The Lord Jesus told us in Luke 21 that his return would be preceded by a period of distress, helplessness and turmoil; when people’s hearts would fail them for fear and a sense of foreboding at what lay ahead. Is this not what we continue to see in the world today?

US Default

Consider the anxiety which gripped the world at the unprecedented prospect of the US defaulting on their debt, an outcome which would have had catastrophic consequences for the international economy and global financial markets, plunging the world into another recession. Why? Because US Treasury Bonds and the US Dollar remain central to the global financial system, a US debt default would therefore have sent shockwaves right across the world economy. Interest rates would have spiked and the value of US Treasury Bonds and the US Dollar would have crashed and with it stock markets in the US and around the world, making debt and equity capital expensive and leading to a contraction in business investment and expenditure. Is not this interconnectivity of the global economy what Isaiah alluded to in chapter 24:1–2: “it shall be, as with the laypeople, so with the priest; as with the employee, so with the employer; as with the poor, so with the rich; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the debtor, so with the creditor.” Surely there is cause for us to look up, to lift up our heads for our redemption draws nigh.

Russian Economy (“I will turn you back”)

How is Russia faring? Well, consider that on 15 July this year, Russia overtook Germany to become the biggest economy in Europe in terms of purchasing power parity and the fifth biggest in the world, with the World Bank, a week earlier, upgrading Russia from a ‘middle income’ to a ‘high income’ country, making it the only BRICS economy (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) no longer regarded as an emerging market. And, in stark contrast to the US, Russia’s Government Debt is now just 8.4% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) down from a high of 99.0% in 1999. In the US, Government Debt has increased as a percentage of GDP from 55.9% in 2001 to 101.6%.

A big part of the turnaround in Russia’s financial position can be attributed to the country’s energy and resources sector, with Russia being home to the world’s largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves and the eighth largest oil reserves. Until this year, Russia was the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. Why is this significant? Well, on 4 October, the Energy Information Administration announced that the US will end 2013 as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas following the commercialisation of technologies to economically extract shale oil and gas. The US already surpassed Russia last year to become the world’s largest gas producer and is set to become the world’s largest oil producer next year again, overtaking Russia. More on this later!

Russia and all her bands

Look at an atlas and you will see that the most direct route from Russia to Israel is down through Georgia, Turkey, Syria and then into Israel. We therefore watch these countries with keen interest.

Russia – Georgia

The Russia–Georgia War (also known as the South Ossetia War) was an armed conflict between Russian and Georgia in August, 2008. Just over five years later, Russia is again encroaching on Georgian territory from South Ossetia, the former Georgian province on the border between Russia and Georgia, which is now under Russian financial and military control. Russian troops have been advancing their positions, erecting new barbed wire fencing and digging trenches to unilaterally establish a new border between Georgia and its lost province and thereby annex land under Georgian control until 2008. The action commenced very quietly in 2009 but the pace of construction has accelerated sharply in 2013 and particularly in recent weeks. Why? As with other former Soviet States, the intimidation is all part of Russia’s endeavour to pressure Georgia into joining its Eurasian Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan rather than seek closer links with the EU.

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Eurasian Customs Union & Eurasian Union

The Eurasian Customs Union came into existence on 1 January, 2010, between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The Union was a first step toward forming a broader European Union-style economic alliance of former Soviet States. On 19 November, 2011, the member states put together a joint commission to create a Eurasian Union by 2015. Putin has stated that his goal is to enlarge the Customs Union to include all former Soviet States. On 6 December, 2012, former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stated that Washington will openly oppose Russia’s attempts to ‘re-sovietise’ the former Soviet countries into a new USSR-type union: “It’s not going to be called that (USSR). It’s going to be called customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that. But let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is.” (And so do we!).

In October, 2011, Kyrgyzstan announced that they will join the Union, with Tajikistan announcing the same in September, 2012. On 31 May this year, Ukraine was granted observer status while on 3 September this year, Armenia announced their decision to join the Customs Union and, in turn, the Eurasian Union. As for the tactics Russia employs to ‘encourage’ membership, at the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September this year, Georgia’s President stated, Armenia has been cornered, and forced to sign customs union which is not in this nation’s interest or in the interest of our region. Moldova is being blockaded, Ukraine is under attack, Azerbaijan faces extraordinary pressure and Georgia is occupied. Why? Because an old empire is trying to reclaim its bygone borders.

Russia – Turkey

Is Russia similarly pivoting to Turkey? Yes! 23 September this year saw Russia and Turkey conduct a two-day joint air military exercise in the Mediterranean for the first time, thus continuing Prime Minister Erdogan’s long slide away from the West, which began with the European Union rejecting Turkey’s bid to launch accession talks. To whom did Erdogan look as a consequence? President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan stated just last week at a session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Minsk, the president of Turkey approached me with a request to join our Customs Union. Let us accept Turkey as well. This follows a statement by Deputy Chairman of the Inter- Commission Working Group on International Cooperation and Public Diplomacy of the Public Chamber of Russia, Sergei Markov, on 10 October, in which he commented that should Azerbaijan join the Eurasian Customs Union, it will most likely be jointly with Turkey. Having once patronised a swath of anti-American Arab regimes during the cold war, Moscow’s key remaining client in the region is Syria’s Assad. If Assad falls, Russia will need a new strategic foothold in the Middle East and Turkey makes for a great Plan B!

Russia – Syria

During last week’s summit Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev also advised, Syria expressed a wish to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This comes after Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister, Kadri Jamil, confirmed on 2 August, 2013, that Syria is planning to join the Eurasian Customs Union. He advised that Damascus has been considering joining the Customs Union for three years, with economic cooperation with Russia growing increasingly important due to the sanctions imposed on the Assad regime by the European Union and the United States.

Why is Syria so important to Russia? Well, Syria helped the Soviet Navy out during the Cold War in 1971 by leasing them the naval facility in the Port of Tartus, which gives Russia its only access to the Mediterranean, thereby saving the Russian navy the long voyage across the Black Sea. That same year (1971), Hafez al-Assad (Bashar al-Assad’s father) made his first visit to a foreign country after his accession to power by travelling to Moscow. In 1980, the two countries signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation which stated, the parties shall promptly contact each other in case the peace and security of one of the parties has been threatened for the purpose of eliminating that threat and re-establishing the peace. Current contracts Russia has signed with Syria reportedly amount to $5 billion and, bearing in mind what happened with Iran (Russia lost an estimated $13 billion due to international sanctions), Putin will be eager to protect these deals. Russia is also believed to have lost $4.5 billion in negated contracts with Libya, so their arms industry has taken significant hits in recent years, which Putin will want to avoid going forward.

Russia – Germany (Gog of the land of Magog)

The German‑Russian Year was launched in June, 2012. For a whole year, Germany and Russia hosted events under the slogan Germany and Russia – shaping the future together.

And are we seeing closer ties between Russia and Germany?

Militarily: On 3 August this year, Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, stated that the Russian and German defense ministries are committed to strengthening bilateral ties: “contacts between our ministries, between our countries have advanced in recent years”. He went on to say that regular meetings between Russian and German defense officials point to a mutual interest in “deepening bilateral contacts,” adding, “it is our common task to consolidate friendly relations between Russia and Germany”.
Economically: On 11 October this year, in commenting on a Russian investment by German giant, Siemens, Putin expressed the hope that Siemens would help Germany regain its first place as Russia’s trade and economic partner, as it used to be several years ago.
Israel (“Art thou come to take a spoil?”)

What will motivate Russia and all her bands to come down into Israel? Well, I mentioned that this year, Russia will cede its position as the number one oil and gas producer to the US. How to regain this position? Enter Israel! Israel’s transformation from a land of milk and honey into a land awash with oil and gas is well underway. Shaken by the success of the US shale oil and gas revolution and the threat to Russia’s stranglehold on European gas supplies, Putin has feted Israel as never before. In February this year, this culminated in Russia’s Gazprom signing a landmark deal giving Russia a major stake in the future distribution of massive Israeli gas resources. As one commentator wrote at the time, “this is likely to be just an entrée deal now that Moscow has a place at the Israeli energy table”. We know what the main course deal will be!

Consider that the huge offshore gas field, Leviathan, discovered in November, 2010, was the largest offshore natural gas find in the world in the past decade, containing 18 trillion cubic feet of gas. Tamar, a nearby site discovered in January, 2009, was the largest offshore natural gas discovery in the world in 2009 coming in at 10 trillion cubic feet of gas!

But it’s not just enormous reserves of natural gas that are seeing the Star of David rise to global energy prominence. Israel has oil too – and lots of it. It has the world’s second largest deposits of shale oil after the US. As well as the great potential for oil in its offshore reservoirs, Israel is set to develop a major shale oil prospect in the Shefla Basin (where David slew Goliath). The World Energy Council estimates that the shale oil deposits in this basin alone could yield 250 billion barrels of oil. To put that in perspective, it’s a figure that would catapult Israel into the elite with the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, just behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela!

Why is this of significance to Russia? Well, in 1970, 85% of the world’s oil reserves were open to full International Oil Company (IOC) exploration. Only 1% of these reserves were held by National (state-owned) Oil Companies (NOCs), with the remaining 14% being Russian reserves. Today, only 8% of these reserves are open to full IOC exploration! 77% are held by NOCs, with 15% held by Russian companies. Hence, the rush to explore for oil in Israel … or, alternatively, to take a spoil!

Watch and Pray

So what? What does all of the above mean to you and to me? Does it fill us with excitement that the Lord’s return must be very near? Does it motivate us to ensure we have our wedding garment on… ready and waiting for his return? Or will we read this article and, shortly thereafter, return to a life of apathy and indifference? Will we continue in sin that grace may abound? Will we continue to forsake the assembling of ourselves together? Will we continue to ignore the great salvation that has been offered to us? Pray God that we will not. Pray God that we will pay careful attention to what we have heard that we drift not away for, in just a very little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay. May God bless you