A number of Watchman articles have noted the parlous state of the Russian economy, and a recent article in The Economist with the above heading continues the refrain. The article commences: “As the country’s tax revenues, reserves and credibility shrivel, the question facing Russia and its creditors is no longer whether there will be a default on over $160 billion of outstanding debt. It is when it will come, and how messy it will be.”

Russia is already in default on its own government treasury bills and is attempting to “restructure” on the basis of payment of around 5% of the securities’ par value. It is significantly in arrears on interest payments on some $60 billion owing to other countries, while former Soviet debt to the private sector is publicly trading, and selling at 8–10 cents on the dollar. Most seriously, of $23 billion owed to the International Monetary Fund, $5 billion is due for repayment next year. Concludes The Economist: “Where that money might come from, nobody knows—and without repayment, even Russia’s membership of the IMF might be in question.”

Russia Sinks as Crime Wave Rises

Another notable feature of the new Russia of the latter days is the all-pervading corruption and crime which effectively are out of control. James Meek of the Guardian Weekly writes: “A huge bomb blast killed a St Petersburg businessman; masked assassins murdered a businessman from Bratsk in front of his family; an aide to the Speaker of the Russian parliament was shot in the back of the head; and a gang in the Yaroslavl region were reported to have murdered at least fifteen people and buried them in concrete so that they could steal their homes.

“It was the toll of a single, relatively quiet week in Russia—and these were only the killings that made the news.” The writer goes on to speak of “… the thousands of senseless, squalid killings and beatings every month on the streets and in the flats of countless bleak estates”. Such circumstances highlight “… Russia’s intractable crime problem, one of the greatest sources of popular anger at the changes that have come about since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the source of much of the desire for a ‘strong-handed’ leader to replace the ineffectual Boris Yeltsin”.

While we are excited to see the elements in place for the emergence of “Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal”, it is difficult not to sympathise with the lot of the ordinary Russian people forced to endure these terrible circumstances, and to reflect that, thanks to the efforts of Brother Duncan Heaster and others, we now have a handful of struggling and isolated brethren and sisters scattered among these “countless bleak estates”.

A Wider European Union

The former East European Soviet satellite states are all seeking membership of the prosperous European Union. The Economist notes: “Where Roman emperors, Christian crusaders, Teuton knights and Napoleon Bonaparte failed, Brussels bureaucrats may succeed. The proposed eastward expansion of the European Union to Russia’s western border is an historic opportunity to lock much of Eastern and Central Europe, willingly, into a project that has brought unprecedented neighbourliness and prosperity to Western Europe.” Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia (plus Cyprus), are the ‘fast-track’ applicants, with Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey waiting in the wings.

The inclusion process, involving countries with much lower per capita incomes, and poorly developed social structures may take some time but is regarded as inevitable. To the east, in the former Soviet Union exists an ‘arc of instability’ sweeping down Europe’s flank: from Russia, through Ukraine, the Balkans and Turkey, into the south and east Mediterranean. The east Europeans seek refuge from this chaos. The result will be a formidable Europe of nigh on 450 million people, the largest economy in the world.

These developments, and even more imminently, the adoption of a common European currency are significant indeed. The Australian Financial Review in an article by Owen Harries, former senior advisor to Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, and currently editor of The National Interest in Washington, said of European Monetary Union: “This has the potential of changing the basic structure of world politics, by bringing the brief era of the single superpower world to an abrupt end. For while America worries about the emergence of China as a rival that will challenge the supremacy of the United States, a united Europe will be a much better equipped and more convincing candidate for that role.”

Harries continues: “As to what kind of policies this new superstate would pursue, one cannot be certain. But if one believes, as I do, that there is a lot of accumulated but suppressed European resentment of its subordination to and dependence on the US over the past half century, one would expect the expression of that pent-up hostility to be a cardinal feature of the new superpower’s behaviour—certainly in the form of competition, obstruction, and rivalry; possibly in the form of outright hostility. That resentment is today most evident in the case of France, but it should not be assumed that it is restricted to that country.”

How closely these developments and anticipations match our expectations of a European confederacy at the time of the end. As to the role of Tarshish, it is interesting to note another comment from the same article. “Britain is at best going to be a late-arriving, reluctant, and somewhat marginalised member of Europe; France is at its heart and dominates its powerful bureaucracy.”

Mid East Peace Process

What has become known as the ‘Wye River’ agreement signed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Washington on October 23, has now been ratified by the Israeli Cabinet. The agreement calls for Israel to withdraw from an additional 13% of the West Bank in exchange for a Palestinian crack-down on militants.

Since the signing in Washington, at least five attacks by Hamas terrorists have left four Israelis dead, including an Israeli soldier who died when he placed his jeep between a school bus carrying forty Jewish children, and a car bomb driven by a Hamas terrorist, who was also killed.

Arafat has placed the Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, under house arrest and arrested over 100 Hamas members; ironically Arafat’s political survival now depends on the success of the peace process.

So the world cries “Peace and safety” unaware that the day of “sudden destruction” will soon follow. Israel is yet to “dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates” heedless of the great confederacy soon to “come like a storm” out of the north. And we, knowing all this; seeing all this—how do we dwell?