Who Will Defend Eastern Europe?
PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images
Every few weeks, Bärbel Salumäe leaves her husband and two daughters for a weekend. She doesn’t spend her weekend off at an Estonian day spa; she spends it in the forest outside her village, holding a rifle. Salumäe is a member of the Estonian Defense League, and is training to defend her country from a Russian invasion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014 struck fear in the hearts of many Estonians. Their country has only been independent from Russia for 25 years. Now that Putin is regaining the motherland’s lost territory, many in the Baltics fear they may be next on his hit list.
Salumäe is only 29 years old, but she had older relatives who disappeared in the Soviet gulags. In a personal way, she knows the Cold War glory days of Russia that Putin extols are far darker than he claims.
About 15,000 men and women have joined the Estonian Defense League, a volunteer militia that trains citizens in how to wage guerrilla war against an occupying force. Estonia’s tiny 6,000-person military doesn’t stand a chance against Russia’s 845,000-person juggernaut, but the league trains private citizens to use automatic rifles and prepares them to form a home guard that could hamper a successful Russian occupation.
“My husband says that if there is a war, he and the kids will take a boat to Sweden,” Salumäe told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. “They plan to leave right away, out over the Baltic Sea. He made it clear that I should follow. But I will have a war location and a duty to my country. Of course, I cannot say how it would feel if it was serious; if the children stood on the beach and cried and I had to say goodbye” (Nov. 22, 2016).
Many Estonians are concerned that the inauguration of United States President Donald Trump may make a Russian invasion of the Baltic states more likely. While campaigning last July, Trump suggested to the New York Times that he might withhold U.S. involvement in any defense of the Baltics if those nations had not met the nato requirement of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Estonia spends 2.2 percent of its gdp on defense, but Latvia and Lithuania set aside less than 1.5 percent. So many people, including Salumäe, say they are confused about America’s commitment to the defense of Eastern Europe.
The mere prospect of a thaw in relations between Washington and the Kremlin has heightened the anxiety across Eastern Europe. The Trumpet confidently forecasts that the fear currently driving Eastern Europeans to join volunteer militias will undoubtedly play a major role in bringing Eastern Europe into stronger military unification with Western Europe in fulfillment of Bible prophecies of a final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire.
Running From Russia
The 15,000 men and women in the Estonian Defense League are not the only people fearful of a Russian invasion. About 9,000 people have joined Latvia’s Home Guard, and 10,000 have joined Lithuania’s Riflemen’s Union. There is only one real purpose for these militias: to resist Russian occupation. Last December, Poland’s senate approved a volunteer defense force to begin recruiting up to 50,000 people.
In eastern Ukraine, many combatants in volunteer battalions have been absorbed into the Ukrainian military to fight against pro-Russian insurgents—who themselves are reportedly being reinforced by Russian troops. The Ukrainian volunteers are not professional soldiers; they are citizens fighting for their country. “Without us, the situation would be far more grievous,” Vitaly Feshenko, a former furniture salesman, told the New York Times. “We are lawyers, businessmen and housewives” (Nov. 22, 2014).
Over the past decade, Vladimir Putin’s military has conquered more than 35,000 square miles of territory for Russia. These conquests include the de facto annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia during Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008; the de jure annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; and the so-called soft annexation of the self-styled People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in 2015, where fighting is still ongoing.
In addition to these military conquests, Putin maintains a sizable military task force in the self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria, an autonomous region of Moldova that borders western Ukraine. He has also deployed, to the Russian side of the border in the east, 55,000 troops armed with nuclear-capable munitions and ready to overwhelm Ukraine and possibly other former Soviet states.
Right now, Russia’s military is more powerful than at any point since the end of the Cold War, in spite of the fact that its economy is suffering from falling energy prices and Western sanctions forcing the Kremlin to cut next year’s defense budget by about 30 percent. Since Putin rose to power 17 years ago, Russia has spent billions modernizing nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles, anti-aircraft systems, fighter jets and warships. Putin has transformed Russia’s always-intimidating military into a leaner, meaner fighting force capable of and now experienced in invading other nations.
Putin has stationed 330,000 troops along his country’s European border, thus provoking many European nations to remilitarize. Ukraine increased its military budget by 26 percent the year after its eastern territory erupted in war; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania increased their collective spending on new military equipment by 85 percent between 2014 and 2016. Poland has hiked military spending 22 percent since the Russian annexation of Crimea.
However, military spending and volunteer militias are not long-term guarantees for Eastern Europe against Russian aggression. To stay free of Russia’s clutches, these nations need a superpower’s protection, and they know it. According to nato and the post-Cold War order, that superpower has been the United States. But America’s new administration has indicated it may be unwilling or unable to guarantee Eastern Europe’s safety. These nations can either subject themselves to Russia, fight the Red Army with small arms, or look elsewhere for an ally.
No Trust in America
When Eastern European nations gained their freedom from the Soviets,they placed their trust in America. In the 26 years since, however, many of them have become bitterly disillusioned.
During his 2005 visit to Georgia, President George W. Bush told an audience of 150,000 people that, “As you build a free and democratic Georgia, the American people will stand with you.”
The Georgian people learned the hard way that American promises were empty rhetoric.
President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia was a strong U.S. ally, yet when Russia invaded his country in 2008, no help came from America. As one Georgian soldier told the New York Times in the aftermath of Georgia’s inevitable defeat: “We killed as many of them as we could, but where are our friends?”
To the northeast, President Petro Poroshenko maintained Ukraine’s strong alliance with the U.S. But when Russia invaded his country in 2014, America did not help. The U.S., Britain and Russia signed an agreement with Ukraine in 1994 promising to ensure that nation’s territorial integrity in exchange for the Ukrainians forfeiting their nuclear weapons. Since then, Russia has taken Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Obama administration simply ignored the promise.
The Ukrainians learned the hard way that American promises were empty rhetoric.
So although U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham traveled to Estonia last December to promise the people of the Baltics that America will never abandon them, many people see that it already has.
Seventeen leading officials from Central and Eastern European countries—including Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Sweden—penned a letter to then President-elect Donald Trump on January 9 arguing that lifting sanctions against Russia or accepting its aggression against Ukraine would be “a grave mistake.”
They received a response when, only a week later, Mr. Trump told the Times of London and Bild that the nato alliance was obsolete and indicated that he was open to lifting sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal. “They have sanctions on Russia—let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,'’ he said. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.'’
Comments like this from an American president demoralize Eastern European leaders. America’s will is broken, and Russia, Europe and the rest of the world know it!
Turning to Germany
After Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, the Czech government made an about-face and signed the Treaty of Lisbon, colloquially known as the European Union’s constitution. This turnaround was brought about largely due to the efforts of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who wrote in an editorial published by the Czech daily Mladá Fronta dnes, “It’s by far better to kiss the German chancellor than to hug the Russian bear” (Nov. 20, 2008).
In many ways, that sentiment has defined Eastern European politics for the past decade. After President Obama scrapped the previous administration’s plans for a European missile defense shield in 2009, Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski transformed from the region’s most prominent transatlanticist to its top advocate for European integration. He famously delivered a speech in November 2011 actually calling for Germany to lead Europe.
“I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is,” he announced: “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.”
Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine and is threatening the Baltics, Germany has woken up to the fact that Europe will no longer be able to rely on America to guarantee its security.
In a speech delivered in Brussels on January 12, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned European leaders of this fact. “I am convinced that Europe and the EU must learn to take more responsibility in the world in the future,” she said. “Let’s not fool ourselves: From the viewpoint of some of our traditional partners, and I’m thinking of transatlantic ties, there is no guarantee of perpetuity for close cooperation with us Europeans.”
The German leader insisted that only a united Europe could solve crises like Russian aggression in Ukraine.
For years, one of the main arguments levied against the concept of a pan-European military is that such a fighting force would fatally undermine nato by creating a competing command structure. Now that President Trump has openly proclaimed nato to be obsolete, however, the architects of such an EU army have more impetus to finish their project. In an ironic twist of geopolitics, both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are goading Europe into becoming an independent military superpower capable of standing up to both Russia and America!
Resurrected Holy Roman Empire
Europe has been comparatively peaceful over the past seven decades, but it is no stranger to military might, empire and war. Russia has its formula for greatness, but so does Europe.
Renowned educator and unofficial ambassador for world peace Herbert W. Armstrong forecast for decades that Europe would produce a military superstate that would include nations from its west and east. Even in the midst of the Cold War, when Eastern Europe was essentially part of Russia, trapped behind the Iron Curtain, Mr. Armstrong insisted that at least some of these nations would break free and join this European superstate.
This wasn’t just a good guess; it was based on Bible prophecy. Daniel 2 records a vision of a giant statue representing the powerful Gentile empires that would rule the world from the time of Daniel until the day Jesus Christ returns. The image’s head of gold represented King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire, the chest of silver symbolized the Medo-Persian Empire, and the belly of bronze represented the Greco-Macedonian Empire.
The statue’s two legs of iron represented the Roman Empire. The legs of the statue were divided, just as the Roman Empire would be divided between its western capital in Rome and its eastern capital in Constantinople.
The original Roman Empire fell in a.d. 476, yet other prophecies in Daniel 7, Revelation 13 and 17 reveal that the Roman Empire was to be resurrected 10 times. That empire has, in fact, been resurrected nine times and has already reawakened for the 10th time. And just as each foot of the Daniel 2 image has five toes, so the final resurrection of the Roman Empire is forecasted to be composed of five nations from the general area of the western Roman Empire and five nations from the general area of the eastern Roman Empire.
In the April 1980 issue of the Plain Truth magazine, Mr. Armstrong further predicted that fear of Russia and bitterness toward the United States would be among the catalysts driving European unification.
“You may be sure the West European leaders are conferring hurriedly and secretly about how and how soon they may unite and provide a united European military force so they can defend themselves!” he wrote. “And so they will no longer have to give in meekly to Russia! And who will they blame for their humiliation and their necessity now to have a united Europe, with a united government, a common currency, and a common military force as great or greater than either the ussr or the U.S.A.? They will blame the United States! And when they are strong enough to assert themselves, they will first attack Britain for standing firm with the U.S., and then they will return a lot of hydrogen bombs the U.S. has stored now in Europe!”
This process has probably taken longer than many European leaders expected, but today we see Eastern Europeans desperately pleading with Germany to step up and lead a European military force capable of defending them from the aggressive expansionism of Vladimir Putin and the complacent indifference of Donald Trump. This 10-nation military superpower will be the force that ignites World War iii!
Yet the prophecy of Daniel 2 does not conclude with the two legs of iron. It concludes with the toes, the legs and the entire, great monument of human empires being smashed to dust by a stone from heaven. This stone then grows into a mountain that fills the whole Earth (verses 34-35). The Prophet Daniel explains the meaning of this mysterious symbol with this inspiring verse: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (verse 44).
The end of the Daniel 2 prophecy is about God smashing all repressive forms of human government and establishing a kingdom that ushers in a reign of unprecedented peace and prosperity.
Sadly, Estonia, Ukraine, Europe, America, Russia, Asia and the rest of humanity are going to have to experience a lot of suffering in the time immediately ahead because we insist on rejecting God and relying instead on arms, promises, alliances and nuclear weapons. We don’t realize it, but we are proving the point we are trying to disprove: Human beings simply are not capable of justly ruling themselves! The good news—for Bärbel Salumäe and the rest of mankind—is that we are now approaching a time when we can almost count the days until Christ returns to defend Eastern Europeans and all of humanity from our own misguided and fatal attempts at governing each other and ourselves.