Russia: Triggering Europe to Unite
Just 15 years ago, Russia was a sick bear hibernating in a dark cave. Today, the nation is emerging fitter and stronger, and is once again boldly prowling the prairie of global politics. Since the election of President Vladimir Putin in 2000, Moscow has increasingly grown more powerful and belligerent. Many nations and leaders are becoming concerned—and none more so than those in Europe.
After the last Russian parliamentary elections at the end of 2003, think tank Stratfor discussed Europe’s cause for nervousness: “[T]he osce [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] is getting nervous—not so much because of Putin’s election practices as the magnitude of his victory and the way he likely will put that victory to use. Putin is, first and last, a Russian nationalist, utterly pragmatic (or ruthless) in the tools he will use to strengthen the Russian state. He has greater power now than anyone in Russia since the collapse of communism. He can reshape the regime. Consequently, the osce and Europe are nervous about where Putin is taking Russia. They have every reason to be: Putin is slowly and systematically changing Russia’s direction. When Russia changes direction, the rest of Europe should indeed be nervous” (Dec. 9, 2003; emphasis mine throughout).
Since that article was written, Putin has yanked Russia from traveling its obscure gravel path and placed the nation on the center lane of the bustling highway of geopolitics. In just a few years, Putin has secured absolute governmental control over Russia’s key industries, including oil, gas and the press; opposed Western interests at nearly every turn; strengthened relations with the East; patronized into submission former Soviet states; and, through all this, not only anchored Moscow at the center of global energy politics, but also placed himself and his country at the vanguard of the growing army of nations and groups that despise the West.
There’s an important element to this story, however, that many are missing today. The more bellicose and dangerous Russia grows, the more we must watch Europe. Europe’s reaction to Russian ambition is more important than the growing power of Russia itself.
And be assured: Europe is responding.
Tension between Europe and Russia has been mounting in recent months over multiple issues. The issue sparking the most common contention is Europe’s support of u.s. plans to construct an elaborate missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
In May, as discussions about establishing the state-of-the-art defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic intensified, Russia pointedly voiced its opposition to the plans. During a visit with Portugal’s prime minister on May 29, President Putin rebuked America and Europe, saying the missile shield would “turn Europe into a tinderbox” and “create new unnecessary risks for the entire system of international and European relations.”
The same day, in what was clearly a timed response, Russian scientists successfully tested missiles that, according to one official, could overcome any defense system. Russia’s new missiles represent a significant upgrade of the nation’s aging Soviet-era systems, and include a new intercontinental ballistic missile that, in the test, successfully nailed its target 3,400 miles away.
Less than a week later, President Putin ramped up his warning to America and Europe in an interview published in Italy’s Corriere della Sera. “If the American nuclear potential grows in European territory, we have to give ourselves new targets in Europe,” he threatened. Be assured that Russia’s aiming its weapons at European cities is certain to bring immediate reaction from Europe’s leaders.
Fissures within Russian-European relations have appeared at other times in recent months also. One incident involved a row over a Soviet-era statue in the nation of Estonia. On April 27, Estonian leaders relocated a statue known as the “Bronze Soldier” from the center of the capital city of Tallinn to a remote military cemetery. Within days, President Putin attacked Estonians for “desecrat[ing] memorials to war heroes” and caused all Russian road and rail traffic to Estonia to be blocked.
In addition, strong evidence points to Russian involvement behind a massive and organized Internet attack against Estonia. For three weeks, the nation’s computer systems were under constant assault. In what some called the first state-to-state cyber attack in history, Estonia had to shut down its government and much of its commerce for a period.
Indignant at Putin’s interference in European affairs, Europe, specifically Germany, marched to Estonia’s defense. Speaking before the European Parliament in Brussels on May 9, Germany’s European minister, Günter Gloser, warned Russia that its attack on Estonia was “an attack on the sovereignty of an eu member state” and pledged Berlin’s “full support” for Tallinn. The whole episode revealed how quickly the friction between Russia and Europe can escalate.
In his May 9 speech at the European Parliament, Gloser additionally rebuked Russia for holding fast to its 2005 ban on importing meat from Poland, demanding Moscow give a date for when the boycott would end.
Russia is also proving a pain in the side of Europe in the Balkan province of Kosovo. Speaking from Azerbaijan on May 21, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, made clear how firmly opposed his nation is to a Western-backed plan to support Kosovo’s independence from Serbia under international supervision.
As minor as any of these specific incidents may seem, each was an outburst resulting from the mounting tension between Russia and the entire continent of Europe. In administering a verbal lashing to the Estonians, for example, President Putin must have known the European Union would consider it an assault on its other 26 members also, including such heavyweights as France and Germany. That is certainly how Germany took it, accusing Putin of attacking the sovereignty of an eu member and pledge its “full support” for little Estonia.
These skirmishes must be considered against the backdrop of already heated eu-Russian relations. The issue of energy supplies remains extremely contentious between Russia and Europe. During the past two winters, Russia displayed its dominance over European energy supplies by momentarily halting the flow of natural gas and oil into different parts of Europe. Europe’s leaders fear few things more than an audacious Kremlin squeezing the Continent’s energy flow; thus, securing energy independence from Russia has now become one of their most urgent goals—a venture that is also being opposed by Russia.
Fed up with Moscow’s belligerent and patently anti-Western gestures, many of Europe’s leaders allowed their frustration to surface at an eu-Russian summit just outside the Russian city of Samara in May. Their disgruntlement, vividly captured in European newspapers, illustrates the debilitating state of eu-Russian relations.
Prior to the meeting, the European Voice warned that eu-Russian relations had reached the brink of a deep-freeze, stating that eu and Russian diplomats themselves “have acknowledged that there is little chance of beginning talks on boosting political and economic ties at the summit …” (May 16).
The International Herald Tribune explained how the latest tensions (with Estonia, Poland and Kosovo) come amid “increasing alarm in Europe that Moscow is using its vast energy resources for political ends, flouting human rights and stamping out democracy ahead of parliamentary elections in December and a presidential vote next March” (May 14). Relations between Europe and Russia are so bad that Peter Mandelson, the eu’s trade commissioner, “warned recently that the level of misunderstanding between the two was the worst since the end of the Cold War and was in danger of going ‘badly wrong’” (ibid.).
The Moscow Times, in an article aptly titled “Europe Scolds a Bristling Putin,” reported on the fruitlessness of the one-day conference in Samara. “No major deals were reached,” the article stated. “While the two sides spoke of a willingness to cooperate, they disagreed over almost everything…” (May 21).
During the long and acrimonious post-summit press conference, Putin became visibly annoyed and combative as he faced questions from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Even European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso emerged from the summit swinging, warning Putin that “the eu is based on principles of solidarity” and that the Russian president’s attack on Poland was an attack on the entire European Union.
The tone of the summit was unmistakably cold. Europe’s leaders are fed up with Russia’s bold antics and are showing themselves willing to confront Putin and his comrades.
Of all of Europe’s leaders, the Times of London identified Germany’s Merkel as one of Russia’s toughest critics. According to the Times, prior to the Samara summit Merkel took her hardest line yet in a dinner with Putin, warning him that “Russia could not pick on individual European states and expect a business-as-usual approach from the European Union” (May 18).
The quiet but distinct message emanating from Germany is clear: Russian arrogance and boldness will no longer be met with mere diplomacy.
Uniting Against a Threat
Russia’s newfound global power and influence is triggering European leaders to demand a strong leader capable of striking back. Few things unite a nation or group of nations more than a mutual external threat. Logic informs us that Russia’s spiral toward dictatorship will trigger a fear among Europeans that will accelerate the unification of the Continent.
Bible prophecy reveals that this is precisely what we can expect to occur. Russia will be a catalyst for the formation and empowerment of a united European power!
In the coming months, relations between Russia and Europe may seem to smooth over. But don’t be fooled: Russia is Europe’s greatest, most time-tested enemy—and a German-led Europe is Russia’s most persistent threat. Historians know that Russian-European relations are an enigma. Stalin and Hitler were smiling and shaking hands in 1939; by 1941 their soldiers were killing each other. Pleasant relations and peace agreements between Russia and Europe mean nothing. In fact, the friendlier they seem to grow, the likelier that war is imminent. Witness the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of the 1930s.
Behind the facade of cooperation, this historical reality will remain: The more geopolitical power and influence Russia gains, the more Europe’s leaders and citizens alike will feel the need to unify to counter the threat mounting to their east. More specifically, Russian ambition will help Europeans realize the desperate need for a strong, robust leader to lead them against such external forces posed to their east by a leader like Vladimir Putin.
Thanks to its position at the heart of energy politics, as well as the support it receives from nations embracing it as a counterweight to Western dominance, Russia is destined to grow in power in the coming months and years. As this trend unfolds, watch the reaction from Europe.