Brother Thomas famously wrote, “When Russia makes its grand move for the building up of its Image-empire, then let the reader know that the end of all things, as at present constituted is at hand.”1 For over 170 years believers in the Hope of Israel have been interested in the activities of Russia from the time of the Tsars, through to the Revolution, the Soviet era, the Cold War, glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), and now Putin’s new Russia. They have looked for signs and portents heralding the movements of the northern power to fulfil the message of the prophets. It is therefore thrilling to recognise that the current developments in Russian foreign policy are creating circumstances which are edging closer and closer to bring about a situation for that “grand move” to commence.

For some considerable time, Russia has been active in expanding its influence and exporting its ideas amongst immediate neighbours and even further afield. Brother Thomas published in 1851 an informative article by a New York evangelist entitled “Present Aspect of Russia.”2 To quote from the opening paragraph: “Russia, with an ambition that knows no bounds, with resources almost inexhaustible, and secret policy intriguing at every court in Europe, seeks to extend her territory over all of central Asia, and to out vie ancient Rome in the extent of her dominions and in the majesty of her power.” Such comments demonstrate the consistency of Russian determination in seeking to achieve her means via subterfuge, deceit and duplicity. The current long-term leader of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, employs this strategy at the present time. And the pace at which Russia is moving is increasing. This article will unravel some of his tactics.

Riddle, mystery and an enigma

Winston Churchill is recorded as saying, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”3 And whilst Churchill is probably accurate with his assessment that Russia’s self-interest is the driving force, by considering God’s prophetic word, it is possible to forecast that which evaded him. It is clear from Ezekiel 38 and other Scriptures (e.g. Dan 11:40-45; Zech 14:1-2) that Russia is to be the prime mover in the future invasion of Israel in the latter days. It is also clear that, as God teaches by type, it is possible with care in exposition to interpret the impetus behind Russia’s foreign policy.4

A new Russian Empire

In a recent book by Dr Agnia Grigas, the author identifies “a seven-stage reimperialisation policy” (p.26) which Russia uses to exert its influence in the post-Soviet space.5 By looking at individual states and groups of states with a similar outlook, Grigas shows how successful Russia has been in seeking to control the politics of governments and the opinions of its compatriots. By means of inducements, some weaker states have moved closer to their former ally without feeling wholly comfortable.

These seven stages are:

  • soft power
  • humanitarian policies
  • compatriot policies
  • passportisation
  • information warfare
  • protection, and finally
  • annexation

Each of these stages is well explained and documented in the book. Many examples are given of organisations set up specifically to enhance Russia in the ‘Russian-speaking world’ and throughout the former Soviet states. The Yeltsin government, between January 1993 and May 1997, issued six policy documents directly concerned with the issue of protection and support for ‘compatriots.’ Grigas shows that between January 2000 when Putin came to power and April 2014, no fewer than 15 compatriot policy documents were passed (13 by Putin and two by Medvedev).

Additionally, a further example is the existence of the Russkiy Mir Foundation, established in June 2007 by presidential decree. The organisation exists for the purpose of “promoting the Russian language, as Russia’s national heritage and a significant aspect of Russian and world culture, and supporting Russian language teaching programs abroad.”6

Progress in the staged process has varied in each of the former Soviet states. What is remarkable, however, is the way in which Russian President Vladimir Putin views those who are Russian-speakers, using this as a lever to provide support to them through various policies. This feature is common to all the former states, but is confined to specific geographical areas in most.

Be thou a guard unto them

The foundation for Russia’s activities is based on a number of factors which revolve around the ‘need’ to protect Russian citizens (well-defined groups) residing outside Russia and ‘compatriots’ (a less well-defined section) living in each of the 14 former Soviet states. Whilst the definition of a ‘compatriot’ is debatable, the general view is that anyone with linguistic, cultural or religious links to Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church qualifies. President Putin vehemently believes he has an absolute right to protect his citizens and seek to re-Russify those who, at the collapse of the Soviet Union, lost their statehood. This is true of the Baltic states where Russians residing there at the collapse of the Soviet Union were not issued with Estonian, Lithuanian or Latvian passports. Without Putin’s policy of passportisation (granting them Russian citizenship) they would have no means of travel and no recognition by any state.

Russia’s policy is to export its influence abroad and whilst, at the start, the extent of such a spread of information is seemingly innocuous, this influence moves from soft power to much more aggressive policies. In Crimea, this led to the ultimate stance of annexation. Russia is a master of confusion. 

Whenever it is accused of wrong-doing, counterclaims are batted back with amazing alacrity. The waters are quickly muddied and, whilst some are able to perceive the true situation, the Kremlin is also very successful in reducing the effect of any unwelcome impact on itself. It has developed ingenious escape mechanisms for almost all areas where it was initially blamed for behaving badly.

Russia in the Middle East

When Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015 to prop up the Assad regime, it became fully involved in Middle Eastern politics. In 2017, Moscow struck a deal with the Assad government to extend its lease on the port of Tartus for 49 years. The agreement allows Russia to keep up to 11 warships there, including nuclear-powered vessels. With the land and sea bases it now has, Russian presence is there to stay and so almost overnight has entrenched itself as the King of the North. Daniel refers to the King of the North’s invasion as involving “many ships” (Dan 11:40) and this development is in keeping with this prophecy. Russia’s intention is to spend $500 million on the development of the port of Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.7

Russia and Israel

Notwithstanding the anxiety that Israel might feel about the presence of Russian air, land and sea bases so close at hand, it is presently more concerned with the threat of Iran and the terrorist organisation of Hezbollah. The immediacy of this problem is acknowledged, but over the longer term, Bible prophecy makes it plain that Israel’s uneasiness should be directed towards the presence of the Russian power.

And it is a remarkable sign of our times to witness the recent thawing of relationships between Russia and Israel. In 1967, following the Six Day War, Russia, having sided with the aggressors seeking to destroy Israel, broke off diplomatic relations. The first moves to restore dialogue emerged with the formal restoration of relations in 1991 and thereafter, steady progress has been made towards improvements by both sides. President Putin recognises Israel as a major player in the Middle East and whilst both powers have different goals, there exists a good measure of synchronisation of foreign policy between them. Whatever may be the outcome of the most recent Israeli election and whether Netanyahu stays or is replaced, the Russia-Israel bond has been furthered by the friendship between these two leaders. This is unlikely to be set aside as there is much more to be gained by being friends than enemies.

Putin and Netanyahu

There is an undoubted affiliation between these two heads of government. Putin’s favourable attitude towards Israel can be traced back to his youth, as he has acknowledged he had a positive relationship with Jewish adult neighbours and teachers. Commentators perceive that the strong relationship between Israel and Russia is due to the personalities of the political leaders and suggest that this warmth “may not survive past Putin’s reign.”8 This view may be true and so it is highly encouraging for observers of the signs of the times to learn of Putin’s plans to hold on to power beyond his current fourth term of office, due to end in 2024.

Effect of Communism and previous Soviet policy

The economic disaster of Communism and the fall of the Soviet Union is now a subject of critical analysis. What were the reasons for its failure? It is not the purpose of this article to put forward a list of possible answers but one important suggestion is worth more than a mention. During the Soviet era, particularly since 1967, Soviet leadership considered the Jews as their enemies. Globally, this did not work well for the USSR and domestically it had the effect of causing the Russian Jews to hate their country of birth. Many who tried to emigrate to Israel at that time were denied the privilege by the Communist regime and became known as ‘Refuseniks.’ Consequently, it was not at all surprising that when it became politically possible for Russian Jews to leave the former Soviet States, two million Jews emigrated, most of them to Israel. The estimated population of Russian Jews in Israel is now about 1.5 million. Putin sees this as a major loss to Russia.

The Russian language

As documented in Beyond Crimea, the promotion of a particular language outside of its main country is one means of influencing the population of another state. Although recognised as a soft power weapon, it is nevertheless very effective. Whilst the advancement of the Russian language in former republics of the Soviet Union is very actively pursued right now, this is merely a continuation of the policy adopted by the USSR. Nikita Khrushchev, of ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ fame, stipulated that children of Russian parents living in the non-Russian Soviet republics could be exempted from native language classes.9 Further reforms introduced at this time significantly advantaged Russians at the expense of other ethnic populations. In particular, KGB chiefs in the Soviet republics were almost always Russians. Building on former policies, the advancement of the Russian language is seen as useful evidence of the consistency of Russian strategy.

One of Putin’s prime policies is to maximise the power of language to embrace greater numbers. This outreach policy extends beyond the borders of the former USSR. He has gone on record as saying that “Israel is a Russian-speaking country.” Whilst this claim has been made a few times in recent years, last September’s comment fully reveals his mind: “Citizens of Russia and Israel are connected by ties of family, kinship and friendship. This is a real network, a common family, I say without exaggeration. Israel has two million Russian-speaking citizens. We consider Israel, a Russian-speaking state.”10 Such a comment can be backed up by Russia’s granting of pensions to Jews now residing in Israel who left the Soviet Union before 1992 and consequently lost their Russian citizenship. Although the pension is a modest amount, the gesture highlights Moscow’s attempt to curry favour with its diaspora.11

Captivity

The prophecies that treat of the time of the end spell out judgments for Israel until the Deliverer comes out of Zion to turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Rom 11:26). Included in the scene of devastation is the captivity of sections of the populace (Zech 14:1-2; Joel 3:3,6). There is no doubt that President Putin recognises the ethnicity of the Jews who now form a significant section of Israel’s inhabitants. Many of the Russian Jews now residing in Israel are highly qualified, intelligent people. In measure they have greatly contributed to Israel’s current prosperity and the ability to ‘punch above its weight!’ Putin’s enthusiastic and energetic drive to influence former Soviet states to move closer to Russia is proof positive that his interest in the Russian diaspora is unlikely to wane. Territories outside of the scope of the former USSR, consisting of the wider diaspora, may well be Putin’s next target. From Zechariah 14 it would appear that one of Russia’s goals will be to capture and bring back to Russia those Jews who emigrated during the post-Soviet era. This could well be the “evil thought” of Ezekiel 38:11. The KJV margin suggests an interesting alternative: “conceive a mischievous purpose.”

Is Vladimir Putin here to stay?

It is quite remarkable that Russia’s present leader has remained in power for 20 years.12 However, even though his fourth presidential term continues until 2024, it seems that even this is not a long enough period for him! In March 2020, the Russian Parliament passed a motion which would virtually enable Putin to continue in power in his beloved Russia. Should this eventuate then it can be expected that the drive towards recreating the Russian Empire will continue unabated. The continued rise of Russia under the direction of the modern-day Tsar does nothing to disappoint those who are on the walls of Jerusalem, looking for the day when the city shall be a praise in all the earth (Isa 62:6-7).

Russia supplying the US with humanitarian aid

One outcome of the corona virus pandemic is Russia’s willingness to supply the United States with the equipment it desperately needs to help fight the disease (the caveat being that if and when Russia’s situation deteriorates, the US will reciprocate). At the time of writing Russia reportedly appears to be in a healthier position than a number of other nations in combating the effects of this deadly virus. It was quick to recognise the need to close its border with China. Consequently, Russia is able to sell vital supplies to other nations. Many see the Kremlin’s magnanimity as a public relations stunt so that Russia will be viewed as a friendly partner to its erstwhile Cold War opponents. The more acceptable the face of Russia, the more the West will drop its guard and be unready to oppose the grand move that will herald the intervention of the one who is to become the King of Kings.

The end of all things is at hand

Whilst the world as we know it will reach its end, for us this will just be the beginning. The advent of the Lord Jesus will introduce a new order, the restored Kingdom of Israel, which will extend its influence and power over all nations. The ways of God will be known worldwide. For those mortals who survive the judgments that will affect many peoples, their continued existence during the millennium will be conditional upon their willing acceptance of the aionion good news to “fear God, and give glory to him […] and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Rev 14:7). God is to be worshipped as the Creator and man’s wisdom, which is foolishness with God, will be controlled so as to be compatible with God’s ways. For the very first time in six thousand years “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).

God may be using COVID-19 to force the world in part to pause from its excesses, its debauchery and its wickedness. It has also given time for His children to reflect on Him and focus on His purpose away from external influences. If “we which are alive and remain” are about to be taken away for judgment, what better opportunity could be given to us? If we heed the signs, whilst not knowing the day or the hour, we can now make ready for his coming.

References

1  Author’s preface, Elpis Israel 9ed, p.xviii (1910)

2  “Present Aspect of Russia”, Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, 1:11 (Nov 1851)

3  BBC Broadcast, 1st October 1939, The Churchill Society

4  The demise of the USSR and its re-invigoration under Putin mirrors a significant decline in the Assyrian Empire. “Thus for thirty-six years (781–745 BC) Assyria was practically paralysed, and during that time the political geography of the Near-East underwent several major or minor changes.” (Penguin Histories: Ancient Iraq 3ed, Georges Roux, p.303). Just as Assyria rose from the ashes under the ambitious Tiglath-Pileser, so Russia’s re-emergence to prominence on today’s world stage is in preparation for action as depicted in prophecy.

5  Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire, Agnia Grigas, Yale University Press, 2016

6  fundit.fr

7  Financial Times, 17 December 2019

8  Moscow on the Mediterranean, p.11, Foreign Policy Research Institute

9 The Penguin History of Modern Russia 4ed, Robert Service, Penguin Books, p.367. This reform was carried out in 1958-59 and fortified the attempt to promote the study of Russian in schools.

10  The Times of Israel, 19 September 2019

11  “In 2018 Putin signed a presidential decree to award pensions […] to Russian WWII veterans living in Israel. Israel, as the only country outside of the former Soviet bloc to celebrate May 9 as Victory Day, is the first external state to receive this recognition.” Moscow on the Mediterranean, p.10, Foreign Policy Research Institute.

12 Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999 when the then Russian President Boris Yeltsin dismissed his prime minister and promoted former KGB officer Putin in his place. In December, Yeltsin resigned, appointing Putin as president, and Putin was re-elected in 2004. Owing to the Russian Constitution he could not run for presidency again in 2008, but was appointed prime minister by his successor Dmitry Medvedev. Many consider that it was Putin and not Medvedev that kept the upper hand. Putin was then re-elected to the presidency again in March 2012 and later won a fourth term. By the time of his re-election the duration of a presidential term had been increased from 4 to 6 years.