression by stronger, more powerful neighbors. These principles create conditions where international trade can flourish. They also enable a nation to handle its own affairs without undue interference by outsiders. These are the conditions American foreign policy has sought to achieve throughout its entire history. This is the Monroe Doctrine made global.

Also significantly, the principles set forth in this Charter were emphatically not those of the Soviet Union or other warmongering dictators. Before World War II, Joseph Stalin had eagerly partnered with Hitler to divide Poland between them. After World War II, the Soviet Union continued to dominate all the nations in its sphere of influence — nations behind what came to be known as the Iron Curtain. It took decades before East Germany, Czechoslovakia, or Romania saw political freedom again. Additionally, the Soviet Union was constantly trying to export its toxic ideology — to Nicaragua or Cuba, for instance — or invade other countries — but more on that shortly.

In other words, although the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were the two global superpowers, the international union they formed reflected American values far more than Soviet ones. Partly, this was because communists are willing to say nice things and then do terrible things. But partly, this represented a moral victory for the United States. The world order that took shape after World War II was an American one.

The post-World War II American World Order has endured for nearly a lifetime. America has profitable and sophisticated trade relationships with countries in Europe, eastern and southern Asia, South America, Africa, and the Pacific. America has developed and deepened security relationships with more than 50 nations on every continent. After roughly 45 years, America’s only peer rival, the Soviet Union, collapsed, leaving the U.S. in the rare position of a global hegemon. This has been the American World Order, and America has, on average, benefited by it.

Sometimes, the U.N. has positively helped confront challenges to the American World Order. Soviet- and Chinese-backed communists attempted to invade Korea in the 1950s, but a U.N. coalition fought them to a draw. Thus illegally annexed, the northern part of Korea remains an international pariah, while the southern part of Korea flourishes among the world’s most developed economies. In 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein overran his smaller neighbor Kuwait. Again, a U.N. coalition forced him to relinquish the territory he conquered.

At other times, the U.S. has had to confront the challenge on its own or with a smaller group of allies — with varying degrees of success. It countered the U.S.S.R.’s invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s by arming local fighters. It has confronted various coups at various times, and it responded to the growing threat of international terrorism by experimenting with regime change of its own. Perhaps its greatest blunder was the failed attempt to prevent a communist takeover of Vietnam, which thrust the nation down into a decade of despair and retreat. Nevertheless, the fundamental structure of the world order remained favorable to American interests, even at the moments when America did not seem to benefit thereby.

Over the past 15 years, a fundamental principle of the American World Order has come under increasing scrutiny — the notion that every nation has a fundamental right of sovereignty over its territory — all its territory. In 2008, Russia, the largest successor to the Soviet Union, invaded its smaller neighbor Georgia; to this day, Russian troops occupy two breakaway regions of Georgia, which only Russia recognizes as a sovereign nation. In 2014, Russia invaded another neighbor, Ukraine, and claimed to “annex” the southern, oil-rich Crimean peninsula and eastern, industrialized Donbas region — a blatant violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In 2015, an Islamist insurgency dubbing itself the “Islamic State” captured and controlled large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria that had been destabilized by civil war and the withdrawal of U.S. troops — although its territorial gains were largely wiped out by 2019.

That brings us up to recent history, which has seen further challenges to the American world order and to American world supremacy. In 2022, Russia extended its invasion of Ukraine, first attempting to conquer the entire country, and then revising its goals towards solidifying additional territorial gains in the south and east. In 2023, Islamist militants sponsored by Iran launched a war against Israel, publicly declaring their intention to wipe it off the world map.

On the other edge of Asia, communist China continues its aggressive expansion across the South China Sea and its provocative behavior towards Taiwan, which it falsely claims is not an independent nation but rather a breakaway province. While China has not actually launched an invasion, foreign policy observers widely agree that it seems prepared to do so and is closely watching America’s response to other global hotspots.

So, how do these various conflicts relate to America’s core interests? America benefits from a peaceful world order that allows international trade to flourish. Ever since World War II, America has sought to enforce a global norm of national sovereignty and territorial integrity as a means to prevent global conflicts, which could disrupt America’s trade interest — not to mention upset nations’ self-determination. America’s authoritarian rivals are increasingly testing those norms.

If America backs away from its commitment to the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of all nations, our global adversaries will interpret this as a license to further acts of aggression, which will further undermine the (relatively) peaceful world order that is structured in America’s interest. This is the context for conflicts in both Ukraine and Israel, the nervous stalemate in Taiwan, and in other global hotspots that could quickly unravel if America retreats from its commitment to its own interests.

AUTHOR

Joshua Arnold

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.

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EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

America’s Adversaries Are All Connected

A day after murderous terrorists invaded Israel, critical infrastructure connecting frontline NATO allies was shut down as a “result of external activity” — possibly foreign sabotage — according to Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. “Russia sympathizes with us,” senior Hamas official Ali Baraka said in a Sunday interview on the government-controlled Russia Today TV. “One war eases the pressure in another war.”

While Finnish and Estonian officials are still investigating the disruption of a pipeline and communication cable, the timing is likely no coincidence. If it resulted from foreign action, then the foreign agents took advantage of the fact that world attention was focused elsewhere to carry out an operation they had likely already planned. Did Russia have prior knowledge of Hamas’s invasion plan?

Russia has long weaponized its monopolistic position as Europe’s oil supplier to extract political concessions from dependent neighbors by cutting off energy supplies. The Balticonnector Pipeline began operations in 2020, connecting Finland to the rest of Europe via Estonia and reducing Russia’s oil leverage over both countries.

Russia would clearly benefit from disabling the pipeline. Both countries are pro-western states on Russia’s border and view the USSR’s primary successor state as their greatest threat. In April, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland officially joined the anti-Russian NATO alliance, which Estonia joined in 2004.

Yet, according to Baraka’s interview in a Russian propaganda outlet, Russia was notified prior to the assault. “In order to keep the attack secret and successful, the different factions and our allies did not know the zero hour,” he said. But Hamas did update Russia after they inquired about the Hamas attack and its intention. If Russia is responsible for the Balticonnector sabotage, they implemented the plan opportunistically.

Russia was not the only ally Hamas informed of its plans on Saturday. “After half an hour [of commencing the attack], all the Palestinian resistance factions were contacted, as were our allies in Hezbollah and Iran,” said Baraka. He added that they even notified Turkey — an increasingly rogue member of NATO — and met with them only three hours into the operation.

“Our allies are those that support us with weapons and money,” explained Baraka. “First and foremost, it is Iran that is giving us money and weapons.” For years, Western intelligence officials have known that Iran was providing military training and logistical help. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said last year that Iran had provided the group with $70 million in military assistance. On Thursday, the U.S. government and Qatar agreed to block Iran from accessing $6 billion in funds the U.S. had unfrozen as an appeasement measure.

Baraka also pointed to Hamas’s close affinity with Hezbollah, another radical Islamic terror organization funded by Iran, but which is based in Lebanon instead of Gaza. Hezbollah fired rockets at northern Israel on Tuesday, in an effort to divide Israel’s forces and limit the safe places where refugees from southern Israel could be temporarily relocated. Baraka also boasted that “the Arab and Islamic people … are standing by us.” Even if he presumes too much when speaking for all people who identify as Muslims, these are not idle words; on Sunday, Palestinian sympathizers staged demonstrations in support of Hamas’ barbarous tactics across the West.

“Even Russia sympathizes with us,” added Baraka. “Russia is happy that America is getting embroiled in Palestine. It alleviates the pressure on the Russians in Ukraine. One war eases the pressure in another war. So, we are not alone on the battlefield.” He said that Russia, a major exporter of weapons, even gave “a Russian license to produce Kalashnikov bullets in Gaza,” allowing Hamas to procure additional ammunition for Russian-made machine guns despite international sanctions.

That’s quite the international coalition supporting a terror group, but it features the usual suspects. Nations like Iran and Russia are not friendly toward the U.S. and would jump at any opportunity to knock the U.S. down a peg.

Consequently, Hamas’ attack did not happen in isolation. “We have been preparing for this for two years,” Baraka said. In other words, Hamas began preparing to launch a major assault against Israel in the immediate aftermath of America’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some unconfirmed reports have even suggested that Hamas used weapons U.S. forces left behind in Afghanistan, which evidently made their way across the Middle East through illicit arms trading. When America’s foes see us as weak, they calculate that it is time to strike.

The same actors — and even more of them — are aligned on Russia’s side of the conflict in Ukraine. After Ukraine stalled Russia’s first assault and ground down its war machine with Western aid, Russia turned to other bad actors to restock its supplies. There have been reports that Iran, China, Cuba, North Korea, and even South Africa are supplying Moscow with military equipment and personnel.

In October 2022, the Pentagon said they knew that Russia was using Iranian drones in Ukraine, and they believed Iranians were on-site to help the Russians operate them. In February, the Biden administration considered releasing intelligence that showed China was supplying arms to Russia. Customs records obtained by Politico this summer show that China has shipped body armor and other military munitions to Russia. In May, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa accused the allegedly neutral country with supplying weapons and ammunition to Russia, via a sanctioned cargo ship it allowed to dock at a naval base near Cape Town in December. In September, the White House said North Korea and Russia were “actively advancing” arms negotiations, and satellite photos last week detected a near-quadrupling in rail traffic along the North Korea-Russia border. Even distant Cuba has gotten involved, smuggling hundreds of soldiers to fight in Russia’s war.

In addition to military assistance, American rivals on the world stage also cooperate economically. An organization of second-tier economic powers, known as BRICS (for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) will more than double its membership in January 2024 when it officially admits Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. The organization, which includes some of the largest economies in Africa, Asia, and South America, is actively discussing ways to move international trade away from the U.S. dollar and towards other national currencies. BRICS expansion is significant because it indicates that even U.S. military allies, like India, or economic partners, like Saudi Arabia, are increasingly willing to cooperate with adversaries the U.S. has tried to isolate.

Such interconnection in foreign policy is not a new development. Independent powers have combined into military coalitions since at least the time of Abraham (see Genesis 14:1-2). In the century between Napoleon and World War I (1814-1919), international politics particularly focused on the alliances between five to nine so-called “great powers,” which were ever-changing to maintain a precarious balance of power. This provoked a string of conflicts, culminating in two devastating world wars.

After World War II, only two great powers remained (the U.S. and the Soviet Union), which spearheaded two worldwide coalitions (countries not aligned with either side were dubbed the “third world”). Due to the invention of nuclear weapons, the two great powers did not risk an all-out war, but they still struggled together in an economic Cold War and a series of proxy wars over influence in other countries — Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, Afghanistan.

When the Soviet Union collapsed after four decades, the U.S. found itself in the rare position of a global hegemon — a world power with no equal. The conflicts of this period — two Iraq wars, Afghanistan, Serbia — reflect America’s ability to go anywhere in the world and do whatever we wanted, always dealing with asymmetric opponents. In the early 2000s, President Bush could call out by name an “axis of evil,” consisting of three countries, for the whole world to shun.

But shifting alliances and changing power balances have changed the global situation once again. China’s decades-long buildup and Russia’s resurgence have placed the U.S. on the defensive in far-flung zones of influence. Part of this is from not recognizing the threat. America has largely let China’s military buildup and global friend-buying projects go unanswered, and the U.S. has become consumed with internal divisions, which other nations may have played a role in aggravating. We stopped playing the game, while everyone else was playing harder than ever.

Whatever the reason why a growing coalition of global adversaries is arrayed against America, a world in which the U.S. is not the all-dominant power is actually just a return to equilibrium, from a historical aberration. Most Americans today can’t remember anything different, but for most of history geopolitics has been a delicate balancing act, or very bloody. American ingenuity and freedoms can go a long way, at least with good leadership. But we can’t count on always being the unchallenged champion in an adversarial arena that incentivizes the rise of challengers — especially when those challengers can combine together.

The takeaway is that America cannot afford to view one hostile power or one national crisis in isolation. What is currently happening in Israel will affect the war in Ukraine, the security of Taiwan, and even the possibility of major terror strikes against American targets.

AUTHOR

Joshua Arnold

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.

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EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

Biden Admin Seeks Long-Term Ukraine Aid Plan To Prevent Next President From Scaling Back Funding

The Biden administration is seeking to hammer out a long-term Ukraine aid agreement with European allies in hopes of both preventing Russia from gaining an edge on the battlefield and hamstringing a future president’s ability to scale back U.S. commitments, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The scheme emerged during sideline talks among Group of Seven leaders at a NATO summit in July, and so far involves negotiations between the U.S. and Ukraine, and between the United Kingdom (U.K.) and Ukraine, according to the WSJ. It’s an attempt, in part, to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin he can simply wait until a new American administration, as several top GOP political contenders have expressed intention to reduce or eliminate U.S. aid that makes up the brunt of Western support.

Building up Kyiv’s defense forces in the long term can theoretically deter Russia from invading again, officials calculated, according to the WSJ.

Former President Donald Trump has maintained a lead in Republican primary candidate polling and could face a second showdown with President Joe Biden in the 2024 election. Trump has claimed he could solve the war “within 24 hours.”

At the first Republican primary debate Wednesday, several candidates indicated they would support drawing down aid for Ukraine.

Eighteen countries not belonging to the G-7 wealthy democracies, including the Netherlands and Sweden, have also agreed to the long-term security assistance pledge for Ukraine, according to the WSJ.

European capitals want to cement support and restrict ways countries could renege on pledges, fearing what might happen during a second Trump administration, according to the WSJ. At present, Western European nations lack the industrial and financial capacity to match the billions in annual military aid provided by the U.S.

Since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S. has devoted more than $40 billion worth of weapons and equipment, as well as training and investment into U.S. weapons companies, for the purpose of aiding Ukraine’s resistance. The aid has exposed weaknesses in American military readiness and industrial base capacity, provoking criticism that the U.S. should be using those funds to shore up defenses with an eye toward China as the war in Ukraine drags on with no end in sight.

However, the practical workings of the agreement pose significant hurdles to the Biden administration’s goals, the WSJ reported, citing officials. A sitting president has limited ability to bind his successor to any initiative or policy.

The State Department led the first U.S. meeting on the initiative on Aug. 3, involving Ukrainian officials and representatives from the White House and the Pentagon, according to the WSJ. U.S. officials hope to convene a second meeting soon.

France expects to begin negotiations in the coming weeks, a senior French official told the WSJ.

“Our bilateral security commitments will focus on ensuring Ukraine has a sustainable force capable of defending Ukraine now and deterring Russian aggression in the future,” the State Department told the WSJ.

So far, no party has yet decided what the agreement will actually look like, according to the WSJ.

AUTHOR

MICAELA BURROW

Investigative reporter, defense.

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Vladimir Putin, Man of Faith?

At an Orthodox Easter service in April, a “somber looking” Vladimir Putin joined with other worshippers in saying, “Christ is truly risen.”

He probably believes this. Mark Hollingsworth has detailed how Putin’s religious allegiance has infused his life. He concludes that his Russian Orthodoxy is an essential part of his intense nationalism. For Putin, he writes, “promoting the mystical belief that Russia is the Third Rome, the next ruling empire of the earth, has been part of his appeal to the masses.”

This mystical belief has caused Putin to believe he, himself, is imbued with the spirit of his nation. Shortly before Lent, one of his business associates asked Putin about asking forgiveness before a priest. Putin responded, “‘I am the President of Russia. Why should I ask for forgiveness?’”

When a leader believes he is the personification of the state itself, specially chosen by God to lead his country to conquest and triumph, trouble looms — as the people of Ukraine have learned with great pain.

The German philosopher G.F. Hegel claimed that the state — a centralized government with power over every institution and person within the borders it controls — “is the march of God on earth.” This is precisely the approach taken by the Nazis concerning Adolf Hitler. The so-called “Fuhrer (leader) principle” was made clear by one of Hitler’s lapdog apologists, Rudolf Hess: “Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler. Whatever he does is necessary. Whatever he does is successful. Clearly the Führer has divine blessing.”

This is why negotiating with Putin has proven so difficult. If he is filled with the spirit of his nation, and if Russia is uniquely a Christian space, then how can he be held accountable for anything he does? Using his reasoning, his purity of vision and action is axiomatic. He is incapable of error, a secular pope speaking from a place of political ex cathedra.

How does this factor into the invasion of Ukraine? That nation, Putin said in a speech last year, is “an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space.” It is true that the leader of Kyiv “accepted Christianity in 988 and established a devout kingdom that became the predecessor to the modern states of Ukraine and Russia.” But it is not true that Ukraine has always been part of Russia, nor does it follow that Russia’s affirmation of Eastern Orthodoxy for 1,000 years justifies the violent and vicious assault on Ukraine today. This last proposition is so illogical it does merit lengthy refutation.

Putin gets heavy political backing from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I. Kirill, reportedly once a KGB agent under the guise of his priest’s habit, has done quite well for himself for a man of the cloth. In 2006, prior to his accession to his church’s highest position, the Moscow News estimated he had a personal fortune of about $4 billion. As journalist Jason Horowitz reports, “Kirill has in recent years aspired to expand his church’s influence, pursuing an ideology consistent with Moscow being a ‘Third Rome,’ a reference to a 15th-century idea of Manifest Destiny for the Orthodox Church, in which Mr. Putin’s Russia would become the spiritual center of the true church after Rome and Constantinople.”

Late last year, Kirill said in a sermon of those Russian soldiers dying in Ukraine: “sacrifice in the course of carrying out your military duty washes away all sins.” This is not unlike the Islamic promise that to die for Allah gets you into the Muslim heaven, a promise used to induce terrorists to tie bombs to their bodies and fly planes into buildings.

A “third Rome?” Putin’s enablers in his church benefit right along with the Russian president. “Putin has allowed the (Russian Orthodox) Church to return to prominence and supported it in a way unheard of since the Revolution,” writes religion scholar Ben Ryan. “The Church has, in turn, provided some of the intellectual and cultural backing for Putin’s Statist vision for Russia and the wider Russian sphere of influence.”

Putin could well believe in essential Christian teachings and even practice the rites of his church. He speaks fondly of his mother. “Mama gave me my baptismal cross to get it blessed at the Lord’s Tomb,” he once reported. Yet his faith is not the faith of the New Testament. It’s a perverse version of what Scripture teaches, one that “has a form of Godliness but denies the power thereof” (II Timothy 2:6).

Putin’s affirmations of certain biblical truths do not mean he has ever personally come to repentance and trust in a Savior Who alone can redeem. Until he does, he can, like the Pharisees of old, perform all the rituals and recite all the creeds of his tradition, but “neglect the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23-34). The suffering people of Ukraine can speak potently of this truth.

AUTHOR

Rob Schwarzwalder

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University’s Honors College.

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

FACT CHECK: Does Zelensky Respect ‘Religious Liberty’ in Ukraine?

An edited clip of former Vice President Mike Pence seemingly telling Tucker Carlson that decaying American cities are “not my concern” instantly went viral, but Pence’s most controversial statements at the Family Leader Summit, about Ukraine’s respect for “religious liberty,” have passed without comment.

The moment came when Carlson asked if the former vice president, who made a return visit to Ukraine in June, had pressed President Volodymyr Zelensky about his “treatment of Christians within Ukraine.” Pence replied, “I raised [the issue] with the leader of the Orthodox Church when I was visiting Kyiv and asked him about concerns about religious liberty. He assured me that the Zelensky government in Ukraine was respecting religious liberty.” (You can watch the exchange here.)

Pence’s answer seems definitive, but those who cherish religious liberty need to identify its verbal sleight-of-hand: Pence met with the “leader of the Orthodox Church” whom Zelensky’s discriminatory policies benefit, not the Christians they harm.

Is Zelensky’s government “respecting religious liberty” in Ukraine? Let’s examine the facts.

Which “Leader of the Orthodox Church” Is Which?

Two major churches in Ukraine call themselves Orthodox. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the historic body founded in 989 A.D., has perhaps 10,000 churches. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), a coalition of breakaway parishes and formerly unrecognizedgroups which the Patriarch of Constantinople declared autocephalous in January 2019, has an estimated 7,000 parishes. Pence met with Metropolitan Epiphaniy of the OCU, whose news service announced the meeting at the famous golden-domed sanctuary. Metropolitan Onufriy of the UOC would likely have given Pence a difference assessment about the Ukrainian government’s respect for “religious liberty.”

Zelensky Discriminates against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

During his exchange with Pence, Carlson noted, “The Zelensky government has raided convents, arrested priests, has effectively banned a denomination — a Christian denomination, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, within Ukraine — has persecuted Christians.” That nearly echoes the words of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which reports that from February through the end of April, Zelensky’s “[g]overnment and local authorities took several measures targeting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).” Government agents “searched places of worship and other UOC facilities, issued notices of suspicions against clergymen, and placed several of them under house arrest.” Since the beginning of the conflict, seven regional councils have banned all “activities of the UOC,” overstepping their legal authority.

Ukraine’s Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has introduced numerous bills to redistribute church property from the disfavored UOC to the favored OCU, some with Zelensky’s personal approval:

  • Draft law No. 8221 — which bears the Orwellian title, “On ensuring strengthening of national security in the sphere of freedom of conscience and activities of religious organizations” — would forbid any church from using the title “Orthodox” unless it is (in the words of the state news agency, UKRINFORM) “subordinated to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU);
  • Bill No. 7403 strips the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of its tax-exempt status;
  • Draft Resolution No. 8012 transfers the historic monastic properties of the Kyiv Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavra — a sacred site in Orthodox history — from UOC to the OCU; and
  • Draft law No. 8262 bars the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) from using state property.

Some UOC parishes have had their property “transferred” to the jurisdiction of the OCU by people who do not belong to the parish. “[V]illagers who are not parishioners of the UOC church organize a meeting of the territorial community. At such meetings, they simply declare: We are Orthodox, and we believe that there will be only an OCU in our community,” reports the independent weekly newspaper Fakty i Kommentarii.

Zelensky’s government revoked the citizenship of 13 UOC clerics near the first of the year.

In a smaller act of aggression, earlier this month the Rada amended the state labor code to change the date of Christmas, which the UOC traditionally celebrated on January 7 due to its use of the Julian Calendar, to December 25, the revised date the OCU allowed last fall and formally adopted this spring. Since 2017, the government had recognized both dates for Christmas; now, in theory, an observer of the traditional date might not be able to get the day off work to attend church. The bill — personally introduced by President Zelensky— also changed two other national holidays associated with religious feasts to the OCU’s date: the Protection of the Mother of God (to October 1 from October 14) and the Baptism of Rus, considered independence day (July 15 from the 28).

Evicting Monks Quietly, so Tucker Carlson Won’t Report It

The most visible sign of the Zelenskygovernment’s dispute with the UOC is the historic Kyiv Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavra. Zelenskyofficials placed the monastery’s abbot, Metropolitan Pavel, under house arrest from April 1 until June 29; he presently resides in the Lukyanivska pre-trial detention center, which Radio Liberty described as “infamous for its terrible conditions, with detainees enduring cold, crowding, and crumbling walls.”

The government originally aimed to evict the monks from the historic monastery by March 29, less than three weeks after the March 10 announcement. Although the eviction order remains tied up in court, Ukrainian government authorities began sealing buildings at the monastery. Eventually, monks and a large number of faithful Christians protected some of the property, but not before the National Reserve sealed buildings 68, 69, 70, 71, and 115. Officials have not sealed any additional buildings since July 6, and the official who oversees the National Reserve, Oleksandr Tkachenko, resigned two weeks later.

High-ranking officials in Zelensky’s party have acknowledged that seizing possession of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra could be complicated, since then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych extended the UOC’s lease for another 49 years on July 17, 2003 — 20 years ago this month. But the deputy leader of Zelensky’s Servant of the People faction in parliament, Yevgenia Kravchuk, believes the government will get the historic monastery in its clutches gradually, particularly since “the majority of the deputies” in the Ukrainian government support Zelensky’s proposal. For now, she wants the government to bide its time.

“It is very important not to show physical aggression. All this can create a false picture of some religious oppression. Then various foreign conservative journalists, such as Tucker Carlson, believe me, will do a separate report on it,” Kravchuk warned. Then American voters “can start asking their congressmen, referring to the so-called religious persecution in Ukraine.”

Religious Liberty ‘an Invalid Argument’: Zelensky’s Deputy

“Some say: ‘Let’s not interfere in religious matters.’ But this, it seems to me, is now an invalid argument,” said Zelensky’s deputy, Kravchuk. Some Ukrainian Orthodox Church priests and faithful are “not yet ready to fully transition to OCU,” but “[w]e have to go through it.”

What is behind this drive to dispossess the Ukrainian Orthodox Church? “The main thing is the political leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has repeatedly stated that Ukraine needs spiritual independence,” said Kravchuk. Indeed, Zelenskygave a speech last December 1 promising to create “spiritual independence. We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul.”

Some officials have already paid the price for resisting religious discrimination. Olena Bohdan led Zelensky’s State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), which oversees the government’s religious policies — until her findings contradicted the state line that the UOC was aligned with Moscow. Bohdan combed through UOC church documents and concluded that the UOC had removed everything establishing its “subordination and dependence” upon Moscow. Zelenskythen fired her. Bohdan told Radio Liberty she lost her job because, while she tried to act “from the standpoint of constitutional principles,” she was pressured “to find a way to disband the UOC.”

Is the UOC Controlled by Russia?

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church severed ties with the Russian Orthodox Church over the invasion of Ukraine, which it wholeheartedly opposed. “War is the worst sin in the world. It forces us to look at another person not as an image of God, but as an enemy to be killed. Therefore, there is no excuse for those who start wars,” said Metropolitan Onufriy. The church has taken concrete steps to underscore its independence from Russian church authorities and, as noted, Bohdan documented the UOC’s separation from the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The Zelensky government justified expelling UOC monks from the historic monastery on the grounds that the monks secretly aid Russia — but Zelensky’s “proof” of UOC’s Russian collusion underwhelms. Last November 22, National Police pilfered through monks’ private quarters, searched 350 monastery buildings and visitors’ quarters, checked the identities of 850 people on the grounds, and administered polygraphs to 50 people (including some monks). They found a few thousand rubles (1,000 rubles is worth $11 U.S.) and a handful of pamphlets containing sermons by the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, possibly brought by pilgrims from Russia. (Imagine if Americans visited the monastery, and the government busted the monks because they found dollar bills and a book by Billy Graham.) They also claim someone overheard one of the monks singing a song that discussed “awakening the Russian world” (Russkiy mir), a concept akin to Manifest Destiny — but Bohdan said the lyrics were so ambiguous, they may have asked “for Russia to wake up and stop its armed offensive on Ukraine.” The UOC has condemned the Russkiy mir notion, as Met. Onufriy declared, “We do not build any ‘Russian world;’ we build God’s world.”

Things became more heated after a missile fell on Transfiguration Cathedral in Odessa. “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has had nothing in common with your understanding for a very long time,” UOC Archbishop Viktor Bykov of Artsyz wrote to Moscow Patriarch Kirill, likening him to an abusive father. “We condemn this maniacal aggression of the Russian Federation against our independent country.”

Yet even the most anti-Russian clerics agree Zelensky’s government tramples on their unalienable rights. A group of more than 300 UOC priests who support autocephaly condemned “Russia’s Satanic aggression against Ukraine,” while slighting the Zelensky government’s “flagrant violations of the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Ukraine who are the clergy and believers of the UOC.”

Ukrainian Government Demanding UOC Cease to be Orthodox?

Zelensky’s government is pressuring the UOC to take a step that could effectively eliminate it from the communion of the Orthodox Church. After Bohdan’s ouster, DESS demanded the UOC cut all ties with Moscow by declaring itself autocephalous; on July 25, officials reiterated their demand for the “the complete and unconditional rupture” of communion. Typically, other national Orthodox churches grant autocephaly to a church body; it is not asserted unilaterally. And there are never two autocephalous churches in the same territory. If the UOC declares independence, it could lose communion with all other Orthodox churches, a necessary element of Orthodox ecclesiology. Meanwhile, the churches associated with Constantinople maintain communion with the OCU, effectively rendering it the nation’s only Orthodox body.

Eastern Europe has Little Sense of ‘Religious Liberty’

Though the concept of religious liberty has patristic roots, it arose in the West from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 — a treaty that had no impact on Eastern Europe. The entire region has varying degrees of toleration for church authorities. Thus, none of this should suggest Russia would impose Western-style conscience rights in Ukraine beyond those respected in Russia today. Authorities say Russian troops have destroyed hundreds of Ukrainian churches, tortured evangelical pastors, and repressed the OCU and sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Ukrainian Christians have seen the government expropriate and redistribute their property for decades. After decades of trying to eradicate all religion, in 1946 Soviet authorities tried to liquidate Ukraine’s Byzantine Catholic parishes — former Eastern Orthodox churches that submitted to papal authority in 1596 after Catholic Poland conquered the nation — by closing or transferring its remaining 4,119 churches and chapels to the Orthodox Church. The communists did this throughout the USSR, because the official Orthodox hierarchy at the time reported to or belonged to the KGB. The UOC’s reaction to the invasion shows those days have ended. Drawing on his history of persecution, the current leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, has said no Ukrainian “should be persecuted for belonging to some church structure.”

The Verdict

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has pressured Ukrainian Orthodox Church clergy and laity to affiliate with the OCU, raided UOC monasteries, attempted to evict monks on flimsy evidence, interfered with the internal operations of a church, legally impeded traditional Orthodox Christian observances, and openly favored one faction over another.

Mike Pence met with the benefactor of Zelensky’s religious discrimination, who told him everything’s fine. That statement drew less attention than a “gotcha” moment during the Family Leader Summit, but it should be more concerning for those who value religious liberty, or truth.

Unfortunately, this assurance is false.

AUTHOR

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. ©2023 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

Attempted Russian Coup Shakes Moscow Politics, Ukraine War

A crack unit of Russian mercenaries marched on Moscow Friday, the boldest challenge yet to the leadership of Vladimir Putin, which has already been tarnished by the nation’s failure to conquer Ukraine. The armed column turned around only hours from Moscow, after Belorussian strongman Victor Lukashenko negotiated an agreement between Putin and the mutineers’ leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. While the immediate crisis has passed, the aftershocks will likely continue.

Prigozhin leads a private military outfit called the Wagner Group, which National Review’s Noah Rothman described as “something like Blackwater private contractors, but far more cultish and ideologically nationalist.” The 25,000-strong organization controls its own tanks and other heavy weaponry and has seen heavy fighting on the frontlines in Ukraine. “They are very well trained for the atmosphere that they are in,” said Lt. General (Ret.) Jerry Boykin on Monday’s “Washington Watch.” “Putin’s regime has relied heavily on this group of mercenaries as a key allied fighting force in their unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine,” agreed Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

For years, Russia has employed the Wagner Group to do dirty work it wanted to keep at arm’s length. They have deployed to Syria and Libya, among other places, and Prigozhin also oversaw troll farms that sought to intervene in the U.S. election in 2016. The Wagner Group, which recruits hardened criminals out of prison, is also known for glorifying cruelty and brutality, such as performing executions by sledgehammer. “They are the most brutal. They are the ones that have killed more people, have slaughtered innocent people. They are not good guys,” said Boykin. “And that’s what we need to remember: there are no good guys here.”

In recent months, the Wagner Group has grown increasingly frustrated with the Russian military’s conduct in the war. Prigozhin “decided that his troops were not being taken care of. He decided that he was not getting the ammo, the material, the food, or any kind of priority,” Boykin explained. He also suspected that Military Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu were setting Wagner Group up to take the blame for the invasion’s failure. Apparently, the final straw came when Russian bombs hit Wagner Group’s positions — a move they saw as deliberate.

In response, Prigozhin declared a “March of Justice” Friday evening and urged his soldiers to travel directly to Moscow. He demanded the ouster of Gerasimov and Shoigu. “If anyone gets in our way, we will destroy everything,” the mercenary chief declared. From there the details get murky, with Western onlookers peeping at the internal Russian struggle through a veil of censorship and state-controlled media, or grainy, unconfirmed videos posted to sites like Telegram.

From what we have ascertained, it seems that, within hours, the Wagner Group had marched without resistance into Rostov-on-Don, a city of over one million inhabitants to the southeast of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, and which has served as a key logistics hub for Russia’s war effort. The insurgent column then turned north for Moscow, travelling nearly 500 miles overnight and circumventing most of the Russian army which remains tied down in Ukraine. They encountered light air resistance — Putin said Monday the Wagner Group had killed Russian pilots — but no other opposition on their march.

But then, only 125 miles from Moscow, the column of troops turned around. In a video message release Monday, Prigozhin denied attempting a coup, saying instead, “We didn’t march to overthrow Russia’s leadership and turned around to avoid spilling the blood of Russian soldiers. … Our march aimed to prevent the destruction of Wagner.” Boykin remarked, “I don’t think that it was a serious effort to bring down Putin. I think it was a serious effort to bring down those two people,” referring to Gerasimov and Shoigu.

Yet before the march was called off, Putin’s plane left the capital as the Moscow mayor declared Monday a “non-working day” and the city deployed troops and strengthened checkpoints.

Apparently, Putin and Prigozhin came to an understanding with Lukashenko acting as a middleman in the negotiations. Progozhin agreed to call off the armed march on Moscow, while Putin promised no prosecutions for the mutineers. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the infamous KGB, declared the criminal investigations closed on Tuesday. Prigozhin departed for Russian-allied Belarus, while the rank and file of the Wagner Group was given a choice between joining the regular Russian army, laying down their arms, or joining their chief in Belarus.

While individual members could choose different options, Boykin said he couldn’t see why any members of the Wagner Group would join the regular Russian army. “They don’t fight for a cause. They fight for money,” he explained. “I don’t see why any of them would do that, because they’re not going to get paid what they’re getting paid now. They’re going to be at the bottom of the totem pole. Everybody is really angry with them.” As to laying down their arms, these veteran soldiers for hire could face retribution for their war crimes from international tribunals, Boykin pointed out, and that might be made easier if they laid down their arms. However, the group was preparing to hand over their heavy weaponry, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday. On Monday, independent Russian media reported that Belarus was constructing camps for members of the Wagner Group.

That doesn’t mean the issue is settled, however. Such an anti-climactic settlement between such ruthless and ambitious figures only indicates mutual weakness. Until Putin can reassert his strength, he only makes himself a target for other unscrupulous and ambitious subordinates. Boykin said the weekend’s events would “really rock Putin. They’re going to rock him back on his heels.” He cannot afford to let “the biggest challenge to his power in decades,” as Perkins put it, go unpunished.

But Prigozhin may not accept an uneasy exile, still within Putin’s reach. “He may not even know what he’s going to do, but I don’t think he’s going to stay in Belarus,” said Boykin. “He’d better wind up buying the very best taster that he can find.”

Count on Putin to at least try to manage a quiet assassination for Prigozhin if he remains in Belarus. And if he doesn’t succeed, count on Putin to face more insurgency among his high-ranking officials.

“Most assuredly, this shows the factions” within the Kremlin, said Boykin. “This shows a couple of them. There are others too.” He suggested other mercenary outfits may step into the void left by Wagner because of the money to be made.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken suggested that Moscow’s disarray could give Ukrainians an advantage in their efforts to push Russian invaders out of their territory. “To the extent that Russia is now distracted — that Putin has to worry about what’s going on inside of Russia as much as he has to worry about what he has to do not successfully inside Ukraine, I think that creates an additional advantage for the Ukrainians,” Blinken said Sunday. Ukraine’s counteroffensive is attempting to take advantage of the confusion.

However, Russia’s internal turmoil is unlikely to entice Moscow to end the war, either under Putin’s hand or under any government that might replace him. Putin remains as committed as ever, and the potential replacements are also unscrupulous strongman-types. “The men who rise to the top of the Russian system tend to be like Putin and Prigozhin — egomaniacal, ruthless, brutal, paranoid, shameless — an odious combination of cold-blooded ambition and wicked comfort with violence,” remarked National Review’s Jim Geraghty.

Even aside from his incentives to punish Prigozhin, “Putin doesn’t seem to forgive very easily,” Perkins said. Most of his domestic political opponents over his long rule have spent years or decades in prison and penal colonies — and that was while Moscow was trying to win international legitimacy. Putin has even attempted to assassinate former Western spies living in Western countries as recently as 2018. On Saturday, he described the Wagner Group’s march on Moscow as an “armed rebellion” and “a stab in the back of our country and our people” that he would meet with “decisive actions.” So far, Putin has made no decisive move against Prigozhin.

The Wagner group mutiny has been brewing for some time. Ever since Putin’s first blitz in February 2022 failed to decapitate the Ukrainian government, Russia’s underperformance on the battlefield has generated pressure on the aged leader as his strongman image faced increasing contrary evidence. Combined with the semi-independent Wagner Group’s perception of mistreatment by top Russian brass, an eventual revolt seemed inevitable. Now, it has happened, and the uncharacteristically (by Russian standards) bloodless resolution strongly suggests there are more dominoes yet to fall.

AUTHOR

Joshua Arnold

Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.

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EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.


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