Tag Archives: USSR

RUSSIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST

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While US media has been focussed on alleged Russian hacking of the US electoral process, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has strengthened its role in the Middle East.

The morning that America suffered a major setback in the Middle East, American news networks led on two deaths – those of actresses Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.   Tragic though these deaths were, developments in the Middle East put America where Great Britain was exactly six decades ago.

Before World War Two, the British Empire was the dominant power in the region.   Britain withdrew from Israel in May of 1948. Immediately, the Jewish nation was invaded by five neighboring Arab nations.   Miraculously, Israel survived. In those early days, it was not helped by the United States.

In 1952, as a direct consequence of defeat against Israel, Egypt’s King Farouk was overthrown by the military.   The new leaders soon seized the Anglo-French Suez Canal.   Together with Israel, these countries invaded Egypt but were soon stopped by US President Eisenhower.   This single event led directly to the dismantling of the British Empire.   In 1958 the pro-British King of Iraq was overthrown.   Britain was losing its remaining influence in the area. The country fought a war against rebels in Aden, withdrawing from the protectorate in 1967.

It was a gradual decline, with one setback after another.   Now, the UK does not play any major role in the Middle East.

Since Britain, America has been the dominant power in the region. During the time of the Soviet Union, the US and the USSR were rivals in the area, with Moscow backing Egypt and Syria.   Later, Egypt switched sides and allied itself with the United States, but Moscow retained its influence in Syria.   Iran was in the US sphere of influence until the Shah was overthrown in 1979.

The region has seen never-ending turmoil since the fall of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire after World War One.   That turmoil shows no sign of ending.

The recent war in Iraq has left a big mess in the region.   At its root is the almost 1,400 year sectarian conflict between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. Until the US invasion of Iraq, the country was dominated by Sunni Muslims, even though the majority of people were Shia Muslims (the reverse is the case in Syria).   Following the US backed election in Iraq, the majority Shia now rule the country. This development has altered the religious balance in the region and is causing repercussions everywhere.   ISIS was formed to protect Sunni Muslims from the now dominant Shia.

In Syria, Sunnis have been trying to overthrow the Alawite (Shia) minority regime of President Assad for five years.   Enter Moscow. Russia’s backing of the Syrian president has enabled Assad to win. The US showed a great deal of weakness, refusing to get involved even when the Syrian government crossed the line and used chemical weapons on its own citizens.   Now, after months of fighting in Aleppo, the biggest city of the country, Assad is firmly in power and Russia is sponsoring “peace talks” with the rebel factions in the country.   The US is not invited to the peace talks. Russia now controls Syria.   To accomplish this, the country needs Turkey’s help. The two are pushing for peace in the country. Turkey, the second most powerful military power in NATO, is now working with the Russians to bring peace to the Middle East.

That’s two set-backs for Washington in just a few days.

A third set-back is in Israel.   The outgoing administration in Washington did not veto the latest UN vote against Israel, condemning the country for building new settlements for Jewish settlers in the West Bank.   Friction between the US and the only western style democracy in the region is unsettling, to say the least. This set-back may only be temporary as a new President takes over in the US in just three weeks, but that gives a few days for further negative developments.   Even the British have criticized America’s condemnation of Israel.   The State Department seems set on causing rifts with US allies in the final days of the current Administration.

Keep in mind, too, that Syria borders Israel on the Golan Heights.   What happens in Syria may affect Israel.   Perhaps that’s why Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to Moscow in June, the fourth time in a year that he sat down with President Putin to discuss the situation in the Middle East.

The tables have been turned once again in the region.   Over sixty years ago, the UK was the dominant power in the region; since then, it’s been the US.   But now Russia is arguably the dominant power in the area.   The Russians are in alliance with the Shi-ite Muslims in Iran and Syria; they are also working with Sunni Turkey, which ruled the whole area prior to 1919.   At the same time, it seems that Israel’s prime minister is more comfortable with Putin than with Obama, with whom he’s had a serious exchange of heated words in recent days.

There’s even a fourth development that puts Russia ahead. Following the hacking scandal, President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US; President Putin made it clear that he will not expel any Americans. This is a triumph for Putin in the propaganda war with America.

What lies ahead?   Remember that the Middle East is the primary focus of Bible prophecy with Jerusalem at the epicenter.

In the nineteenth century, there was no indication that the Jews were about to become an independent nation again.  Their period of self-rule ended with the Romans before the time of Christ.  Their rebellion against the Romans in the first century AD led to the Diaspora, a dispersion that scattered the Jewish people throughout the Roman Empire and left them scattered until fairly recently.   Bible prophecy showed that the Jewish nation would be restored and that happened in 1948.

Exactly a century ago, British and Australian forces entered Jerusalem in the continuing war with the Ottoman Turks.   At this point in time, a Jewish nation became possible.   The British were given a mandate to administer Palestine by the League of Nations.   This was an impossible task as Palestinians and Jews clashed repeatedly.   Eventually, the League’s successor, the United Nations, divided the territory up between Jews and Palestinians, the latter never accepting their loss of land.

 

 

DAVOS, BYZANTIUM AND RUSSIA

Joseph-Stiglitz-003

“Median income today is lower than it was a quarter century ago,” according to economist Joseph Stiglitz, interviewed by CNN’s Richard Quest at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.   The two men were discussing the charity Oxfam’s statement this week that said the top 1% now have as much wealth as all the rest of us put together. According to Mr. Stiglitz, this is due to government policies in the US and other western nations in the last 25 years.   His prediction for the coming year was quite gloomy.

John Defterios, CNN Emerging Markets Editor, reminded people that the global economy has 7-8 year “cycles.”  Whereas many are saying we just came out of a cycle following the 2008 collapse, we are in fact ending one cycle and moving into another.

The 7-year cycle will be a familiar concept to any Bible scholars who understand the Old Testament financial cycle, based around the seven-year land Sabbath.  Debt, both governmental and private, is now at an all time high and threatens the global economy, which is nothing more than a house of cards.   Increasingly needed is a biblical Jubilee Year, where all debts are cancelled and we start over.  God’s plan was for a Jubilee Year every fifty years, after seven land Sabbaths had been completed.

Leviticus, chapter 25, explains this financial plan.  The instruction was that all debts be cancelled and that people return to their ancestral land and start again.  We no longer live in an agricultural economy, but the principle can be applied.   The vast majority of people worldwide are now in debt to one degree or another, while the 1% gets richer and richer.  Eventually, there will be an explosion with revolutions everywhere, unless something is done to cancel the debt.

Don’t hold your breath — governments and banks are not likely to let that happen.   Until they have to, that is!

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Meanwhile, I found Leonardo DiCaprio’s statement that “oil should stay in the ground” rather intriguing.  If conservationists get their way, how will he fly his personal plane?  He may have money to burn but it’s not a good jet fuel!

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I’m finishing The End of Byzantium, the book by Jonathan Harris I mentioned in a previous post.   Constantinople, the capital of what had been the greatest power in Christendom, fell to the Muslim Turks in May, 1453.  The fall sent shock waves throughout Europe.  The next 250 years was to be dominated by the threat from the Ottoman Empire, which did not completely end until the collapse of the empire less than a century ago.   This was the last caliphate.

There are lessons to be learned from Byzantium.

There was great division at the top among the various leaders.   We have this today with the presidential candidates, each one looking for his or her own advantage, regardless of what damage may be done to the country.  That was the same in Byzantium amongst the ruling class.

Secondly, some of the wealthy elite did well from their connections with the Turks, mostly in trade, but also donations to co-operate with the Turks.  Reading this, I was mindful of the Clinton Foundation receiving donations from Middle Eastern leaders, a conflict of interest for sure.

Thirdly, Byzantium was weakened financially, losing its trading advantage to other nations.   The Republics of Venice and Genoa had become the banking centers by the time of the fall of Constaninople.

A fourth point of great interest was that once the capital fell, it wasn’t long before the rest followed.   Could this happen in the US?  Of course it could.  If terrorists could deliver crushing blows to both Washington DC (the political capital) and New York City (the financial capital), the rest of the country would follow.

I should add that although I would have preferred life under the Byzantine Emperor to life under the Ottoman Sultan, the former was hardly Christian and thoroughly deserved its fate.  That’s another lesson for us today – the West deserves its fate, which it has brought upon itself.

A further lesson from Byzantium is the truth of Daniel 2:21, that God is behind the rise and fall of nations.  “And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings.”  In this case, Constantine XI, the last Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, was overthrown by Mehmed II, the Sultan at the head of the Ottoman Empire.

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Talking of Washington DC, the news yesterday was dominated by the threat of a severe snow-storm bringing the city to its knees.  It still hasn’t started, at 10am Friday morning, but could come any time.  MSNBC stated that, every time there’s a severe snow-storm: “230,000 federal government workers sit idle.”

Since when did this have anything to do with snow???

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Back to Turkey and the Middle East.  Up to this point, Islamic terrorism has been perpetrated by Sunni Muslims.  With the end of sanctions on Iran and the release of hundreds of millions of dollars being held by western banks, Iran could also be in the terrorist business.  Shia Islam could be an even bigger threat than Sunni.

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Still in the Middle East, more German Jews are moving to Israel as a result of increased anti-semitism in Germany.   Headlines can be misleading.  The anti-semitism does not come from German Germans, but from Muslim immigrants.  But it still makes life in Germany worrying and unpleasant.

The influx of migrants has affected many European countries.  Sweden is now being called the “rape capital of the world.”  Swedish women have a 1 in 4 chance of being raped.   Reports say that gangs of young Middle Eastern men grope, sexually assault, and rape women.   Where are the women and children we were being shown on nightly television a few months ago?  It turns out that 80% of migrants were young men, who left their families behind in war-torn Syria and other countries.   The outcome is not surprising.

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An article by Boyd D. Cathey contains the following, in defense of President Putin:

In support of his goals, Putin has championed Russian laws that:  (1) have practically outlawed abortion in Russia (no abortions after the 12th week, and before that time in limited cases, and also the end of financial support for abortions, reversing a previous Soviet policy); (2) clamp down on homosexuality and homosexual propaganda –absolutely no homosexual propaganda in Russian schools, no public displays of homosexuality, with legal penalties imposed for violating these laws; (3) strongly support traditional marriage, especially religious marriage, with financial aid to married couples having more than two children; (4) have established compulsory religious instruction in all Russian schools (including instruction in different Christian confessions, in different regions of the country); (4) implement a policy instituting chaplaincy in Russian military regiments (and religious institutions now assist in helping military families); (5) have made religious holidays now official Russian state holidays; (6) have instituted a nationwide program of rebuilding churches that were destroyed by the Communists (the most notable being the historic Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow); and (7) officially support the Russian film industry in producing conservative religious and patriotic movies— interestingly, the most popular film in Russia in 2009 was the movie “Admiral,” a very favorable biopic of the leader of the White Russian counter-revolutionary, Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, who was executed by the Communists in 1920.  The film was supported by the Russian cultural ministry.”

Since the fall of the USSR in 1991, Russia has built 26,000 new Christian churches.   As the writer points out, Russians are returning to (traditional) Christianity at the same time that Americans are turning progressively against it, embracing secular and anti-Christian values.

Thirty years after Ronald Reagan, we see a Christian Russia opposed to a post-Christian America (President Obama’s description of the country).   No wonder people are confused – the world has been turned upside down in our lifetimes!

Further evidence follows below:

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GERMANY OVERHAULING DEFENSE STRATEGY TO COUNTER RUSSIAN THREATS

GDM von der Leyen

The Ukrainian situation is having a profound effect on Europe.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is promising to overhaul defense strategy in response to Russian aggression against the government and people of Ukraine.   The Russians have been using “power politics and military force,” to get their own way.

The latest deal, Minsk 2, brokered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the aid of French President Francois Hollande, failed to end the fighting.   It’s clear who is the major problem – yesterday, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, was warning Ukraine to pull its forces out of yet another of the country’s cities, so that Russian rebels can take over.   There’s ample proof these rebels include Russian professional soldiers.   This is a blatant attack by Russia on the sovereignty of one of its neighbors.

Not content with being the biggest country in the world, the Russians clearly want more territory.   It may even be that Moscow is intent on taking back all the territories of the former Soviet Union. The fall of the USSR in 1991 was once described by Mr. Putin as the greatest disaster of the twentieth century.

It’s less than seven years since Russian troops invaded Georgia in support of ethnic Russians living there.   Less than a year ago, the Crimea was annexed.   Now eastern Ukraine is seriously threatened. Other countries on Russia’s borders now face the same prospect, as the western alliance is proven impotent in the face of Moscow’s aggression.

Watch for dramatic changes ahead in Europe.   As the US shuts down military bases in Europe to focus on needs elsewhere in the world, only one western European country has the capacity to fill America’s shoes.   That country is Germany.   The German Defense Minister sees clearly the need for Germany to reassert itself in the face of Russian threats from the east.

 

 

LIBERATION OF AUSCHWITZ, 70 YEARS AGO TODAY

auschwitz

I had originally intended to return to the US and give a sermon on it, but I couldn’t.   I would not have been able to hold back the tears.

I’m referring to my visit to Auchwitz, one of the worst of the Nazi death camps where six million Jews died.   An estimated 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz, most of them Jews.   Men, women and children.

Most memorable in my mind was all the pony-tails cut off the heads of little girls.   They were stacked up high behind a see-through glass wall.   This was the hair of young female victims.   All I could think about was my four young grand daughters!   Auschwitz is set in a peaceful rural setting – what happened there could happen anywhere.   I had had the same thought when visiting Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, which reminded me of where my grandparents lived.

Auschwitz is the stuff of nightmares.   At the arrival point, where families had to get out of box-cars and were immediately sorted into those who would live and those who were assigned to immediate annihilation, I felt their hopelessness.   There would have been no opportunity to say good-bye to loved ones, none at all.   People were treated like animals.

The gas chamber was particularly horrific.   I stood under one of the vents through which came Zyklon B, the poisonous gas that quickly killed its victims.   In an adjacent room we saw where the corpses were first taken – to remove gold from teeth and cut off hair that could be made into rope or wigs for fashionable ladies.   The people who did all the work were inmates, forced to work on fellow inmates who had been selected to die.   Bones were boiled and made into soap.

The dormitories left an indelible impression on my mind.   Bunk beds were stacked to the ceiling.   There were three levels and, I believe, nine people slept to a bed.   Everybody would rush to get in the dormitory when bed-time came.   If you could get to the top level, there was fresh air coming through a gap between the wall and the roof.   Also, at the top, you would avoid human waste falling through the slats onto you during the night.   Because the diet was so poor, concentration camp victims had permanent diarrhea.   They could not use toilet facilities, such as they were, during the night and simply lay there relieving themselves onto those below.   How could one forget such an image?

Today is the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops.   When they arrived they found 7,000 survivors, all ill or starving.   In the West, we tend only to remember what our nations did in World War II.   We fail to appreciate that it was the Russians who contributed the most to the defeat of Nazi Germany.   Russia (the USSR) lost twenty million people.   They were the first to get to Auschwitz and, a few weeks later, to Berlin, where Hitler had committed suicide rather than face a trial for war crimes that included the camps.

The cool and calculated way in which the Nazis selected Auschwitz as their biggest concentration camp is chilling.   Auschwitz is close to Krakow, Poland, at the very heart of Europe.   Trains from all over the continent could easily get there, bringing Jewish victims in their tens of thousands.

A tour of the Jewish quarter in Krakow is a suitable accompaniment to the day in Auschwitz.   At one time the quarter was thriving.   Now only thirty Jews congregate in the one remaining synagogue that is still used.    Jews started moving to Krakow when they were expelled en masse from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella.   In the same year that Christopher Columbus was sent to discover the New World, the king and queen decided they wanted their country to be free of Jews. 450 years later, Hitler wanted the same thing for Europe.

I asked our tour guide in Krakow why people hated the Jews so much. His reply was that “the Jews are different.   They go to church on Saturday, we Poles go on Sunday.”   In other words, they were persecuted for keeping the seventh day Sabbath.   Poles, like other conquered Europeans, co-operated with the Nazis when it came to handing over Jews.   Some helped the Jews, but most people were too afraid.

James Carroll, a former priest in the Roman Catholic Church, traces anti-semitism back to the church, which always blamed the Jews for killing Christ.   His book (also a DVD) is called Constantine’s Sword:   The Church and the Jews – a History.   He did not set out to blame his own church for the holocaust but his book shows the historical connection.   When Hitler visited Cologne Cathedral prior to World War II, he told the Archbishop that all he was doing was finishing the work the Catholic Church had started.

Sadly, anti-semitism is once again on the rise. Last year, almost 7,000 Jews left France for Israel.   In Britain, a recent survey showed Jews are increasingly afraid to live there.   The biggest single factor in anti-semitism is Europe’s rising Muslim population.   France has 500,000 Jews, the biggest number in Europe; the Muslim population is ten times that, at five million.   There have been a number of attacks on Jewish targets in recent years, the latest being the terror attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris last month.   Anti-semitism did not begin with the Nazis and it didn’t end with the fall of the Third Reich, either.

Why did God allow it to happen?   This is the question most often asked.   To me, the answer is quite simple – man rejected God. Men do not want to obey the Laws of God.   So they reap the consequences of disobedience, including the Holocaust.   Auschwitz is a sobering reminder to pray fervently “Thy Kingdom Come” (Matt 6:10).

If you can ever go to Poland, be sure to visit Krakow and Auschwitz. One is a well-preserved medieval city, the other a constant reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.

Everybody should go to Auschwitz.   Everybody.   If they don’t, it could happen again.

 

 

REALPOLITIK AND THE FUTURE OF THE UKRAINE

Putin and Merkel

There are only two people who matter when it comes to the crisis in Ukraine.

They are Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel.

As it happens, both speak the other’s language.  When Putin was a KGB officer, he was assigned to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).   That happens to be where Mrs. Merkel grew up, living in a country dominated (even controlled) from Moscow.

They should understand each other.

In the West, the crisis in Ukraine and particularly the Crimea is seen in ideological terms.   The thinking is that the Ukrainian people overthrew a dictator and want democracy; that the Russians forcibly took Crimea, thereby thwarting an honest election.

Forget ideology, realpolitik is more applicable here.

Mrs. Merkel will be familiar with realpolitik, a term that originated in Germany in the 19th century.  The closest equivalent term in English is ‘power politics.’  The greatest proponent of realpolitik was Otto von Bismarck, Mrs. Merkel’s predecessor during Germany’s rise to unity and preeminence in Europe.  Mrs. Merkel is leading Germany through a similar period in history today.

Realpolitik is not a negative term in Germany.  It simply refers to realistic politics as against idealistic politics.   An example of this was illustrated a few days ago when President Obama called for economic sanctions on Russia.  Mrs. Merkel disagreed with the US president.   Realpolitik has to face the fact that Germany and other countries in western Europe depend on Russia for their natural gas.   How can they slap sanctions on Russia?

Realpolitik, then, refers to realistic politics, as against unrealistic politics, which is often the basis of western (US) policy.  For example, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Anybody familiar with the history of these two countries would never have tried to impose a democratic system on them.  Motivated by idealistic notions of spreading democracy, the US and its allies tried to introduce a democratic system in both countries but there’s no sign democracy works in either one.

In the present world crisis, realpolitik makes clear a simple fact – Russia needs the Crimea for its own national security.   For centuries the Russians sought after a warm water port, as St. Petersburg and Murmansk freeze over in winter.   They finally got what they wanted in 1783 when Catherine the Great’s forces defeated the local Tartars and Crimea became a part of Russia.   It was Nikita Kruschev who gave the region to Ukraine in 1954, supposedly when he was drunk.  It didn’t matter then as Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union.   In 1991, with the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine got its independence and kept the Crimea.   Russia still had access to its essential port facilities.  But when Ukraine’s pro-Russian government was overthrown last month, it was time to act – and act decisively.  Russia is not leaving.   That’s realpolitik.

Could this now lead to a split between Germany and the US?   Could NATO fall apart?

The Germans have not been treated well by Washington in recent years.   Edward Snowden’s revelations showed spying on one of America’s key allies, even down to listening in to Mrs. Merkel’s mobile phone calls.

Just last month, Victoria Nuland, a US State Department Spokesperson, in conversation with the US Ambassador to Ukraine, used the “F” word in connection with the EU, a 28-member organization whose de facto leader is Angela Merkel.   Perhaps its time for the US State Department to buy multiple copies of “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” to be read by each and every member of the organization!  They are, after all, in the business of diplomacy.  Use of gutteral Anglo-Saxon terms is hardly diplomatic.

Washington seems to be out of date in its perception of European affairs.

London, being closer, is more perceptive but still not totally clued in.

Mrs. Merkel visited London one day last week and spoke to a combined audience of members of both Houses of parliament.   She made it clear that she wants the UK to stay in the EU.  British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain’s membership in 2017, if he is still prime minister at that time.

None noticed the irony, a very real irony.

Exactly seventy years ago, Britain was at war with Germany.  The leader of Germany had invaded most of the countries on the continent but had failed to conquer the United Kingdom.

Once again, Germany dominates Europe.  Realpolitik invited Mrs. Merkel to speak to the British parliament – she is now the de facto leader of Europe.

Her power and that of Germany stretches from the British Isles in the west to the Ukraine and Crimea.   The EU has played a major role in the events of the last few weeks.

Germany and the EU, together with Russia, are at center stage in the Ukrainian crisis.  A German dominated EU must reach an accommodation with a resurgent Russia.   75 years ago, an unexpected pact between Russia and Germany turned the world upside down and led directly to World War II.   Could a similar pact happen today or at some time in the near future?

Realpolitik will determine the final outcome of the Ukrainian crisis, not ideology.