RUSSIA: The Bear is Back?

Russia … it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma …’ Sir Winston CHURCHILL (1 October 1939).

Russia takes Crimea; Russia destabilises Ukraine; Russia now is attacking in Syria; a Russian plane crashes in Sinai.

Is this the start of a new assertive Russia? Is a new cold war brewing? In any case, is the Russian bear back?

One thing is for sure: Russia is too big and too important to ignore. Ever since the Russian Federation gained its independence from the defunct Soviet Union in 1991, nothing has been straightforward in its pathway to the 21st Century: ducking and weaving between capitalism and state control, democratic freedoms and familiar autocracy. Under President Vladimir Putin, the long-cherished Russian goal of strength and stability has found a hero. He has been on the scene since 2000 and could still remain in power until 2024.

From a western point-of-view, Russia can be hard to understand and also menacing. Allegedly 19th century cannons located on the NSW coast were meant to keep back the Russians. Even relations since the end of the Cold War have been tense.

What are we to understand about Russia today? Can she even be understood at all?

Why Is Russia Being So Assertive?

Russia is strongly nationalistic and this will continue. Having had an empire or two, with more territory than any other country on earth, and some impressive achievements in outer space and military hardware, Russia wants a seat at the big power table again that the Soviet Union enjoyed.

Russia also has a strong sense of insecurity,too. With no natural barriers, the Tartar invasions set the country back from the rest of Europe by 200 years. Part of the reason for Russian expansion all the way to the Pacific was to give it more secure space. Well endowed with a plethora of natural resources, Russia could once again ascend the global ladder.

But something else that is often overlooked: for 1,000 years Russia has been an Orthodox Christian country with a strong sense of manifest destiny. Ever heard the phrase, ‘Mother Russia will save the world’? This did not come from the communist party but from the Orthodox Church.

President Putin is often viewed as a master strategist. Yet he can be an impulsive opportunist and, when you consider what happened.

First, the West was eagerly courting Ukraine into its orbit, including membership in NATO and the European Union Have we forgotten that Ukraine is in Russia’s sphere of influence? All major powers have them and Russia is no exception. Treading on a world powers sphere of influence can invite confrontation, even a dangerous one. Remember how the Americans reacted when the Soviet Union put nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba, only 145 kilometres from the American Coast? There was a 13 day standoff called the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, which brought us to the brink of Armaggedon.

While the West treads cautiously around China’s sphere’s of influence, the same courtesy was not extended to Russia. So Ukraine’s drift towards the West was seen as a direct threat to Russian interests and treated as such. Hence, the move into Ukraine and the quick seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014. The destabilisation of Ukraine which followed was both a warning to that nation and the world to not mess with Russia’s security.

The West responded with condemnation and sanctions. These are starting to bite.

So why is Russia in Syria?

To fight terrorism, of course. Russia has been speaking this way for years. The Syrian civil war is becoming more blood-filled and dangerous: people are dying, refugees are fleeing en mass, jihadist are flooding into the country and threatening the region and the world.

Russia’s desire is to work with the United States and the West to defeat the islamic State. But the Obama Administration refuses to cooperate with Russia as long as Bashar al Assad is in power, because he has much of his own people’s blood on his hands (have you seen the rebel and terrorist hands lately?). Perhaps also America does not want to be upstaged by Russia and this also could be the tacit refusal to cooperate.

Russia’s view is that if the US works with her, then it will be easier to defeat the Islamic State. In addition, the crippling western sanctions will become very awkward - how can you keep sanctions on a much-needed military partner. Another Russian goal, though not stated overtly, is to eliminate the Syria rebel groups so that there is only Assad and the Islamic State left. If this happens, then the West will be forced to choose Assad as the ‘lesser of two evils.’

Putin has been on record as saying that he will defend persecuted Christians. Could this also be part of Mother Russia ‘saving the world’ from terrorism and barbarism?

Winding down in Ukraine and wanting to appear strong, Syria gives Russia that very chance to flex its muscles. With the crash of the Russian airliner in Sinai, if the Islamic State was involved, expect Russia to respond forcefully.

Lest we forget, Russia has a growing church and it has been prophesied by missionary to China Hudson Taylor that it would have a robust form of Christianity that would literally spread to many nations. Once this move of God goes from Russia to Europe, then Christ will return. That’s why for now and in the foreseeable future, we need to keep aa eye out for Russia.



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