The 20th century was blighted by major geopolitical catastrophes: World War i, World War ii, India-Pakistan carnage, dissolution of the British Empire, the Holodomor, the Holocaust, genocides, mass murder by Communist regimes, and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that can annihilate all human life.
Which of these was the worst? Here is the answer from a 2005 address by Russian President Vladimir Putin: “The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.”
Wait a minute. The breakup of the regime notorious for oppression, dehumanization, purges and prison camps? The regime whose horrendous industrial policies killed dozens of millions of its own people? The regime that killed millions more by intentionally creating the worst man-made famine in world history? The regime whose kgb agents “disappeared” anyone suspected of disloyalty to the party?
Given all the suffering under that despotic system, many would say the creation of the Soviet Union was among the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century.
But Putin views its peaceful dissolution as the catastrophic 20th century’s greatest geopolitical catastrophe.
The former kgb lieutenant colonel has made clear what he misses is not the politics or economics of the ussr. What he misses is the power and prestige. He looks back fondly on the era when Russia and 14 other nations were forged under the Soviet hammer into one massive, nuclear-armed superpower—all under the control of the Russian leader.
In the years since he spoke those revealing words, Putin has channeled much of Russia’s might into hammering those nations back together. He is working not only to reverse that “catastrophe” but to create something even mightier than the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at its mightiest.
Georgia—First Strikes of the Hammer
At the end of 2003, the former Soviet nation of Georgia took a sharp turn away from Russia and toward the West with its Rose Revolution. And in 2006, about a year after Putin’s landmark speech, President Mikheil Saakashvili signaled his intent to make Georgia a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
For Putin, this was unthinkable.
nato was formed primarily to resist the Soviet Union. If Georgia joined and hosted nato forces, Russia’s lucrative oil assets on the Caspian Sea would be at serious risk. He issued a statement saying efforts by nato to absorb Georgia “would be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country.”
Putin struck back against Georgia’s accession to nato by boosting support for the pro-Russian Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Together these two regions constitute about 20 percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory. Thanks largely to Russian support, they were already semiautonomous and adamantly anti-nato.
In 2006, the Georgian government aimed to reassert control over the regions. Conflicts between Georgian soldiers and South Ossetian and Abkhazian separatists raged for months and exploded in August 2008, when intense fighting erupted in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s primary city.
Putin seized the opportunity.
Russian forces invaded Georgia with overwhelming force. Within five days, they had pushed Georgian soldiers out of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia then recognized the independence of both regions, effectively chiseling them off of Georgia. He then asserted de facto control over them.
Georgia, along with the United States and the European Union, protested the Russian move as blatantly illegal. But the deed was done.
In less than a week, Putin had welded about one fifth of Georgia’s total territory back into Russia. He had undone one aspect of that “catastrophe.”
Meanwhile, the important former Soviet nation of Ukraine, where millions were starved and otherwise killed by the Soviet regime in the 20th century, began the 21st century by drawing nearer to the EU. In 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was expected to sign the Association Agreement, a major leap toward economic and political integration of Ukraine with Europe. But on Nov. 21, 2013, his government surprised the world by declaring that the deal was off.
What caused this last-minute U-turn?
The world discovered that days before, Yanukovych had secretly met with Putin. Putin had pressured him into breaking with Europe in favor of aligning with Russia.
Many Ukrainians were furious at the prospect of returning to Ukraine’s former master during Soviet times. Half a million protested in the streets for weeks, demanding that Yanukovych step down. In February 2014, the protests became violent, killing 67 people. Yanukovych fled the presidential palace and eventually went into exile in Russia.
Meanwhile, unmarked troops appeared in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and worked with pro-Russia militias to seize two airports, a coast guard base and numerous civilian government buildings, including the parliament building, over which they raised the Russian flag.
These were widely suspected and later confirmed as Russian Special Forces. But Putin’s government officially denied involvement.
On March 11, 2014, as Russian operatives grew increasingly aggressive in Crimea, the region’s supreme council announced that it would hold a referendum on whether the people of the region wanted to join Russia. But the referendum was not only constitutionally illegal, it was also essentially held at the business end of a Kalashnikov.
“Would any referendum be considered legitimate if run by well-trained masked gunmen?” Kiev-based political activist Taras Revunets told the Trumpet at the time.
The referendum was a sham. But for Putin, it worked. The official results showed 97 percent of Crimeans favored joining the nation that had just invaded their country. On March 18, a treaty was signed officially incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, swaths of eastern Ukraine were also pushed into a state of protracted conflict that is still ongoing as pro-Russia forces—and actual Russian forces—battle Ukrainian government troops. International pressure, especially after an airliner was accidentally shot down, killing all 298 aboard, did nothing to dissuade Putin. The result has been de facto control over eastern Ukraine by Russia.
Once again, Putin hammered some of the most strategically vital pieces of the old Soviet machine back into Russia. He reversed another key area of the “catastrophe.”
Belarus—Heated to Forging Temperature
In Belarus, a former Soviet country of 9.5 million people wedged between Russia and Europe, Putin has used a lower level of heat—so far.
Even when Russia was mired in political and economic dysfunction in the 1990s, Belarus aligned with it. Russia persuaded Belarus to join the Commonwealth of Independent States and the “Union of Belarus and Russia,” the stated purpose of which was nothing less than unifying “the peoples of the two countries into a democratic state ruled by law.”
After Putin took over on the last day of the 20th century, he turned up the heat on Belarus. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. military grew active in post-Soviet nations. nato planned to deploy missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. Most East European nations were shifting their policies in favor of Europe. These developments imbued Belarus, a pro-Russia buffer with Europe, with extreme strategic value. Over the past 20 years, Putin has boosted integration in all areas, focusing especially on military. Russia and Belarus regularly conduct joint war games, and Russia operates permanent military facilities in Belarus. Putin has also brought Belarus into the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a major weapon of Russian power.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has delayed full integration for years. But in August 2020, he faced heated protests over an election he had rigged. Putin ensured that he stayed in power, leaving him deeply beholden to Putin.
Putin has applied heat to Belarus for years, bringing it up to forging temperature. He could now pound it in as an official part of Russia almost at will.
Armenia and Azerbaijan—Applying Heat and Pressure
Last September, a vicious war erupted between the former Soviet countries of Azerbaijan and Armenia over control of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory.
Russia has a mutual-defense agreement with Armenia, but Putin said the alliance did not cover the disputed region. His government worked with both sides, attempting to broker a peace deal. The efforts stalled until November 9, when a missile struck an open area in Azerbaijan’s capital. No one was killed by the strike, and no one took responsibility for launching it. But many viewed it as a threat by Putin to use military force if the two nations didn’t stop fighting. The message was received. Within hours, the violence that had resulted in 5,000 deaths ended.
The final terms required Armenia to cede most of the disputed territory to Azerbaijan, which the Azerbaijanis cast as a victory. But they too had to make a concession—not to Armenia but to Putin: As part of the peace terms, almost 2,000 Russian “peacekeeper” soldiers were sent into Azerbaijan, where they will remain, apparently, indefinitely.
This marked the first time Russian forces have established a foothold in the nation and constituted a considerable victory for Putin.
And he didn’t stop there. His government also announced plans to expand its Armenian base and deploy troops near the border with Azerbaijan. The Armenian government, surely having felt cheated by Russia, nevertheless said it welcomed the plans.
Richard Giragosian, an analyst based in Yerevan, Armenia, told the New York Times, “The future security of Nagorno-Karabakh now depends on Russian peacekeepers, which gives Moscow the leverage they lacked.”
Meanwhile, Putin’s shrewd diplomacy in this conflict also enabled him to reduce the influence of Turkey in the region.
Two more former Soviet nations are clamped in Putin’s tongs and up on his anvil, gradually being hammered more deeply into the Russian sphere.
Putin is also applying varying degrees of heat and applying more Russian power over the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. At this point, only the Baltic nations—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are refusing such efforts.
This trend of Russia in resurgence would be significant enough just as a geopolitical development with the potential to change the global balance of power. But there is even more at play here.
The ‘Prince’ of Russia
Just after Russia invaded Georgia, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry said the move marked the start of a “dangerous new era” in world history. In our October 2008 issue, he wrote: “This was the first military strike of a rising Asian superpower, and there will be more!”
Mr. Flurry’s forecast was proved right with Russia’s history-altering attack on Ukraine six years later, and it is continuing to prove accurate with Russia achieving success through more subtle means in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.
Mr. Flurry has called attention to Vladimir Putin and his growing power over the years, because Bible prophecy describes a multinational Asian alliance that will form in the years ahead. Around a.d. 90, the Apostle John was inspired to write: “And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them” (Revelation 9:16). This is a military force of 200 million soldiers, which is about 15 times larger than the largest force ever assembled in human history.
The Scriptures provide several key details about this colossus. Revelation 16:12 calls it “the kings of the east,” showing it to be a group of multiple, mainly Asian, nations.
In connection with this eastern power, prophecies in Ezekiel 38 and 39 discuss a “prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal” (Young’s Literal Translation). Meshech and Tubal are ancient names designating the modern Russian cities of Moscow and Tobolsk. And Rosh is a variation of an ancient name for Russia, as shown in Bible commentaries, such as the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary.
In his 2017 booklet The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia,’ Mr. Flurry explains that the “prince” discussed in these passages is none other than Vladimir Putin. Mr. Flurry writes: “The use of all three names [Russia, Moscow and Tobolsk] shows that this is an individual ruler of all the peoples of Russia, from the west to the east. The reference to the cities of Moscow and Tobolsk helps us see how vast Russian territory is in these latter days. This giant swath of land indicates the prince will probably conquer more nations of the former Soviet Union.”
In the years since that was written, Putin has hammered several former Soviet territories and nations deeper into his control. And his forge is getting hotter.
Mr. Flurry explains that Putin’s leadership of Russia, including his reforging of the Soviet Union, shows that a time of worldwide trouble is fast approaching. It will be a catastrophe far worse than any during the 20th or any other century in history. But he emphasizes that there is also great hope welded into these prophecies. He writes that the fact Putin is now leading the nation proves that the most hope-filled event in mankind’s history is close. “Mr. Putin’s warfare is going to lead directly into the Second Coming of Christ. … Vladimir Putin is a sign, literally a sign, that Jesus Christ is about to return!” he writes. “This is one of the most inspiring messages in the Bible.
“What we are seeing in Russia ultimately leads to the transition from man ruling man to God ruling man! And it is almost here! It is just a few short years away. …
“We have to realize that this is all good news because Jesus Christ is going to return to this Earth at the very end of the coming world war.”
Sidebar: Moving Fences
In the 13 years since Putin’s forces erected miles of fencing around South Ossetia and Abkhazia and made them de facto Russian territories, they have engaged in 155 instances of “borderization,” a creeping form of invasion. They move the fences.
The Heritage Foundation wrote, “In some cases, Georgians have gone to bed in free Georgia only to wake up in occupied Georgia after Russia constructed a fence around their homes.”
The victims face a loathsome choice: Either flee the properties that their families have developed for generations, or stay caged inside Russian territory, subject to surveillance, harassment and possible arrest.
“[W]e can’t even go out to our own gardens, as [the Russians] are there,” Liziko Gakheladze, a former resident of Gugutiantkari, Georgia, said in a 2019 interview with Rustavi 2. “So people are leaving.”