Vladimir Putin’s War—on Russia

Evacuees cross a destroyed bridge as they flee the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 7.
Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP) (Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

Vladimir Putin’s War—on Russia

The eyes of the world are focused on the dictator’s savage war against Ukraine. But at the same time, a brutal crackdown is underway back home that has chilling echoes of Russia’s past.

Did you know that Ukrainians have been grossly overreacting? It turns out that, despite the rapidly rising body count and the rapidly growing rubble piles in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, Russia has not gone to war against the country.

That, at least, is the situation according to the Russian government.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked by a reporter last week if Russia plans to invade other countries after it’s finished in Ukraine. “We do not plan to attack other countries,” he said. “We did not attack Ukraine either.”

Outside of Russia, virtually no one is buying it. Only the most conspiratorial or deranged Westerner believes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that he is waging only a “special peacekeeping operation.” Or that his soldiers are heroically risking their lives to end Ukraine’s “genocide” of Russian speakers in the nation. Or that any civilian casualties are the result of evil Ukrainian Nazis shelling their own people. Or that Putin was forced into it all against his will due to the aggression of Ukraine and the United States-led nato alliance.

Outside Russia, those kinds of lies are rightfully rejected.

But inside Russia, it’s a very different story. That’s because Putin is tightly controlling the narrative in the nation and using it to shape the outlook of his people.

The War on ‘War’

Putin’s unconscionable invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. Just five days later, Russian educators began receiving government-issued manuals telling them precisely what to teach students across the nation about the development.

The main points are that Ukraine didn’t exist until the 20th century and never should have been separated from Russia. The U.S. staged a violent coup there in 2014 and installed an American puppet government. After parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region declared independence from this puppet regime, “Nazified” Ukrainians spent eight years trying to murder them all. At present Russia is “not at war with Ukraine,” according to the teaching manuals, but is engaged in a noble campaign to “protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide.”

These points add up to a classic darvo spin: “Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender.” But teachers across the vast Russian Federation have to methodically teach them to impressionable young minds and provide proof that they’re doing so.

Will schools soon be made to rename their copies of Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel as Special Peacekeeping Operation and Peace? It’s hard to know how far the absurdity might go.

Meanwhile, Putin’s regime has also cracked down hard on the few remaining vestiges of Russia’s free press. The radio station Echo of Moscow went radio silent on March 1. The next day, the Kremlin’s Internet censor board, Roskomnadzor, announced that any site calling the war an “invasion” or “war” would be blocked, and it killed 32 websites. Just 48 hours later, a new law banned all media outlets and individuals from calling the war a war, or otherwise discussing it in terms that contradict Putin’s narrative, punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

The law prompted the independent tv Rain to immediately pull its plug, and numerous journalists from independent and foreign media began fleeing Russia.

Because of these measures, virtually all remaining media is serving up the same spin to older Russians that the schoolteachers are dishing out to the young. “It’s very hard … to find alternative information,” Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova told the bbc on March 17. As a result, she said, most Russians are “zombified” by Putin’s propaganda.

Putin knows controlling the narrative is vital. The average Russian would likely place the violence unleashed on Ukraine in a different category from Moscow’s wars on Chechnya or Syria. In Ukraine, Russians are fighting and dying in the service of slaughtering brother and sister Slavs, bound to Russia by a thousand-year history and a common religion. Many Russians would naturally feel discomfort and shame over killing their physical and spiritual relatives. Some analysts have even forecast that this discomfort and shame would translate into pressure that could oust Putin.

But because Putin’s propaganda machine is operating in overdrive, any such pressure remains minor and manageable. Yes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is being compared to Winston Churchill in the Western world and winning the information war there. But inside Russia, the information war is very much being won by Putin.

Of course, Putin’s control of the media did not begin with this year’s escalation of his attack on Ukraine. For most of his 22 years in power, he has been gradually suppressing the press and rewriting aspects of history in order to sculpt the outlook of his people, augment his control, and attack enemies, domestic and foreign. His earlier measures may have seemed innocuous at the time, but they paved the way for the current extremes. And the result is that the majority of Russians believe and support him.

State-run pollsters show that as many as 71 percent of Russians back the dictator’s invasion. Independent agencies, who do less padding, still place the figure at 58 percent.

Political Scientist Anton Shirikov told the Washington Post that Putin’s efforts have been so successful that many such Russians are incapable of believing the truth, even when it’s coming from trusted relatives or friends. “They have this filter,” he said, so “they will just reject it.”

This all adds up to mean Putin is not at all alone in his illegal and shameful war. And it means that even as Russian casualties rise and the Russian economy is increasingly pulverized by the most intense economic sanctions ever placed on any nation in history, the majority of Russians do not blame Putin. They blame nato and stand behind Putin.

It is true that some Russians pierce the propaganda bubble, learn the shameful truth, and protest the invasion. In late February, significant numbers rallied against the war in cities from Moscow to Vladivostok. These were individuals who engaged in some independent thinking and were not duped by the Kremlin’s darvo and other justifications for its illegal war. They called the war a war, saying it was unprovoked and unjustifiable. But the demonstrators were summarily arrested. Official Russian data says 3,500 people were apprehended, but human rights groups in the country say the true number is as high as 13,000.

As the war entered its fourth week, protests dwindled and security measures tightened. A handful of bold Russian citizens adopted a new more subtle approach: standing in a public place holding up a blank sheet of paper. There were no words, but even this was too bold a statement for Putin to tolerate. So those Russians, too, were arrested and could spend the next 15 years incarcerated.

Is a Purge Beginning?

On March 16, Putin’s forces shocked the world by dropping bombs on a theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, where more than 1,000 displaced civilians—mainly women and children—where sheltering. The strike occurred despite the fact that Ukrainians had painted the Russian word “children” on both sides of the building, clearly visible from the vantage point of Russian bomber pilots. Reports in the days after the bombing said Putin’s troops forcibly deported thousands of Mariupol’s citizens to cities deep in Russia.

Many viewed this as a turning point on Russia’s part toward overt war crimes and pure terrorism. Even in Russia, there were statements of outrage from citizens who access independent news via the messenger app Telegram.

Putin was mostly unfazed. True to form, he said the bombing wasn’t carried out by his troops but by a far-right Ukrainian militia. Yet, he apparently understood that not all Russians were buying it. During a televised videoconference the same day as the theater bombing, Putin unleashed not just his usual volley of invectives against Ukraine’s “pro-Nazi regime” but also a new one against any Russians who question his leadership.

These are “scum and traitors,” and the Russian people “will simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths,” he said. “[S]uch a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country.”

His supporters heard the message loud and clear. Within hours of Putin’s tirade, multiple houses belonging to Russian activists and journalists had been vandalized. “Don’t betray your country, [expletive],” read a message painted on one journalist’s front door. Other journalists received similar messages that included the “Z” that the Russian regime has used as a symbol of support for the war.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke to Meduza on March 17, confirming reports of intimidation of activists and journalists, and reiterated Putin’s comments. “In such difficult times … a lot of people show their true colors, and so many people show themselves as traitors,” he said, “and they disappear from our lives.” Some just leave the country, while others “violate the law” and must be punished: “This is how the cleansing [that Putin spoke of] happens.”

Peskov is right about many Russians fleeing the country voluntarily. Between 1.6 and 2 million people had fled even before this year’s dramatic escalation of Putin’s war, mainly over fears that they were in danger of arrest on false pretenses. Since this year’s violence, more than a quarter of a million more have absconded, which is the largest exodus since just after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

For many who remain in Russia, the “purification” has already moved beyond petty vandalism. In 2020, the same year Putin changed Russia’s constitution to be able to stay in power for at least 12 more years, he also had his main political opponent, Alexei Navalny, poisoned and later imprisoned on trumped-up charges. In December 2021, one of Putin’s show trials extended the prison sentence of Yuri Dmitriev by 15 years because the historian had documented some of the Soviet Union’s atrocities. In the first weeks of this year’s war, Putin had several high-ranking Russian officials detained, including Roman Gavrilov, deputy chief of the Russian National Guard, and Sergei Beseda, head of the foreign intelligence branch of the Federal Security Service (fsb), the successor of the notorious kgb. At least eight generals have also been fired and, in some cases, arrested.

When you put this all together—Putin’s rewriting of history to tighten his control of Russia, his crackdowns on media and speech, and his moves toward “purifying” Russia of “traitors”—a disturbing picture becomes clear. Vladimir Putin is marching down the same path as one of history’s most brutal and psychotic tyrants: his predecessor in the Kremlin, Joseph Stalin.

‘Man of Steel’

Russia’s most famous and ruthless dictator was born Joseph Dzhugashvili in 1878, but as a young man gave himself the more fear-inspiring name Stalin, meaning “man of steel.” In his early years, Stalin read the works of Karl Marx, longed for a Russia that was free of Czarist control, and joined the revolutionary Bolshevik party to work toward that goal. His first contributions to the party were raising funds by kidnapping children from wealthy families and murderous robberies.

In November 1917, the Bolsheviks violently seized control of the nation with Vladimir Lenin as their leader and Stalin as one of his main enforcers. Within months, they had shut down hostile newspapers, established a ruthless internal security service (the precursor to the kgb), and began slaughtering “enemies of the state,” which included clergy, former nobility and the bourgeoisie.

After Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin outmaneuvered his Bolshevik rivals to become head of the party and soon the nation. Once at the helm, he collectivized farming, greatly expanded the powers of the secret police, and established a system that encouraged Soviet citizens to spy on each another. He instituted the Great Purge, a series of campaigns to “cleanse” Soviet society of anyone seen as a threat, either by immediate execution or being worked to death in a gulag camp. Stalin murdered as many as 20 million people. Some 18 million entered his gulags; many never left.

Chilling Echoes

Putin was born into Stalin’s perverse Soviet system in 1952, just five months before the dictator’s death. In 1975, he joined the kgb where he spent 15 years as a Kremlin enforcer. “Mr. Putin was shaped and molded by the infamous kgb—Russia’s ruthless, murderous secret service arm of the government made famous by Joseph Stalin,” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in 2004.

When Mr. Flurry wrote those words, Putin had been leading Russia for only four years. At that time, few analysts viewed him as a threat to the global peace or a dictator in the making. But Mr. Flurry connected the dots between Stalin, the kgb and Putin, and said the “whole world should be alarmed.”

In 2008, Mr. Flurry compared Putin to Stalin once again, stating that he believed the Russian president had signed a secret agreement with German leaders, similar to the one Stalin signed with Adolph Hitler in 1939 that helped set the stage for World War ii.

In his 2017 booklet ‘The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia,’ Mr. Flurry’s comparisons were even more pointed: “Putin has a long pattern of diabolical evil on the level of Joseph Stalin. An abundance of fruits prove that. … No leader in Russia has equaled Putin’s diabolical evil since Joseph Stalin.”

In the years since that was written, and particularly since this year’s full-scale war on Ukraine began, those “fruits” have become even more abundant. Putin was shaped by the grotesque and ruthless system that Stalin built. And despite issuing some criticism of Stalin over the years, he believes that Stalin deserves a spot in the pantheon of leaders who strengthened Russia, alongside czars Peter i, Nicholas i and Alexander iii. This is clear by how the modern Russian media, which Putin controls, has been systematically rehabilitating Stalin’s image.

To see Putin’s leadership becoming increasingly Stalinesque is sobering and ominous. If he continues down this path, the brazen lies, show trials, media control and crushing of protests may be just the start. Putin has already transformed Russia from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, and full Stalinization—gulags and all—may not be far off.

The history of Stalin’s bloody reign, which Putin is increasingly repeating, indicates a dark future for Russia and the world. And when that history is placed alongside Bible prophecy, the indication becomes certain.

A ‘Beast’ Over an Army of 200 Million

The Bible warns that a great power will rise from the East in the modern era. Scripture calls this power “the kings of the east” (Revelation 16:12). In Revelation 9:16, the Apostle John wrote that this force will have an army of 200 million men.

The Bible provides many vital details about this largest army ever assembled. Daniel 11:44, 12:1 and Matthew 24:21-22 make clear that this force will be one of the main players in a nuclear World War iii. Ezekiel 38 tells which specific countries will contribute soldiers to this mega-army, and shows that it will be led by one nation—and one man.

Verse 2 states: “Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him.”

Bible scholars generally agree that “Gog” refers to Russia and “the land of Magog” includes the vast area where modern-day China is located. Meshech is a group of people whose name appears throughout history in several variations: Musku, Muski, Mushki. These are related to the modern Russian spelling of Moscow: MocĸBa.

Tubal refers to another region of Russia. To the east of Russia’s Ural Mountains lies the city of Tobolsk, a name derived from the ancient name Tubal. Tobolsk formerly functioned essentially as the capital of Russia’s central and eastern Asian region.

Yet another name for all of Russia lies somewhat hidden in this passage. There is disagreement over how the Hebrew word rosh in this verse should be translated into English. The King James Version quoted above renders it as the adjective “chief.” But the correct translation renders it not as an adjective but a proper noun: Rosh.

Properly translated, the verse reads: “the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal” (New King James Version, Young’s Literal Translation).

Rosh was an ancient name for the people who became known as Rus—Russia. So the identity of this “prince” of Russia, Moscow and Tobolsk begins to take clear shape: The list of all three names confirms that this is one individual ruling over all the various peoples across Russia—from west to east.

The mention of Magog shows that this man’s leadership extends beyond the borders of Russia and into China. Verses 5-6 mention ancient names for the peoples of such nations as India, Japan and the Koreas, saying these will also lend their military might to this bloc, led by Russia. Russia is already building a powerful alliance with China and India and laying the groundwork for close relationships with many of these other nations. (To learn more, order your free copy of our booklet Russia and China in Prophecy.)

When these Bible passages are examined alongside current events in Russia, the identity of this “prince of Russia” becomes clear. In the September 2014 Trumpet issue, Mr. Flurry wrote: “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.”

By the time he wrote his 2017 booklet The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia,’ Mr. Flurry was even more sure that Putin would personally fulfill this role. He wrote: “This world has a lot of authoritarian rulers. But Vladimir Putin is one we need to keep a particularly close eye on. His track record, his nationality and his ideology show that he is fulfilling a linchpin Bible prophecy. The time frame of his rule also shows that nobody else could be fulfilling the Ezekiel 38 and 39 prophecy.”

On March 8, Zelenskyy pleaded for the world to help Ukraine stop Russia’s slaughter of their men, women and children, and he called Putin a “beast.” This is not a term that is often applied to heads of state. But the Bible, in the books of Daniel and Revelation, actually uses that same word to describe the type of leaders who have ruled throughout much of history—and who are growing more powerful in the modern era.

“There is a reason God uses this terminology,” Mr. Flurry wrote in our July 2014 issue. “When such men attain power, they become cunning, ferocious beasts. Throughout history they have routinely thought like wild animals, wanting to conquer, pillage, burn and destroy. … God calls these leaders beasts for a reason [and] we haven’t even seen the worst of these beasts!”

A bleak future is on the horizon for Russia, Ukraine and beyond. But Mr. Flurry says that the fact that this beastly “prince of Russia” is on the scene proves that the most hope-filled event in mankind’s history is now close. “Vladimir Putin is a sign, literally a sign, that Jesus Christ is about to return!” he writes in his booklet. “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!”

To see Putin leading Russia in an increasingly Stalinist direction is sobering beyond words, and it is a sign that global tumult is near. But this development is intimately tied to the best imaginable news: Jesus Christ will soon return to Earth and usher in an age of peace for the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and all the world!