Russia was strongly condemned by the West for its recent invasion of Georgia, a deed by which it ominously revived the Cold War. The USA, Britain, France and Germany were quick to respond with sharp protests against Russia’s violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity. The problem was aggravated when Russia only partially withdrew from Georgia after a ceasefire agreement was reached, and also by their decision to maintain a permanent presence in the two break-away provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This move was justified by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev when he unilaterally recognised these two regions as independent states and asked the rest of the world to follow suit.
Russian leader Medvedev has embarked upon a completely new course in world politics when he said in a television interview with the BBC on August 26: “We’re not afraid of anything; (including) the prospect of a Cold War.” Why would he take such a radical stand if much was not at stake for Russia? What is the ultimate goal of the Russians and why are they prepared to make such great diplomatic and military sacrifices? To these questions there are a few disturbing answers. To have the right perspective on the Cold War we should again review what it is and what its consequences were.
The Cold War
A cold war is not a direct, declared war but nevertheless a severe struggle that is waged from different fronts. This term is used to describe the state of conflict, tension and competition that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies from the mid-1940s to the early 1990s.
Throughout this period, rivalry between the two superpowers was expressed through military coalitions (NATO and the Warsaw Pact), the propaganda campaign in which Western liberties (including religious freedom) were defended against atheistic communism, espionage, weapons development, competitive technological development (e.g. the space race), costly defence spending, a massive conventional and nuclear arms race, and numerous ‘third party’ wars which were empowered by the superpowers. Examples of these wars are the Korean War, the Berlin crisis, the Vietnam War, the Soviet-Afghan War, various wars between American-supported Israel and their Russian-supported Arab enemies, as well as numerous Russian-supported terrorist wars in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, in which Russia was invited to deploy missiles in Cuba aimed at American targets, nearly gave rise to a world war.
The Cold War was ended in 1990. Ronald Reagan was president in the US and exerted considerable diplomatic, military and economic pressure on the Soviet Union. The Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, introduced perestroika and glasnost reforms which caused the collapse of the rigid communist dictatorship in 1991, as well as the fall of the Communist Party. Fifteen independent states seceded from this Union, of which the Russian Federation is by far the biggest and strongest. Hereafter the US was the sole superpower.
East European countries which previously were part of the Warsaw Pact with the Soviet Union looked for economic assistance to the West to overcome their poverty, while also instituting democratic reforms to get rid of their communist dictatorships. The Berlin Wall fell and East and West Germany were reunited. The iron curtain which separated free Western Europe from Communist Eastern Europe during the cold war was dismantled and Russia’s influence drastically declined. Russia itself was forced to look at the West for financial assistance to solve its grave economic problems.
Every indication was that tension and confrontation were declining in international relations. But that would not last very long since the only two Russian leaders who were truly in favour of fundamental reforms were Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. Soon, under Vladimir Putin, Russia would institute strategies to regain its lost status as a superpower. Initially, peaceful methods were employed, but of late Russia increasingly engages in its former methods of intimidation and military force.
A new course for expansion
Putin served as Russian president for two terms, from May 2000 to May 2008. Although he was not eligible for re-election after these terms, the new president, Medvedev, immediately appointed him as prime minister. Putin enjoyed unparalleled popularity in Russia (at times more than 80% public support), mainly because his term of office concurred with a period of expanded liberties and unprecedented economic growth. He himself became very wealthy, with assets of several billion dollars. Effectively he is still the supreme authority in Russia.
In spite of extensive personal liberties, Putin never allowed full media freedom. There were several crackdowns against journalists who dared to expose his personal corruption and the corruption of his government. Some of them died in mysterious ways. Putin also acted forcefully against political opponents and rebels in Russia, as was evidenced by his handling of the revolts in Chechnya. His relationship with former Soviet republics is not good either, particularly those that approached Europe and the West and joined the European Union and NATO. This is regarded by him as a threat to Russia’s expansion of power. This orientation away from Russia also brought him in conflict with former communist countries in Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, because of the American assistance they receive to erect military defence systems against Russia.
A larger confrontation with the West is also looming. The Russian President is warning that his country may respond to a U.S. missile shield in Europe through military means. Medvedev says that the deployment of an anti-missile system close to Russian borders “will of course create additional tensions. We will have to react somehow… in a military way,” Medvedev was quoted as saying on August 26 by the RIA-Novosti News Agency. Russian officials have already warned of a military response to the U.S. plans, and the statement by the Russian leader was likely to further aggravate already tense relations with the West. The comments followed after Medvedev had recognized two Georgian regions as independent nations, prompting criticism from the U.S. and Europe.
Putin’s dream of Russia as a revived superpower inevitably compels him to look to the south for further expansion. To the east is China and to the west Europe; that leaves him with only one possible course for further expansion, namely southward, towards the Middle East. Further impetus for Russia’s expansion to the south, is close ties with Iran, Syria and other Arab countries, as well as the possibility of greater control over Middle Eastern oil fields. But Georgia is one of the countries that lies in Russia’s way, and that explains the recent military effort to subject and annex this country.
Although under great international pressure Russia withdrew from Georgia, this clearly is only a temporary move. Georgia will not be allowed to become a Western ally that will impede Russia’s free movement to the south. One of the separatist provinces, South Ossetia, has already requested Russia to establish a military base in their territory. Further important developments can therefore be expected in the area.
The war of Ezekiel 38-39
According to Ezekiel 38 and 39, Russia will ally itself with various Arab countries in the end-time for a surprise attack on Israel. It is indeed in this context that Russia’s southerly military march should be assessed. To them, there are more considerations than merely invading and controlling one country on their southern boundary. They would not be prepared to cause extensive harm to their international reputation for this objective alone. No, they have a much bigger and more evil objective in mind, i.e. to team up with radical Islamic allies such as Iran and Syria for an attack against Israel.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the world map because it regards the Zionist state as a frontier of American imperialism in the Middle East for promoting division among the Islamic states. These countries have repeatedly engaged in wars against Israel, but could not prevail on their own. They now try everything in their power to ensure Russia’s participation. For Russia there is the enticing possibility, at the cost of America and Europe, to gain control over the strategic and economic important region of the Middle East. They fully realise that the superpower that controls the Middle East will also control the future world.
Iran’s development of nuclear technology is fast progressing with extensive assistance from Russian scientists and technicians. The contract for the further development of their oil and gas fields has also been allocated to a big Russian firm. Furthermore, it is obvious that Russia shares the Muslim animosity towards Israel. This hatred comes a long way from the time of the Czars more than a century ago, while in Communist Russia it also reigned supreme.
The persecution of the Chosen People, together with Russia’s long history of the persecution of Christians, is the basic reason why the Lord says in Ezek. 38:3 and 39:2-4 that He will gather Russia and other hostile nations on the mountains of Israel to enter into judgement with them there. We are very close to the fulfilment of this prophecy. Russia has already engaged in the first trial run of its southerly march. The resuming of the Cold War will increasingly cause Russia to ignore world opinion. Putin’s long career in the KGB also affords him much experience on how to devise secret plots with equally evil allies for realising his ambition for world domination.
This is the broader picture that we should keep in mind when listening to daily newscasts on the Middle East and Russia. Do not make the mistake of viewing Putin as a moderate, peace-loving man who rejects communism. At a ceremony for the launch of a newly published book on the history of modern Russia since World War II, he shared the sentiment expressed in the book to honour Joseph Stalin as a great leader. He said that Stalin was a cruel man but a very successful leader. Putin said that Russians should take pride in their history. Referring to the cruelties of Stalin, he said that America was guilty of much greater atrocities, for instance the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The world should not underestimate Russia’s evil role in history, nor the equally evil role which, according to biblical prophecies, they will play in the end-time. They have already forged close ties with Islam, and nothing good can come from this alliance.