Ukraine Crisis: Russia Displays Its Power

Ukraine Crisis: Russia Displays Its Power

Vasiliy Batanov/AFP/Getty Images

Is Russia preparing to invade?

Around 150,000 soldiers, 880 tanks, 120 helicopters, 90 warplanes and 1,200 other pieces of military equipment deployed along Russian’s western border after President Vladimir Putin ordered sudden military drills on February 26.

The drills, Russia says, have nothing to do with events in Ukraine, they’re merely designed to test the combat readiness of the military. But as it makes this display of power, Russia is repeating exactly the same motions it went through before invading Georgia in 2008, where it launched very similar military exercises right before the war began.

There are more parallels. Ahead of the Georgia War, Russia offered citizenship to the inhabitants of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It has said it will make the same offer to those living in Crimea—an autonomous republic within Ukraine.

In fact, Crimea could give Russia the perfect pretext to invade. The republic was part of Russia proper until Nikita Khrushchev gave it to the Ukraine ssr in 1954. Fifty-eight percent of the population is ethnically Russian. According to Ukrainian think tank Razumkov Centre, 63.8 percent of Crimeans would like to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia.

To take Crimea, Russia wouldn’t even have to launch an invasion. Sevastopol, the peninsula’s main port, houses the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Around 13,000 Russian soldiers are usually stationed there. Journalists on the ground already report that Russian soldiers are taking positions beyond their base.

Meanwhile, armed protesters have taken over Crimea’s parliament. “They have enough arms to defend [themselves] for one month,” former Crimean Prime Minister Serhiy Kunitsin said.

Ukraine’s response has been bold, bordering on crazy. “Any [Russian] military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory [Russia’s base] will be seen by us as military aggression,” acting Ukrainian President Olexander Turchinov told Russia.

In response to the occupation of Crimea’s parliament, he announced, “I have given orders to the military to use all methods necessary to protect the citizens, punish the criminals, and to free the buildings.”

This could get really dangerous. After all, Turchinov represents a government that came to power because armed protesters, with popular support, forcibly took control of government buildings. How are the protesters in Crimea’s parliament any different? If Ukraine’s new government starts forcibly removing Crimean protesters from government buildings, Putin could invade, using the West’s reasoning against them.

nato is trying to act tough, but America’s credibility has been weakened to the point that it is having little effect. The alliance’s defense ministers signed a statement on February 26, saying that “nato allies will continue to support Ukrainian sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, democratic development, and the principle of inviolability of frontiers, as key factors of stability and security in Central and Eastern Europe and on the Continent as a whole.”

A decade or two ago, that would have been a promise that America would go to war if Russia invades. But no one seriously expects America to do that now. After the Georgia War and then Syria’s “Red Lines,” no one believes it when America draws a line in the sand. Instead of stopping Russia in its tracks, the statement has been ignored.

But Putin does have one pretty compelling reason to stay out of Ukraine: He doesn’t need to invade. Russia controls most of Ukraine’s trade. Russia is the only nation prepared to lend Ukraine large amounts of money without demanding painful sacrifices. A large amount of the country—perhaps even a majority—support politicians who take a more pro-Russian stance.

The main objective of the Euromaidan protests wasn’t to draw closer to the West, it was to get rid of a corrupt political class. If Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions can blame all of the corruption on deposed president Viktor Yanukovych, it could still do well in elections.

Meanwhile, the pro-West camp has no clear leader. Splits have caused it real problems in the past. And some leaders, like Yulia Tymoshenko, have proven they have no problem doing business with Russia.

The 2004 Orange Revolution teaches an important lesson. Those protesters brought pro-West Viktor Yushchenko into power. The American and European journalists went home. The West considered that was the end of it, mission accomplished, Ukraine was now part of the West. But once it gained power, the pro-West camp fractured and Russia continued working behind the scenes. By 2010, Russia’s man, Viktor Yanukovych, was back in office.

Russia could choose to play it exactly the same way this time.

In a way, the future of Ukraine is simple. Russia desperately needs Ukraine. Europe doesn’t want to take responsibility for yet another nation in financial trouble. Russia holds all the cards, and has an overwhelming military force on Ukraine’s border. Europe has very few ways to influence events. All this points to a clear Russian victory.

There are two big unknowns: the protesters and Putin. How hard will the protesters push? Will they provoke a confrontation with Russia by going after Crimea? And will Putin want to make an example of Ukraine, moving in the military to ensure he doesn’t lose face in all the other countries he wants under Russian control?

The stakes are high. Regardless of whether Russia actually invades or not, Europe has to be pretty shaken. Just the fact that Putin can launch exercises involving hundreds of thousands of men in a matter of hours is impressive.

For European nations, a Russian invasion in modern Europe is all but unthinkable. The fact that it is a serious possibility, even if it doesn’t happen, will have shaken some key leaders. The break-up of Yugoslavia was bad enough. But that began only shortly after the iron curtain came down. And it was one-sided in Europe’s favor. This time, the side Europe supports could actually lose.

The people on the street weren’t solely factory workers, farmers or coal miners. There were computer programers, marketing professionals and college students. In other words, Ukraine is a modern nation, not all that different from the other European countries to its west.

That a war could happen somewhere like that, right on the borders of the EU, is a wake-up call to Europe. Even if the Russian tanks poised on Ukraine’s borders don’t roll, we will see some changes.

We saw the start of those changes even before Ukraine really exploded. Russia’s belligerence played a major role in Germany officially ending its decades of pacifism and announcing a more aggressive foreign policy. How much more will Germany and Europe change as a result of Russia’s latest threat?

For more on the transformation that the Ukraine crisis is causing in Germany and Europe, read Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s latest article, “Germany’s Urgent and Dangerous Military Decision.”

Operation Arsal: Prelude to Lebanese Civil War

Operation Arsal: Prelude to Lebanese Civil War

AFP/Getty Images

If you could be anywhere on Earth right now, it definitely would not be here.

Target: Arsal

location: Northeast Lebanon; 6 miles from the Syrian border

population: In flux (before Syrian war, 40,000; currently, 110,000)

religion: Sunni Islam

known affiliations: Supports Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime.

likelihood of attack: Imminent

potential effects: Catastrophic

Nestled in the foothills of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains on the eastern side of the Bekaa Valley, sits the lone Sunni town of Arsal. To the west lie Shiite villages loyal to Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Across the border, just 10 miles to the east, some of the fiercest fighting of the Syrian civil war rages on.

On the Syrian side of the border, Hezbollah fighters are conducting a massive military offensive in support of the Assad government. Their aim is to regain control of Syria’s main north-south highway, which connects the city of Homs to the capital, Damascus.

With air support from the Syrian Army, Hezbollah fighters are routing rebel fighters from this corridor, simultaneously pushing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees over the mountains into Lebanon. About 10,000 of them recently joined the 60,000 who are already taking refuge in and around the town of Arsal.

Civil war about to spread into Lebanon from Syria

For the past three years, the large-scale violence of Syria’s civil war has stayed on its side of the border. However, starting with the little town of Arsal, civil war looks to spill into Lebanon. Here’s why.

First, Lebanon has sustained a dramatic increase of suicide car bombers attacking Hezbollah targets. These bombings have been linked to Arsal. Many of the vehicles that have been used as car bombs originated in Syria; they were driven across the porous border, stopping in Arsal before driving on to their targets and detonating. The latest, a 1994 black Jeep Cherokee, exploded on February 22 at a military checkpoint at the entrance of the town of Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold. It was the third attack in Hermel since January 16 this year. This infographic depicts the others. It’s obvious to Hezbollah that Arsal is a conduit for attacks against it.

Second, for two years Arsal has supported the Syrian rebels. This has put the Sunni town in opposition against Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese-based Hezbollah (both Shiite).

“We are being punished, because from day one we were the first to support the revolution, and to treat the Syrian wounded, and receive refugees,” Arsal’s deputy mayor, Ahmad Fleeti, told Lebanese media outlet now.

“Arsal residents have taken a side,” said Umm Mohammad, another Arsal local. “We chose to support the opposition, and we are bearing the consequences of it. I don’t know if was wise, but I know that there is no going back, and we just have to submit our situation to God” (Al Jazeera, February 25).

Finally, the most ominous and imminent reason Syria’s violence is threatening to spill over the border is because that is exactly what Hezbollah’s military strategy is. Hezbollah fighters are trying to push Syrian rebels from town to town until they are cornered in Arsal, Lebanon.

“Our strategy focuses on encircling the rebels in each sector while leaving them with one exit road toward another specific village, until we can corner them in one area,” stated a Hezbollah brigade commander fighting in Syria. “This is now the case of Yabrud [Syria], from which most of the fighters are escaping to Fleeta, and from there to Arsal.”

Asked whether Hezbollah is willing to target a town inhabited by 40,000 Lebanese residents, the commander said, “I think that the people of Arsal are aware of the danger awaiting them, and they are fleeing to the Bekaa Valley.”

But for anyone with ties to the Syrian resistance, fleeing west is dangerous because Hezbollah has checkpoints on all roads and intersections east of Arsal.

Spark of Civil War?

Confrontation in Arsal is imminent. The big question is, who will lead the campaign against it? Depending on the answer, the results for Lebanon could be catastrophic.

The town’s deputy mayor says he doesn’t think Hezbollah will be crazy enough to enter Arsal itself. “We are not afraid of Hezbollah, because we think they’re smarter than to invade Arsal,” he said. “If Hezbollah invades Arsal, it will be a civil war for sure ….”

Hezbollah commanders say that once they corner Syrian rebels—not to mention Lebanese Sunni terrorists—in Arsal, the Lebanese Army will take over, with Hezbollah’s backing if need be. However, the army has given no indication it will make an incursion into Sunni Arsal. If the army does conduct a large-scale military campaign against one of its own towns—even if only against terrorist targets—it would jeopardize its status as a neutral party.

The Lebanese Army will be extremely cautious to enter such a loaded situation.

Realistically though, it is perfectly reasonable to assume Hezbollah will not be able to resist attacking Arsal, especially as it succeeds in pushing more Sunni fighters from Syria into the town. Unfortunately, if this happens, there will be a large-scale Shiite-on-Sunni battle, not only in Syria, but now in Lebanon.

For Lebanon, a country whose Islamic population is half Sunni and half Shiite, that means civil war! Given how spread out the Islamic factions are in Lebanon, fighting would engulf the whole country.

Based on biblical prophecy, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry announced on his February 9 Key of David program, “There’s going to be now a civil war, a bloody civil war in Lebanon for control of Lebanon.” You can find the full video here.

The dire future of the little town of Arsal only adds to the extremely tense situation millions of Lebanese are already facing throughout the country.

To understand where a civil war in Lebanon will lead—as well as the hope-filled outcome for the residents of Arsal and the Syrian refugees—be sure to read “The Bloody Cedar Revolution Approaches in Lebanon.”

EU and Brazil Plan Undersea Cable to Elude U.S. Spying

EU and Brazil Plan Undersea Cable to Elude U.S. Spying

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union and Brazil announced on February 24 that they will lay an undersea cable connecting their two continents in order to keep the United States from spying on EU-Brazilian communications.

“We have to respect privacy, human rights and the sovereignty of nations,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said of the $185 million cable project. “We don’t want businesses to be spied upon.”

Last year, after learning that the U.S. had been tapping her cell phone and e-mail, Rousseff canceled a trip to Washington. Now, she and her European counterparts are working toward solutions that shut the United States out. The planned cable would stretch some 3,500 miles—from Lisbon, Portugal, to Fortaleza, Brazil—and would allow the EU and Brazil to stop relying on America’s undersea cables for their communications.

On the same day, Rousseff and her European counterparts also expressed hope for a breakthrough in trade negotiations between the EU and Mercosur—a Latin American economic bloc of which Brazil is a member. The two sides have been working toward a mammoth free trade deal since 2000, but the talks so far have produced few results.

Their mutual anger over U.S. spying may prove to be exactly the catalyst needed to jolt the trade deal to life.

“For the first time, I think we are close to achieving that objective,” Rousseff said. “I think both sides are very much aware of the importance of this trade agreement.”

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the agreement aims to expand far beyond just Brazil. “It will allow for the completion of an economic area in the long run between Europe and South America.”

At present, the United States is still South America’s largest trade partner, but its position has been sliding to make way for stronger ties between Europe and the Latin American nations.

This shift is something one certain news source predicted decades in advance of its occurrence.

“[T]he United States is going to be left out in the cold as two gigantic trade blocs, Europe and Latin America, mesh together and begin calling the shots in world commerce,” the May 1962 Plain Truth magazine warned.

Under the editorial eye of world educator Herbert W. Armstrong, the Plain Truth reiterated that same prediction in many articles for decades. Since Mr. Armstrong relied on the Holy Bible for understanding, he knew far in advance that communism would fail to entice the Latinos and that British/American influence in Latin America would dwindle. He relied on Scripture for understanding, so Mr. Armstrong knew it would be Europe that would ultimately achieve its long-term goal of economic and religious domination of Latin America.

After Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986, the Plain Truth abruptly stopped printing articles about EU-Latin American cooperation and other Bible-based prophecies. But in the early 1990s, the Philadelphia Trumpet sprung into action to pick up where the Plain Truth left off. Since then, the Trumpet has repeatedly echoed Mr. Armstrong’s forecast in articles like this, this and this.

The February 24 news about the planned EU-Brazil cable project and the fresh enthusiasm for a Europe-Mercosur free-trade deal show that the EU today is making rapid progress toward its longtime goal. And it shows—just as Mr. Armstrong predicted—that it will be to the detriment of the United States.

To understand more, read “Europe’s Latin Assault” from our free booklet about the startling accuracy of Mr. Armstrong’s geopolitical forecasts, He Was Right.

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INFOGRAPHIC: You Can Conquer Credit Card Debt

INFOGRAPHIC: You Can Conquer Credit Card Debt

Italy Appoints Third Unelected Prime Minister

Italy Appoints Third Unelected Prime Minister

Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images

Italy’s upheavals point to a dangerous political crisis brewing in Europe.

Matteo Renzi was sworn in as Italy’s third unelected prime minister in two years on February 22 after he ousted his predecessor, Enrico Letta, and took his place at the head of Italy’s fragile coalition government.

Italy’s political system is dysfunctional even at the best of times. Renzi is the leader of Italy’s 63rd government since the current political system was formed 68 years ago. But the succession of unelected leaders, coupled with rising social unrest, shows that the euro crisis has triggered a political crisis that has not disappeared even though the euro’s troubles are now out of the headlines.

After Italy ran into debt problems, the European Union forced then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi out of office, replacing him with Mario Monti. Then in 2013, Italy held elections. After the economic crisis, voters became disillusioned with Italy’s major parties. The Five Star Movement, led by a comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo, came from nowhere to win more votes with its anti-elite and anti-establishment message than any other party.

With the Five Star Movement taking up 25 percent of the vote, none of Italy’s traditional left- or right-wing groupings had enough seats to form a coalition on their own. So they cobbled together a messy left-right coalition, appointing Enrico Letta prime minister as a compromise candidate, despite the fact that he was not running for that office.

Matteo Renzi, then the mayor of Florence, won the leadership of Letta’s Democratic Party in December. On February 14, he persuaded the party to vote against Letta and bring down his government.

But despite the change in leader and the unwieldy coalition, Italy’s parliament does not plan to hold new elections. This is partly because Italy’s old election law has been ruled unconstitutional and a new one has not been decided.

Parliament is in no hurry to pass a new law. Italy’s traditional elites are worried that in fresh elections, they would lose even more power than before. Delay gives them a good excuse to cling to power a little longer.

So Italy continues with a government that can barely function, united only by the fear of fresh elections, and becoming increasingly less representative of the country that elected it. That is a recipe for social unrest.

The Five Star Movement is part of this trend—street rallies were a big part of their campaign. So is the Pitchforks Movement, which started out as a protest in Sicily calling for the island to have more autonomy but has now become a nationwide anti-establishment movement.

The Pitchforks Movement combines farmers, truckers, unemployed, far-right and far-left groups, football hooligans and others to create a relatively small but widespread protest group. It held its last major protests in early December, disrupting road and rail networks.

The small, but substantial, violent element of this protest group could end up killing it, putting off the more moderate supporters. But the anger behind it is not going away.

Unemployment is around 13 percent. Youth unemployment hovers at a shocking 42 percent. People have very serious problems, and the government looks like part of that problem. It certainly isn’t providing any solutions.

There is nothing wrong with replacing a prime minister without holding elections. This is simply how a parliamentary democracy works. But at a time when the nation is experiencing real hardship, having a leadership that seems cut off from the people, and unaccountable to them, can cause the anger and discontent to grow. If the nation votes in a leader and he makes a mess of things, the people at least bear part of the blame for giving him the job. But Italy is now on its third unelected prime minister. Couple that with the fact that a growing number of important decisions are taken by unelected European bureaucrats, and you have plenty of reasons for Italian voters to feel angry and frustrated.

Italy is simply part of a trend across the Continent. In Greece, the traditional parties saw their support vanish almost overnight. France’s president keeps setting new records for the lowest-ever approval rating, while the National Front has become a serious competitor to France’s traditional left and right parties. Spain’s main parties are both struggling. Even in northern Europe, traditional parties are being confronted by new upstarts.

Polls for the European parliamentary elections in May forecast that it will soon be in the same situation as Italy’s parliament. Far-right, non-mainstream and Euroskeptic parties are expected to take a large chunk of the seats, forcing the left and right wings of the parliament to create some kind of centralist coalition.

It is tempting to be optimistic about all this. Few would mourn the demise of the complacent and traditional elites that got Europe into this mess in the first place. Democracy isn’t meant to create a permanent ruling class.

But the history of the 1930s gives us a powerful warning. European politics are following exactly the same path as they did back then. The sudden rise of new parties force traditional parties to form left-right coalitions. Historically, these have proved messy and ineffective, which meant that voters became even more disillusioned, turning even more to the new extreme parties.

Today, the fringe parties are not as extreme as they were in the 1930s. But there is still danger in all this anger and disillusionment. Many are becoming convinced that their democratic system works against them and must be destroyed.

Mussolini rose to power on the same wave of anger at the political elites that Grillo and others are riding today. They share some of the same slogans and use some similar rhetoric. Of course, they have some important differences: Grillo has no plans to carve out an empire in Africa or plunge Europe into war. The real danger is probably not Grillo—it is that Italy’s angry voters could rally around someone more like Mussolini.

Democracy is more fragile than we like to think. In much of Europe, it has existed for only a few decades. Italy’s third unelected prime minister in a row shows that democracy is dying in Europe.

America is trying to hand over the job of “leader of the free world” to Europe. If Europe loses democracy as it becomes more active in the world, that is a danger for the whole planet.

For more on this danger, and the parallels with 1930, read last year’s article “Déjà Vu.”