Is Russia Finished?
“Russia Is Finished,” the cover of the May edition of the Atlantic Monthly blared. The related story claimed that Russia was caught in “the unstoppable descent into social catastrophe and strategic irrelevance.”
Is this true? Is the mighty, lumbering Russian bear finished? Does this great country, with its vast expanse of resource-rich land stretching from the Eastern European plain of its western flank to the icy wastelands of Siberia in the east, have any future in the global political economy? Does Russia pose any ongoing strategic threat to the West? Will Russia rebound to once more have a strident and significant say in world affairs?
What Is Russia?
To Winston Churchill, trying to forecast Russian actions at the outbreak of World War ii was akin to understanding “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” His reasons for such an assessment were rooted in the fact that, throughout its history, Russia has suffered from an identity crisis.
The world at large has often wondered just what Russia is. Standing at the junction between the Orient and the Occident, Russia seems to suffer from continual bouts of political schizophrenia. Should the nation ally with its eastern neighbors or with continental Europe? Which culture should it embrace as a foundation for its systems of government, politics, economy and internal administration?
For over 200 years, Russians have grappled with these questions. Orlando Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck College, concludes that “if we find Russia difficult to grasp, it is because the Russians themselves have never been quite sure about who or where they are” (Prospect, January 2001).
Professor Figes postulates that due to both “the tsars and then the Bolsheviks [denying] Russia the legal culture or civil society of a liberal European state…the Russian nation remained a thing of the imagination—of music, folklore, poems…. The nation lived in the idea of Russia rather than in the reality” (ibid.).
Two prime reasons exist for this Russian failure to define itself in the minds of its peoples. One is geography, the second is the utopian view of the Russian state.
The sheer vastness of Russia, the world’s largest country, means that Russians find it difficult to have a sense of place. Thus, the country’s writers and artists strove to create an idealistic impression of Russia which was often at odds with what composer Modest Musorgsky termed “the all-Russian bog,” what poet Osip Mandelstam called “the watermelon emptiness of Russia.”
This dichotomy between the imaginary Russia and reality is further deepened by Russia’s own defining myths of origin and revolution. Russian writers and painters generally projected a myth which declared that the nation evolved as a Christian civilization of the East. Exploiting the epic of the early historic struggle of Christian settlers against the tartar horseman thundering down from the Asiatic steppe, princes killed in battle became saints. The battles against the nomadic Asian horsemen took on the flavor of a holy crusade. From 1500 to 1917 the Russian empire grew at an average rate of 40,000 square miles a year. Many came to imagine Russia’s mission as leading an Eastern Christian empire, subjugating the pagan Asians, to then renew and save the corrupt Western Christian nations.
This same sense of mission, to impose a higher state of man on the West, found its way into the communist ideology of those who embraced the revolution against czarist Russia led by Lenin and his henchmen in February 1917.
Russia and the West
The relationship between Russia and the West that has been Russia’s continuing source of insecurity took on an even greater significance following World War i. Western intellectual minds became fertile ground for Soviet ideology. The Soviet Union mounted an aggressive campaign to penetrate Western academia with its godless message of communism. The spirit of revolution that pervaded the campuses of Western universities in the 1960s and ’70s is witness to the fact that those of the intelligentsia in the West were increasingly seduced by the communist dream, and many of their students swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
“Western intellectuals have tended to look east for spiritual renewal. Here, we might suppose, was the source of much illusion and naivety in Western attitudes toward the Soviet regime: the illusion that, for all its faults, life in Soviet Russia was at least more ‘spiritual’ than in the capitalist West” (ibid.).
Much of this Western flirtation with the Russian communist dream came to a grinding halt as the Russian economy unraveled in the last decade, exposing the cataclysmic failure at the heart of the grand Marxist-Leninist experiment. Reality dawned.
A Vision of Russia’s Future
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the words of that ambassador for peace, Herbert W. Armstrong, once again rang so true.
On June 26, 1970, Mr. Armstrong attended the commemorative meeting in San Francisco of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations charter. Mr. Armstrong was also an accredited press representative during the original 1945 conference in that city. A quarter of a century following the establishment of the UN, this was his observation on Russia in the Arctic intensity of cold war: “The world seems blissfully ignorant of the colossal crimes Russia is committing against these smaller nations she is occupying and annexing. But I have talked, here, with officials and representatives from these nations and learned, firsthand, with shocked indignation, the true and cruel facts” (Plain Truth, Aug./Sept. 1970).
Yet, Herbert Armstrong was a visionary. Throughout the cold war, right up to his death in January 1986, he continued to declare that the U.S., Britain and the Western democracies need not fear war with, nor invasion by, Russia. He knew Bible prophecy! And he knew the terrible instability of the foundation upon which Russia had built its communist political economy. Harkening back to that original conference, Mr. Armstrong recalled, “I attended a special Molotov press conference. He was the same. Belligerent, unsmiling, accusing the United States, praising the USSR.
“What an opportunity for the United States to have championed the rights of those smaller, downtrodden, ill-treated countries between East and West Europe—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Yugoslavia. The United States was by far the strongest military power in all world history then. We had the atom bomb. Russia had no nuclear weapons. If the United States had stood up to Russia in strength, and given its demands, the Kremlin would not have risked war. But we had lost the pride of our power. We weakly submitted to Russia’s demands and threats” (ibid.).
Mr. Armstrong did not live to see that “evil empire,” as Ronald Reagan termed the USSR, collapse. But he did predict the results of Russian hegemony. “I do not see peace being germinated here, but the seeds of the next war!
“Success of the United Nations’ effort for world peace requires complete harmony between the Big Three. But if America and Britain are to achieve harmony with Russia, it is already apparent it will have to be at the cost of justice in the smaller Baltic and Balkan nations, and Poland. And if the rights of these helpless millions are to be trampled upon with impunity as the price of peace with Russia, then we still have no peace!
“There can be no real peace until we have justice for all. To achieve that, Uncle Sam must stand up as the stern and determined champion of the rights of these helpless smaller peoples” (ibid.).
Uncle Sam did not stand up for those nations—not until President Reagan took up the challenge. This president had the fortitude to throw his weight behind the effort of the Vatican, underpinned by German and U.S. intelligence operatives, to support the Vatican-funded solidarity movement in Poland as the thin edge of the wedge to split the façade of Soviet communism asunder. Then the whole wickedly corrupt Soviet edifice came tumbling down, and the Baltic and Balkan nations reverted to their pre-Soviet configurations.
But did peace result? No! “The seeds of the next war” had germinated, and another behemoth, in the guise of a great trading bloc, came trundling across the borders of Poland from MittelEuropa to spread the net of the European Union across the Balkans, and reach out into the Baltic. These small nations, like the pawns in the great chess game of European politics that they have been for centuries, just escaped one evil empire’s net to be caught up in another—that of the rising beast power of a federated, catholicized Europe.
From Kruschev to Putin
“We will bury you!” declared Nikita Kruschev during the heady days of cold war intensity. This uncouth little man once took off his shoe and banged the podium at the United Nations in hammer-like fashion to drive the point home. Kruschev reflected all of the swaggering arrogance of the Soviet Union at its peak. “In its Soviet incarnation Russia had nuclear weapons and a powerful military, a threatening and subversive ideology, a tendency to invade its neighbors or meddle in their affairs, and the might to wreak havoc on other continents” (Atlantic Monthly, op. cit.).
In the long haul from the belligerence which marked the reigns of Kruschev and his successor, Brezhnev, to the glasnost and perestroika of Mikhail Gorbachev, something happened to the great command economy of Soviet Russia. It faltered; it cracked; it failed with a thunderous economic and political earthquake that rippled on from the Polish plain to the Ukraine, from the Baltic to the Balkans.
With the collapse of the Soviets’ hold over Poland, and successive Central and Eastern European countries, the bipolar world of the cold war was suddenly dominated by a singular powerful presence: The United States of America now strode the world as a military and economic giant. Armageddon appeared to be thrust way off into the future.
In the early 1990s we were all informed that Russia would embrace Western democracy and Western business practices. Scenes of President Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in bear hugs and collapsing in fits of laughter at each other’s jokes promised a new nirvana of peace and prosperity from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Okohtsk—and U.S. businessmen would be there for the killing.
Well, it did not quite turn out that way. It took less than ten years for Russia to revert to type. Yeltsin was granted czar-like powers under a new constitution which he proposed as his hold on the country weakened, following a mass uprising in October 1993. From then on it was a downward slide for Russia all the way back to a totalitarian state.
Yet Yeltsin’s rule was a cakewalk compared to that of his successor, Vladimir Putin. Declaring in his inaugural address that Russians were “not ready to abandon traditional dependence on the state and become self-reliant individuals,” Putin set about restoring the old state apparatus. He started by strengthening the power of his own office of president; he then moved to quash media criticism, and redrew Russia’s administrative boundaries akin to those of imperial Russia, placing former kgb or military officers in charge of most. But perhaps the most glaring use of naked presidential power was his prosecution of the war in Chechnya.
The Russia of the 1990s fought on two fronts—Chechnya at its southern, Islamic flank and the domestic front at home. Both the Chechen war and the war on its economy by the oligarchs and Mafiozi have taken a terrible toll.
Chechnya has revealed the decay of Russia’s military. It is crucial to Russia that its southern flank of the Caucasus region be secured, as this is Russia’s buffer zone against any efforts by Turkey or the West to erode its hegemony in that region. This is the gateway to Caspian oil reserves, a significant tool in Russia’s weakened economic and foreign-policy basket.
“But the blood, gore and corruption in Chechnya are a reminder that no matter what the numbers are, a band of rebels has managed to tie down the army of what was once the world’s second superpower” (ibid.).
To be sure, Russia still holds a significant arsenal of nuclear weaponry. Granted, the funds to maintain, deploy and effectively use this deterrent in Russia’s foreign-policy strategies are sadly wanting. Yet when push comes to shove, as it has in the Caucasus wars, Russia has shown that it is prepared to brutalize opposition into submission.
As the Atlantic Monthly observes, “Russia is likely to maintain a nuclear arsenal sufficiently strong to keep nato [the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization] from ever launching a ‘humanitarian’ war on its soil. And the ruin that Russian forces have wrought on Chechnya has shown what Moscow is willing to do to keep Russia intact” (ibid.).
On the domestic front, only two havens of hope stand out: Moscow and St. Petersburg. Whereas Moscow, in its architecture, culture and society, is a showplace of Russia’s longing to express its nationality, St. Petersburg shows off Russia’s European leanings. Western businesses continue to operate in these havens where continuing foreign investment guarantees well-maintained city infrastructures. However, elsewhere the picture is bleak.
In the mid-1990s about $10 billion per year in foreign aid poured into Russia; at least double that amount flowed out. A select band of oligarchs seized control of key industries and, supported by Mafiozi enforcement and protection gangs, seized the Russian economy and held it to ransom. It is estimated that today, 80 percent of Russian businesses pay dan—tribute or protection money—to the Mafiozi. Refusal to pay ends in torture and violent death.
Today Russia’s gross national product is equivalent to just 4 percent of U.S. gross national product. Its population is shrinking markedly, by almost one million per year. Predictions are deeply worrying. One third of Russia’s population (146 million today) could be lost to the horrors of alcoholism, violent deaths and disease. Tuberculosis and hiv have spread exponentially over the past three years. Comparisons are being made between Russia and Mobutu’s Zaire. Both are huge lands with comparatively sparse populations. Both are replete with great natural resources exploited by an authoritarian elite as their peoples slide into a vortex of poverty, disease and despair.
Russian Weakness—German Opportunity
Under President Putin, Russia has looked West to solidify its contacts with Europe, in particular with its old enemy/ally Germany. This ex-kgb officer, who spent years as a Russian spy in East Germany, speaks fluent German and slips readily into the Berlin political scene. His affinity with things German is right up German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s alley.
In a series of tit-for-tat deals, Germany has invested heavily in ailing Russia, picking off crucial and strategic industries, particularly in power generation and distribution, oil and gas, the high-tech minerals sector and aerospace. In simple terms, Germany needs access to Russia’s huge pool of natural resources, and Russia desperately needs the deutschmarks to maintain ongoing exploitation of those resources. In the new space race, with the U.S. space industry on the back foot through reduced funding, the German-led EU has been quick to buy into Russian aeronautical and space know-how as a platform to push the EU aerospace program to the fore.
Following a Russia-EU summit held on May 17, President Putin affirmed that both countries had discussed the strengthening of a long-term strategic partnership. European Commission President Romano Prodi commented that both Russia and Europe would profit significantly from the use of the euro (the EU monetary unit) in their economic transactions.
Strategically, this increasing economic alliance between Russia and the EU is a thorn in the flesh to the U.S. Both Russia and the German-dominated EU are aggressive in their intentions to see the U.S. pushed from its perch as the world’s most influential nation.
In the EU-Russia alliance, it will be the EU that dominates; any Russian dream of a return to superpower status must remain, on all accounts, for the foreseeable future, a dream. Russian nationalism is likely to increase and its rhetoric return to bellicose anti-U.S. declarations from the Kremlin. However, the deplorable state of Russia’s sinking economy and its deeply concerning demographic challenge of a poverty-stricken, shrinking population spread over a heavily industry-poisoned, environmentally ailing and vast geography mitigate against this great country ever returning to superpower status—without help.
In the great EU-Russia trade off, Germany has the deutschmarks to make it Russia’s largest single investor and trading partner—but Russia holds the whip hand in its large nuclear arsenal. Continuing deals between the EU and Russia will boost Russia’s economy and lead to a clear definition of where the shared border between the EU and Russia’s diminished empire will be drawn.
But history shows that Germany and Russia have long enjoyed a love-hate relationship. Both countries have a long history of periodic reversion to nationalism and authoritarian government. “The very worst outcome for Europe would be one in which both Germany and Russia returned to nationalism and authoritarianism. If both countries were to move in more militaristic directions, partly as a result of failed economic policies, then Europe would again revert to the battleground it was for centuries, and face both German and Russian hegemony—and nuclear weapons” (Angela E. Stent, Russia and Germany Reborn, p. 244).
Since the close of the Second World War, the U.S. has been the determining factor in European and Russian politics. The U.S. worked to unify Germany as a bulwark against Russia, and has sought to offset Russia’s nuclear threat by balancing that with its own powerful nuclear arsenal.
But times are changing. The U.S. is now thrust by the might of the EU into second place, economically. The EU is now working openly to establish a strong military presence in Europe and to push forward to the lead position in military space technology. Meanwhile, the U.S. teeters on the brink of a new isolationism, keen to withdraw from its long-term commitments to European security and hand that responsibility to the EU. This state of affairs poses grave risks for world security.
“As long as America continues to play a leading role in Europe, it will act as a stabilizing force and an anchor of European security. If it were to withdraw into isolationism, then both the domestic and the international situation in Europe could seriously deteriorate” (ibid., p. 245).
That part of the Russian psyche that looks east will inevitably be drawn by events to continue to flirt with the orient and to build a diplomacy that blends with Russia’s dependence on Western investment.
“As its population shrinks, Russia will find itself less and less able to face demographic challenges from China. Overpopulation is pushing the Chinese into the Russian Far East” (Atlantic Monthly, op. cit.). This trend is benefiting the Russian economy by bringing small-scale investment from China and increasing Sino-Russian trade.
In fact, Bible prophecy foretells the fracturing of the EU-Russian alliance by the strengthening of Sino-Russian rapport to the point that Russia’s Eastern mind will eventually lead it to throw in its lot with China and Asia in a huge Eurasian alliance.
In the prophecies of Ezekiel, we read that this causes the European federation enough concern to launch a pre-emptive strike against this north-eastern alliance, wreaking havoc and dealing death to millions. However, this strike will serve to unleash the wrath of Eurasian retaliation as the largest military force ever assembled in man’s history—200 million in all—swoops down on Western Europe and destroys the short-lived final resurrection of the old Holy Roman Empire, in its guise of the European Union. Check the prophecies of Revelation, Ezekiel and Jeremiah for the details, foretold millennia ago.
The changing order of things and emerging balance of power are harbingers of the impending fulfillment of Bible prophecy for this age.
As our mentor, Herbert Armstrong, so often declared, one third of your Bible is prophecy, and most of that is destined to be fulfilled in our day. Herbert Armstrong died 15 years ago. Current events confirm that we now live in the midst of the fulfillment of those prophecies which foretell the rise of the European beast power. We live on the brink of the formation of the great prophesied end-time power blocs: The EU is fast rising; Russia, China and Asia are moving toward consolidating in a giant Eastern bloc; the Islamic countries are uniting against the Western “infidel”; meanwhile, the Jews in Israel are weakened; the British are humbled in their national weakness—their sovereignty subsumed by their continuing membership of the European Union; the pride of U.S. power is broken amid the national fear of losing any American military person’s life in battle. The events of this age are rushing toward a climactic explosion! This will greatly affect you and your loved ones.
Whether you realize it or not, these events are real! Do yourself a service. Check up and prove the warnings in this magazine. Write now for your free copy of Russia and China in Prophecy, come to know what the Bible foretells your future holds, and be prepared for its consequences.
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