Renewed fighting in Ukraine
Russian-backed forces unleashed a massive artillery attack against Ukraine over the weekend beginning January 28. The Ukrainian military claimed that Russia was using “all the might of their arsenal along all front lines” between Donetsk and Mariupol. On January 29, Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported 2,260 violations of the ceasefire that was supposedly in place between the two forces.
Russian-backed separatists then launched a ground assault against the town of Avdiivka, near the front lines. Over 20,000 were without heat or water in the harsh Ukrainian winter, and the government began evacuating vulnerable citizens. Temperatures in Avdiivka were as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit.
The timing of the flare-up—coming so soon after Donald Trump’s inauguration in America and just days after the new president’s first official phone call with Vladimir Putin—gave the renewed violence additional significance. Russia blamed Ukraine for the violence, saying it was merely responding to Ukrainian attempts to gradually ease territory away from the pro-Russian forces. But even if that is true, the Russians still chose the timing of the attack.
“The Avdiivka attack certainly looks like the Kremlin’s first probe of the Trump administration,” wrote Times Record News. “Putin wants to know if he can continue to wage slow war while reviving his economy” (February 1).
The offensive could be a prelude to a much larger Russian advance. Europeans certainly viewed this as evidence of Putin’s intent to keep pushing forward as he has opportunity.
But what is Europe to do in the face of Russian aggression and with little support from the U.S.? On February 1, Stratfor reported: “Disheartened by the new U.S. administration’s stance on Russia, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko traveled to Germany on January 30 to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany, as the European Union’s de facto leader, is an invaluable ally for Ukraine—all the more so now that the United States may be wavering in its commitment to Kiev.”
Lithuania, too, is looking to Berlin. Germany is in the process of sending 200 vehicles and 450 troops to Lithuania with the first contingent having arrived in late January. It will lead a battle group of more than 1,000 soldiers, supplied by Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Luxembourg.
Eastern Europe’s fear is leading to a major shift within Europe. Over the last decade or so, the region has vacillated between putting its trust in Germany or in the United States. Now Mr. Trump is leaving it little choice: Germany now looks like the only option.
Germany takes back gold from U.S.
In February the Bundesbank announced that it had retrieved 583 tons of gold stored in New York City and Paris ahead of schedule. The German Central Bank said on Jan. 16, 2013, that it would relocate to Frankfurt 300 tons of its gold from New York and all of its 374 tons of gold from Paris. This decision was made after the United States Federal Reserve refused to submit to an audit of German gold held in U.S. vaults.
The 300 metric tons of gold repatriated from New York equates to 20 percent of Germany’s gold holdings in the United States. The Bundesbank currently stores 47.9 percent of its gold in Germany, 36.6 percent in the U.S., 12.8 percent in England, and 2.7 percent in France. The Germans initially estimated it would take seven years to repatriate its gold in Paris, but they announced they will complete the French repatriation by the end of 2017, three years ahead of schedule. Once further planned transfers are complete, Germany will hold half its 3,378 tons of gold in Frankfurt, with the balance in New York and London.
Why is Germany’s gold in America to start with? One reason goes back to World War
As long as the Allies controlled Germany’s gold, they had a conqueror’s insurance policy that ensured Berlin would not again disturb the peace. Without its gold, Germany’s currency, and thus its economy, could be destroyed virtually overnight.
But now, America, Britain and France appear to think that they no longer need that insurance policy.
Iran pushing for war
On February 1, the Trump administration put Iran “on notice,” following what former National Security adviser Michael Flynn described as “recent Iranian actions, including a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants.”
On January 29, Iran launched a medium-range ballistic missile from a test site outside Semnan, east of Tehran. The missile launch defied United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls on Iran to refrain from undertaking “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
The next day, three small vessels belonging to Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi Arabian frigate off the west coast of Yemen. Some evidence indicates the Houthis believed the ship was American.
Video footage of the attack showed a barrage of Houthi gunfire and one explosives-laden vessel plowing into the rear of the Saudi warship, causing a large blast and fire that killed two crewmen and injured several others. It was the third maritime attack of this kind by the Houthis since October in the volatile yet strategic Red Sea/Bab el-Mandeb region.
The United States responded with new sanctions on individuals and companies connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program and those supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran in turn announced further military exercises and issued bold warnings to the United States and Israel.
Iran’s Fars News Agency quoted a former Guard Corps official as saying, “[O]nly seven minutes is needed for the Iranian missile to hit Tel Aviv.” Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh told the Tasnim news agency, “If we see [the] smallest misstep from the enemies, our roaring missiles will fall on their heads.”
However the U.S. confronts Iran, Bible prophecy says Iran will not stop pushing—until an altogether different superpower confronts it once and for all.
Russia returns to Afghanistan
Ever since the Soviet Union’s humiliating retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, Russia has dealt with that nation with extreme caution. That is, until recently.
On February 7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia would host a conference on the future of Afghanistan later that month. Russian authorities expected to meet with representatives from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran and India—and even the Taliban. The United States was not invited, despite its enormous investment in Afghanistan politically, militarily and financially.
This follows two covert meetings between Russia, Pakistan and China last year and a third meeting on Dec. 27, 2016, which was publicized by the three powers. It appears Russia is commandeering the Afghan peace process in the same way it hijacked the Syrian crisis in 2013.
Geopolitical Futures assessed that this move provides Moscow with “the additional benefit of inserting itself in an area of interest for the U.S. in hopes that it can increase its leverage over Washington” (January 18).
On January 12, Stratfor noted that Pakistan, which supports the Taliban, “is arguably the most important foreign actor in Afghanistan,” and “the United States has been working to diplomatically isolate Pakistan.” But Russia is embracing Pakistan in the same way it embraced Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.
“The Bible warns us to expect a great power rising from the east,” our free booklet Russia and China in Prophecy says. “It calls it ‘the kings of the east’ ….” Those “kings” represent some of the very nations that are embedding themselves deeper into Afghanistan: Russia, China, Pakistan and India.
As Russia and its allies cooperate and increase their influence in Afghanistan, the greater Middle East and Eurasia, this resurgence is bound to frighten Europe, as the Trumpet’s Gerald Flurry warned in his January 2004 article “Russia Frightens Europe—and Fulfills Bible Prophecy”
Moving into the Arctic
Russia’s military presence in the Arctic has grown to levels not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Reuters reported on January 31. Some speculate that Moscow will soon possess greater capability and control in this strategic and resource-rich region than the Soviets ever had.
The report showed that in recent years, Russia has established four new Arctic brigade command units, 16 deep-water ports, a new Arctic command, and 14 operational airfields. Moscow is either reopening or constructing six military facilities, and has a fleet of 40 icebreakers, with nearly a dozen more being constructed. Icebreakers open channels for military and civilian ships to pass through, and Russia’s fleet of icebreakers is far and away the world’s most advanced. “The highways of the Arctic are icebreakers,” said United States Sen. Dan Sullivan, underlining their importance for access to this strategic region.
Russia and China are developing more advanced weaponry, improving existing arms systems, and possibly practicing for preemptive strikes on American targets.
In “Threat Report 2017,” published on February 6, Popular Mechanics says the biggest game changer out of Russia is the new Buk-M3 surface-to-air missile system. “In modern warfare, owning the sky is everything,” it writes. “And the cheapest way to own the sky is to shoot down, from the ground, anything that tries to fly in it.” The Buk-M3 grants the Russian military the capacity to accomplish that with unprecedented potency, range and sensitivity. The report says the Buk-M3 system “has the potential to change everything.”
Russia is also now field-testing new next-generation T-14 tanks, which the “Threat Report 2017” says are now indisputably “the world’s most deadly” tanks. The report also notes that Russia and China are developing new stealth warplanes. Russia’s pak-fa and China’s J-20 and J-31 are causing planners to worry for the first time in many years about the possibility of losing U.S. jets in dogfights, and about Russian and Chinese aircraft slipping past radar to bomb U.S. air bases and other vital targets. “Stealth airplanes revolutionized modern warfare for the U.S., as they’re used to eliminate air defenses so that older, easily seen aircraft can attack other targets,” Popular Mechanics says. “Now we have to deal with potential enemies having them too.”
Meanwhile, War on the Rocks said on February 6 that Chinese forces may already be “practicing preemptive missile strikes against U.S. bases.” Thomas Shugart from the Center for a New American Security said that “the greatest military threat to U.S. vital interests in Asia” may be China’s ability to carry out such strikes.
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry said in a January 2014 Key of David episode that China and Russia’s increasing military might and determination is far more threatening to global stability than most analysts realize: “[T]he goal of Vladimir Putin is to restore the Soviet Union; that’s his dream! … China is expanding into airspace over certain waters in Asia and the East China Sea, in waters claimed by Japan and South Korea. Those are our allies! And they’re really, really in a furor over what’s going on, and America is doing nothing to help them, and nobody here seems to be that concerned about it. But they should be, because China now is developing a leader very much like Vladimir Putin. … Can we look at this and believe that there has to be a great world-war clash?”
With these nations’ military power expanding in the years since, that “great world-war clash” is drawing closer.
As U.S. retreats, China seeks to lead
As America steps back from the world stage, China is stepping forward. Beijing’s latest move occurred on January 17, when President Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader to attend the Davos World Economic Forum, the venue at which European and American elites have long assembled to establish the framework for global affairs.
Mr. Xi delivered a speech in the Swiss city, proclaiming China as the new champion of globalization and free trade. Writing for the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard explained the significance of Xi’s speech: “His star appearance is packed with geostrategic symbolism. It comes just days before Donald Trump is sworn in as U.S. president, and as America turns in on itself, openly wishing to cede direction of the international system for the first time in three quarters of a century” (January 18).
Analyst David Axe said, “Trump is voluntarily surrendering ground to Beijing on economic, diplomatic and environmental fronts, opening the door to an even greater global role for China that the country’s own growing military will only reinforce” (Daily Beast, January 30).
Trading U.S. for EU?
On February 1, Mexican and European officials agreed to accelerate updating a 16-year-old free-trade pact between them. Official negotiations for modernizing the pact began in May 2016. But on February 1, barely two weeks after the inauguration of United States President Donald Trump, the two partners agreed to hasten the process.
The EU’s trade commissioner and Mexico’s economy minister said, “Together, we are witnessing the worrying rise of protectionism around the world. Side by side, as like-minded partners, we must now stand up for the idea of global, open cooperation”—a clear shot at President Trump’s policies.
Mr. Trump has criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico. His administration is considering large tariffs, discouraging companies from establishing operations overseas, and requiring Mexico to pay for a border wall.
After the latest agreement, the EU Commission said: “Now is the time to build bridges, not walls.” Construction of an economic bridge from Mexico to Europe has already begun.
Mexico’s trade is still dominated by the U.S., totaling $583.6 billion in 2015, compared to $56.4 billion with the EU. Yet since 2005, European-Mexican trade has more than doubled. Former Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt called Trump’s policy changes an “enormous opportunity.” That includes leadership in global trade.