A riddle wrapped in a mystery – Peter Sammons considers what is ‘Russia’
Wrapped in a mystery
Winston Churchill quipped: “I cannot forecast for you the actions of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Russia’s view of the outside world has long appeared to be one of paranoia, where the whole world is out to ‘get’ Russia, and Russia’s response is bellicosity and fear. Not so long ago I picked up a copy of AJP Taylor’s “Europe: Grandeur and Decline” which follows in broad brush strokes Europe’s history from 1830 to the formation of the European Economic Community. Despite being pro Russian (Taylor was left-leaning politically) he was an honest enough historian to perceive the broad shenanigans between West and East, Russia’s involvement and Russia’s perma-fears, inherited by the Communists from the earlier Czar regimes.
I also recently read “The Impeccable Spy” by Owen Matthews, which illustrates paranoia in the Russian ‘intelligence’ communities. Impeccable spy? From my reading of the book much of what spy Richard Sorge got up to reads more like fictional Inspector Cluseau, rather than James Bond. But what really comes out in the book was the unwillingness of Russia’s state security services to trust each other, to trust (good) intelligence sources, and to report accurately to those ‘in power’ facts as they understood them to be. There was a genuine fear of the messenger bearing unwelcome news being shot – not proverbially, but literally! Given President Putin’s background, we wonder how ‘intelligence’ today is filtered within ‘Russia’. Just how connected is Putin to reality?
Shortcomings …. and trouble
Some months ago we noted that Russia needs an off-ramp to its invasion of Ukraine (https://christiancomment.org/2022/11/28/off-ramp-needed/ ). Wars are easy to start, but very difficult to stop. During the war thus far there has been a scarcely hidden Russia threat to use nuclear weapons to offset her now evident shortcomings in modern conventional war-waging.
Three shortcomings seem paramount: (1) the Russian people do not sufficiently buy-in to the war narrative = low national resolve (2) logistics and conventional technology is suboptimal to successfully wage the war that Putin launched (3) battlefield losses on the Russia side are disproportionately bourn by Russia’s ethnic minorities. These, in turn, resent the reality they are used as cannon-fodder. Only shortcoming # 2 seems addressable by the Russian state. # 3 may result in a refusal to fight and call into question the continued existence of ‘Russia’ as an idea.
US commentator Foreign Affairs posits this thoughtful piece on Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/ukraine/putin-and-psychology-nuclear-brinkmanship . Of course Christian Comment is not a political nor military commentator. Our primary interest in this must remain, what is this situation saying to us today about the world’s progress towards ‘tribulation’?
We three kings
In my recent book “Last Days and End Times – Making the Connection” I noted the intriguing fact that the Bible posits an end-time involvement of a King of the North, a king of the East and a king of the South – but no king of the West. ‘Traditional’ (and that means, in particular, dispensational) theological exegesis of the end-time has since the early 1960s posited these actors as respectively Russia, China and Egypt (or Africa). The biblical commentator who has done most to challenge this thought process must be Joel Richardson who seeks to identify these actors as respectively Turkey, Persia/Iran and Egypt.
Whilst not fully an advocate of Richardson, there does seem a real possibility (probability?) that the prophetic sources of the Bible are not wedded to current geopolitical Western preoccupations. As such, that the Bible’s references to these ‘kings’ would surely mean the traditional powers that were evident in Biblical times, and each of which played either a favourable, or alternatively an adverse, role in Israel’s history.
If Russia uses ‘nukes’, (and a battle centred on The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, under Russian occupation since 2022 could amount to a nuclear attack, in any case,) then it is possible that this geogrphically-contained war – up to this point – could spread rapidly. Linked to an opportunistic China attack on Taiwan it is just possible that China, ‘Russia’ and much of the West could bomb ourselves back 400 years, leaving the end-time principal middle east actors as ………………… Turkey, Persia/Iran and Egypt. And of course Israel.
Considering this as a possibility, even if a remote one, then the Middle East as a whole might become – once again – the focal region of world governance. Such an outcome might take decades, if not hundreds of years, to emerge as a geopolitical and determinative reality. In turn, that might suggest the Lord’s return to this world as King of Kings might yet be delayed to well beyond our lifetimes. Speaking personally, I am not persuaded that the current ‘signs’, persistent and alarming though they may be, indicate the Lord’s imminent return. We must take seriously, then, Russia’s threat to resort to ‘nukes’, and pray accordingly.
Incidentally, Christian Comment earlier asked the question whether the West in some sense invited the assault upon Ukraine by sending to ‘Russia’ (and the world’s other authoritarians) hugely mixed signals. Is the attack on Ukraine the West’s “woke war one”? https://christiancomment.org/2022/07/22/woke-war-1/ . Will it be followed by “woke war two”?
The Russian Idea
Meantime, what about “Russia” and what about “The Russian Idea”? After the fall of the Berlin Wall there was a hope and even expectation that ‘Russia’ would seek to join the Western ‘family of nations’ [ sic ] and would chart its future as a nation amongst nations. Ostpolitik, détente and confidence building measures (or ‘CBM’ = investment and business opportunities, political ties and reduction of military preparedness) was seen as the way to accommodate ‘Russia’ in the emerging world order.
This was a logical if perhaps slightly naïve approach and (speaking personally) I do not deride the West and especially Angela Merkel for investing in and promoting this approach. What was questionable was the determination to make Western Europe effectively dependent on Russian energy supplies (that was one aspect of CBM and represented the West’s determination to say “we trust you”, and “we depend on you” to encourage a responsible and friendly response from ‘Russia’). This policy entailed huge risks and should have been better managed.
It would be absurd in this short article to try to uncover ‘the roots of war’. Historians are still debating and understanding the ‘causes’ of the First World War (see AJP Taylor!), so truly evaluating current war ‘drivers’ is a task for historians, not modern commentators. Plainly we can say that ‘Russia’ has an ambition to recreate the past in some broad measure, and in the pursuit of this ambition the bulk of present war-guilt remains with ‘Russia’ – this is an expansionary war, first and foremost.
Alert readers will notice that many references to ‘Russia’ above are bracketed in inverted commas. Since the Russian invasion I, for one, have been compelled to reconsider – indeed to consider – ‘Russia’, as never before. What is it? Why is it? We recall that the official title of ‘Russia’ is today “The Russian Federation”, which tells us straightway that this is a federation of former independent states.
Was Russia ever a country? The old Soviet Union was probably more honest as it styled itself ‘The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ (or USSR). Note the ‘s’ on the end. This was a ‘union’ of other peoples’ countries, but the Soviets were open and honest about it. Is it a friendly union (or today, ‘federation’)? Is it a logical union? Can we call ‘Russia’ a country at all? And if not, is ‘Russia’ now past its sell-by date? These are indeed big, and frankly uncomfortable, questions.
Is America a country? Is Britain a country? Is the EU a country? Is Israel a country? Is China a country? Each question would spark fierce debate. In extremely simplistic terms here is a comment from me: America is a country – one nation ‘under God’, with a common religion, language and happily shared cultural inheritance. America may yet unravel as language, law, racial make-up and religious abandonment (and replacement) become emphatic social drivers. Yet today we can say America remains a melting pot and a country, albeit a federation of theoretically independent states.
Britain is a country for reasons similar to America, with the added reality of shared history of formerly separate nations moving progressively closer together. Factors that may lead to the unraveling of Britain are the same as America. Yet for all our shortcomings, the Anglo-American experiment holds broad public support and can claim with real justification to have brought historically more benefit than disbenefit to the World. The highest compliment that foreigners can pay to Britain and America (in one sense) is “we want to come and live with you”! Incidentally, no one seems to want to go to ‘Russia’!
China? Potentially she suffers the same question marks as Russia, insofar there are 300 Chinese languages – how cohesive is this as a mono-society? Chinese repression suggests its leadership senses/understands that there is insufficient broad love of nation to hold it together, except with the use of coercive power. The European Union has not yet been honest about its target to become ‘The United States of Europe’ on the USA model. Lack of common language and lack of shared history (except in competitive warfare) suggests to me that ‘the European idea’ will not hold strong emotional support – not the sort of support that survives pandemics, wars and mass migration.
Israel is a nation if for no other reason than ‘Palestine’ is an ‘idea’ in the same sense as ‘Russia’. Palestine as a nation has never existed. (Interestingly, the old Baathist nations of Syria and Iraq under Saddam Hussein spoke openly about merging those two nations and incorporating Israel and Jordan into a single Baathist State. They had no interest in the idea of a ‘Palestine’ ……) If people query whether ‘Palestine’ ever existed, then ask them who was the first King of ‘Palestine’, and who was the last?
Russia as an idea
Back to ‘Russia’. Google ‘The Russian Idea’ and you get these sorts of ‘hit’:
What we make of such discussion is at one level immaterial – and frankly what the ‘Russians’ make of their ideas is also immaterial (except that it periodically causes war). What is material is that so-called ‘Russians’ are today still debating what is this idea of Russia, what does it mean, what are its limits, what are its evident weaknesses and how can the idea be preserved and promoted? All this is undeniable, and the invasion of Ukraine must inevitably be viewed through the prism of ‘The Russian Idea’. So why are we looking at this in Christian Comment?
A Christian Comment
The first thing to state categorically is that the Russian Orthodox religion is a sacerdoltalist religion [ https://christian-publications-int.com/images/PDF/BibleStudent/30_SACERDOTALISM.pdf ] and must inevitably have huge question marks hanging over any claim to be Christ’s representative(s) on earth – or even in ‘Russia’. We have examined the Orthodox Church’s role in supporting the current war previously (links below). Russian Orthodoxy sees a religious imprimatur in recent sad events.
We have also looked recently at ‘religion’ and noted that true Biblical Christianity is not a religion at all – it is a relationship: https://christiancomment.org/2023/02/01/religion-or-relationship/ . On that basis we have to agree with the Russian Orthodox that they are indeed a religion – and will ultimately be judged by Jesus on that basis.
Nations come and nations go. God ultimately is behind the so-called ‘march of history’. Lines may be drawn on maps by politicians, but may not necessarily equate to ‘nations’ in the commonest understanding of that word. Yet we are right to assume that even so, God still ‘recognises’ them at some level. Thus the ‘nations’ that emerged from the fist world war (e.g. Czechoslovakia) have God’s protection and will find His blessing insofar as they seek Him.
Hosea 8:5 arguably tells us that not all Nation states are set up by God’s will and purpose, albeit a thorough insight into Hosea’s purpose in this prophecy is absolutely necessary to understand it fully. Ultimately, God is not interested in (nor fixated upon, as are we) nations and national designs: Isaiah 40:17 and 23-24 make for sober reading. Psalm 33: 10-12 reminds us of much the same: “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance”. Surely this is still true today. There is only one nation in which God has shown a permanent interest …………….. Israel!
Walking by its light
Ultimately, what is the fate of these national structures in biblical perspective? As far as nations go, we are told that they will carry on into the Millennial rule, albeit redeemed in worship of the Triune God. In Revelation 7:9–10, John the apostle sees “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (NRSV). Likewise, near the end of his eschatological vision, John sees the New Jerusalem characterized by the nations and the kings of the earth “walking by its light” and “bringing their glory into it.” The key lesson in this is that both nations and states (in one form or another) remain into the Millennial rule. However, they are redeemed, reoriented, and subordinated to the just millennial rule of the Creator God and Christ upon His throne.
These principles remain the same for our modern nation-states. God can and does bring good out of them, especially when they act and operate justly. However, human fallenness can – and does – all too often warp these structures and groups into systemic oppressors of the weak and powerless. Christians then, arguably, must always have a tentative relationship toward nation-states, whether it is our own Britain, or ‘Russia’ – whatever that concept may mean. Nations are finite entities that came into being out of historical contingency and, barring Christ’s return, will fade back into the annals of history. It is Messiah Jesus and His Kingdom alone that are everlasting. As long as we keep this at the forefront of our minds, we might just be able to engage properly with modern nation-states as they are meant in God’s Providence.
Aliyah – Russian Jews head for Israel: https://christiancomment.org/2022/12/16/aliyah-russian-jews-exit-for-israel/
One Miserable Year: https://christiancomment.org/2023/03/01/one-miserable-year/
Peter Sammons is commissioning editor at Christian Comment. He is author of “The Empty Promise of Godism” which explores the ‘churches’ clear design to meld with other ‘religions’ of the world, following “god” as they see it, but minimizing the truth of the Cross. https://christian-publications-int.com/default-47.html?ID=87 .
He also wrote “The Messiah Pattern” which explores the Hebrew feasts of Leviticus. https://christian-publications-int.com/default-23.html?ID=142
Sammons’ book “Last Days and End Times – Making the Connection” is freely available here as a PDF: https://christian-publications-int.com/images/PDF/LastDays.pdf . This speaks into some of the issues explored above.