In the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a growing number of Western voices are saying the reign of Russian President Vladimir Putin is near its end.
“[I]t should be the beginning of the end for Vladimir Putin,” the Australian wrote on July 18.
Analyst Paul Vale said the “push by the EU to inflict more punishing strictures against Russia’s elites could … pose an existential threat to the Putin regime” (Huffington Post, July 23).
Russia expert Ben Judah said the “European sanctions have spooked Russian elites. … Putin is slowly morphing from being the guarantor of the oligarchs’ billions into a threat to their wealth. They have started—for the first time—to become losers in Putinism” (Politico, July 31).
But despite these developments, the Trumpet believes Putin will probably remain in office—and even survive politically in the longer term. This is our view for three main reasons.
Long Live the Czar
First, Putin is likely to survive because, despite the increasing economic discomfort most Russians are feeling, a growing number of them adore and fully support him.
“He made our people remember we were once a great nation,” Sevastopol resident Olga Rogachova told the Trumpet in July. “He is truly the hope of the nation.”
How is Mr. Putin pulling it off?
The sanctions on Russia, and Putin’s on Western food, have sent the prices of many foods climbing at alarming rates. It has prompted price hikes and runs on grocery stores, and may well lead to shortages. Russians who lived during the Soviet Union days remember price hikes and food shortages all too well. But Putin’s propaganda machine has shifted into overdrive to convince Russians to associate the new hardships with the heroic struggles of World War ii rather than with the miscarried economy of the Soviet Union. As a result, most Russians view their setbacks as noble sacrifices made in the name of the war effort.
The latest opinion poll, published August 6 by the Levada Center, put Putin’s approval rating at a stratospheric 87 percent. It also said that a record 66 percent of Russians think the country is now going in the right direction.
The only time Putin’s popularity level soared higher was in September 2008 just after Russia crushed Georgia’s military and accomplished a de facto annexation of two Georgian regions. A full 88 percent of Russians expressed approval of him at that time.
The pattern shows that Putin’s popularity climbs when he is boldly leading Russia to expand its territory and power. This is because he taps into the national pride abundant among Russians; he harnesses the deep-seated belief of many Russians that they are misunderstood by Westerners.
But what about those who don’t approve of Putin? There is certainly some opposition. There is grumbling behind the scenes in the Russian Duma and among some oligarchs who, because of the trade war, are watching their wealth wither. A few are probably eyeing Putin the way vultures watch a wounded bear. But the president’s suppression of opposition is likely effective enough to prevent any of the grumbling to translate into regime change.
Putin has taken several steps recently to neuter his opponents. He has put opposition leaders such as Alexei Navalny under house arrest or in prison. In July, he made laws essentially making participation in opposition rallies a crime punishable by prison time and steep fines.
In mid-August, Putin quietly sacked 18 top-ranking Russian officials. Among them were the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the chief of the Federal Drug Control Service, the head of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation and several high-ranking military personnel. Were these 18 pressuring Putin or disagreeing with him to a degree he found unacceptable? Were they suspected of staging a coup? We don’t know the reason for the ousting, but the message it sends to Russians is clear: Putin is in charge, and he has no tolerance for those who forget it.
In order to keep the propaganda machine well oiled, Putin has also been clamping down on domestic media. In November 2013, he greatly extended his grip over tv and radio when the media arm of state-controlled Gazprom bought Profmedia. In December, he dissolved Russia’s primary state news agency, ria Novosti, after being angered by its coverage of the Maidan protests in Ukraine. After shutting ria Novosti down, he gave its facilities to Rossiya Segodnya, a news agency that is totally submissive to the Kremlin. Putin then went after smaller threats, passing legislation requiring all bloggers with more than 3,000 subscribers (or Twitter followers) to register with the authorities.
As a result of all these measures, Putin’s opposition has lost momentum. Meanwhile, his supporters are multiplying.
The Asian Alternative
In March, just after Russia annexed Crimea, most in the West believed the so-called international community would stand together in condemning the move. But both Beijing and New Delhi made clear that they supported Putin. “Backing Russia is in China’s interests. … We shouldn’t disappoint Russia when it finds itself in a time of need,” the Global Times, a mouthpiece for China’s Communist Party, wrote on March 5. The next day, India threw its support behind Russia, with a senior official saying, “There are legitimate Russian and other interests involved [in Ukraine].”
Both powers have consistently refused to join in on Western sanctions. Both have made strengthening ties with Moscow a top priority of their foreign policies. They both have robust economic interests in Russia, and share increasingly in Moscow’s anti-Western ideology.
Many Westerners seemed to think the downing of mh17 would change the minds of the Chinese and Indians. In its aftermath, Washington renewed its requests for both to join Western impositions of new sanctions. But China was actually more critical of the West’s response to the tragedy than to Russia’s involvement. China’s official Xinhua news agency even printed—unchallenged—Moscow’s claim that it had spotted a Ukrainian fighter jet flying near the Malaysian airliner before it was downed. In India, the initial response to the tragedy was silence. Then came indications of increasing skepticism about the evidence presented by America and Ukraine. The Indians, like the Chinese, seemed to move even further into the Russian camp in the aftermath of the mh17 tragedy.
As the European Union scrambles to find ways of reducing its dependence on Russian gas and oil, China has giddily increased its consumption, signing a $400 billion deal in May to buy Russian gas. It was the largest known business transaction in human history.
In mid-July, the leaders of the brics nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—announced the creation of a brics-supported New Development Bank, with a $100 billion currency reserve fund, and $50 billion in initial capitalization.
On August 4, more blowback from the sanctions occurred when Russian oligarchs began de-dollarizing their cash holdings and shifting instead to Hong Kong dollars. Days later, the Russian and Chinese central banks agreed on a draft currency swap deal, which lets them cut their dependence on the U.S. dollar.
Even Japan has limited its sanctions against Russia to a degree that leaves the door open between Tokyo and Moscow. “Japan is sending the message that we are not enthusiastic about these sanctions,” said Yoshiki Mine, a research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo and a former high-ranking Japanese diplomat. “Japan … wants to keep an opening with Russia.”
Leaders in the West enjoy referring to the “international community” when they discuss the force that opposes Russia, but in reality such solidarity does not exist. Western attempts to isolate Russia have failed. And as tensions between Moscow and the West intensify, we can expect Russia’s lean toward Asia to become its permanent geopolitical posture.
On High Authority
Finally, the Trumpet believes Vladimir Putin will likely survive the current calamity because of evidence in the world’s most reliable geopolitical authority: the Holy Bible.
It would be easy to scoff at that statement, but consider the Bible’s track record in forecasting major geopolitical events. Scripture foretold the rise and fall of the Chaldean Empire, the Persian Empire, the Greco-Macedonian Empire, and several iterations of the Roman Empire. Then, years after those scriptures were written, all these kingdoms rose up and then crumbled away exactly how and when the Bible had said they would.
Alexander the Great is not the only history-altering individual whose impact was prophesied by Bible writers. Among the others are Josiah, the king of Judah; Cyrus, the king of Persia; and even Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Britain. All were prophesied to come onto the scene generations before they were born.
And there is another important individual whose appearance was foretold in the Holy Bible: Vladimir Putin.
A Prophesied ‘Prince’
Around a.d. 90, the Apostle John recorded a jaw-dropping prophecy: “And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them” (Revelation 9:16). That is describing an army of 200 million men—far more people than were even alive when that prophecy was written.
The Bible provides many vital details about this largest army ever assembled on Earth. Revelation 16:12 calls it the “kings of the east,” which shows it to be a confederacy of Asian nations. Other scriptures tell which specific countries will contribute soldiers to it. And others still reveal that the confederacy will have one lead country—and one individual man at the helm.
A prophecy in Ezekiel 38 lays out some of these important details. “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, ‘Son of man, set thy face unto Gog, of the land of Magog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy concerning him” (Ezekiel 38:1-2; kjv, Young’s Literal Translation). Rosh was the ancient name of Russia, once called Rus. Many encyclopedias and commentaries (such as the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary) recognize this.
The passage goes on to discuss the conquests of the mighty army led by this “prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.” It also discusses the army’s eventual defeat. So, who is this mighty prince?
An in-depth study of the above scriptures, placed alongside other Bible passages, and viewed in the context of current events in Russia, makes the answer clear. Here is what editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote about it in the September Trumpet:
“I strongly believe Vladimir Putin is going to lead the 200 million-man army. Just look at the power he already has. Can you think of any other Russian politician who could become so powerful and have the will to lead Russia into the crisis of crises? I see nobody else on the horizon who could do that. And only a tiny few years remain for the prince of Rosh to appear! … This much is absolutely certain: The restoring of Russia’s power by Vladimir Putin—the prince of Russia—was prophesied! He has already solidly allied Russia with China. The prophecy about the prince of Russia includes that main alliance. … The only question is whether or not Putin personally finishes the entire prophecy.”
Since the Trumpet has this vital understanding of Vladimir Putin’s role in end-time prophecy, we do not agree with those who think he won’t survive the current turmoil. Part of this prophecy is already fulfilled, and it seems likely that Putin will survive to fulfill even more of it.