Why Russia is trying to tie Hunter Biden to the ISIS attack in Moscow

Using its own civilian blood as a political prop, Russia says it has discovered links between the now-defunct Ukrainian energy firm Burisma and the recent attack on a Moscow area concert hall. That March 22 attack by ISIS operatives killed nearly 150 people.

Of note: Burisma formerly paid President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, millions of dollars to sit on its board between 2014 and 2019. The younger Biden’s employment represented an obviously corrupt attempt by Burisma executives to curry political favor with then-Vice President Biden and the Obama administration. It was an attempt that Hunter Biden seems very likely to have participated in.

In a statement, a Russian judicial spokeswoman claimed that Burisma has “been used in recent years to carry out terrorist acts in Russia, as well as abroad in order to eliminate prominent political and public figures and causing economic damage.” The spokeswoman said that millions of dollars have been expended in this effort and adds that its investigators are looking into “the involvement of specific individuals from among government officials, public and commercial organizations of Western countries.”

This dramatic allegation is almost certainly devoid of supporting facts.

For a start, Burisma was liquidated last year. More importantly, the Hunter Biden-related significant U.S., Ukrainian, and Russian political attention to Burisma’s prior activities means that the firm would have made an awful cutout or deniable source for terrorist plotting on Russian soil. Instead, the Russians are very likely attempting to use the concert hall atrocity to serve Vladimir Putin’s interests in the U.S. presidential election. Tying Burisma and thus Hunter Biden to the concert hall attack, Russia hopes to delegitimize Ukraine’s defensive war and the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine. Putin wants to present U.S. support for Ukraine as a corrupted Biden scheme which, rather than serving U.S. strategic interests, risks only U.S.-Russian escalation toward potential nuclear war. At the margin, Moscow will also hope to inject further acrimony into the U.S. political discourse. Like his KGB mentors, Putin continues to view America as the “main enemy.”

The key here is that Putin wants Trump back in the Oval Office. Putin has publicly claimed that he would prefer Biden to be reelected than to see Trump’s return. But that’s a lie.

True, Trump was tougher on Russia than he is commonly credited for. Rejecting the Obama administration’s caution, he signed a law sending weapons to Ukraine prior to Russia’s invasion (although he later delayed the shipments). Trump authorized new programs to strengthen the U.S. nuclear deterrent and held Russia to account for its breach of the INF treaty. Biden has been weaker than Trump on both these counts. Trump also gave the CIA and NSA far greater latitude than the Obama administration to conduct Russia-related operations (operations the Biden administration has again restricted).

But that’s just one side of the coin. Trump’s skepticism toward NATO, his penchant for statecraft at the intersection of ego and personal interests, and his pursuit of Putin’s affection are prized by the Kremlin. While he likely misreads the extent of his opportunity here, especially on NATO, it’s clear that Putin believes he can manipulate Trump. Put simply, Putin does not respect the former American president. This was best underlined when Putin publicly gifted Trump a soccer ball in 2018. While the gift seemed pleasant, it was plainly intended to present Putin’s male dominance over Trump a la the Dauphin’s tennis balls gift in Shakespeare’s Henry V. It was calculated Russian humor at Trump’s unwitting expense. That said, if the Russians do not respect Trump, they deeply respect the opportunity he is seen to present in terms of degrading U.S. alliance structures and offering grand diplomatic bargains (notably, on the war in Ukraine) that are heavily weighted to Russian favor. Again, while the Russians likely overestimate their opportunities with Trump, they perceive them as very real.

It’s worth noting that this is only the latest Kremlin conspiracy theory offered in relation to the concert hall attack. Either to deflect from their own incompetence or to conceal their deliberate failure to act, Russian authorities have claimed that the U.S. helped facilitate that atrocity (even though the U.S. explicitly warned Russia that ISIS was plotting a concert hall attack). They’ve further insisted, without any evidence, that the plot was masterminded by Ukraine.

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This matching of deception and deniability is a Russian intelligence service trademark in both the domains of political and physical action. Nor was this the only Kremlin silliness on Tuesday. Befitting its penchant for creative fiction, such as its 2020 claim that the CIA was plotting to kill Catholic priests in Belarus, Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service is now claiming that the FBI has directed mercenaries to pay imprisoned Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers to fight in Ukraine in return for their freedom. Note the inversion of reality: it is Russia, not the U.S., which is paying its prisoners to fight in Ukraine.

Regardless, by injecting Burisma and Hunter Biden into an ISIS attack in Moscow, Putin signals his escalating effort to affect the outcome of the 2024 election. Fortunately, as in 2016, the vast majority of voters are likely to make their choices without regard to these Russian games.

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