A recent article in The Financial Review, picked up from Business Week, carried this tantalising headline. Well, it’s not the first time Putin has been described in tsarist terms, and probably will not be the last. What the article does highlight is the rapidly growing Russian economy, certainly boosted by its oil industry, but strong in other sectors too.

Emphasised as well is the driving energy, the power and the single minded determination of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin is seeking to drive Russian economic growth and at the same time to rein in the power of the new class of Russian business leaders such as former Yukos Oil boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, jailed on fraud and tax evasion charges.

Consider the comments on Russian economic growth made in this article: “After Russia’s financial collapse in 1998 few, if any, foresaw that the economy would grow by an astonishing 38% during the next five years…. The government kept a lid on expenses, using the gains from high oil prices to pay off debt. Now the trade surplus is $87 billion, the budget is in the black and gross domestic product is growing by 7% a year.”

Sceptics assume that this impressive performance stems mainly from high oil prices. Yet Russia’s growth is also being driven by a surge in productivity across all sectors—a predictable result of the market reforms launched in the 1990s and continuing, with much greater consistency, under Putin. Overall, labour productivity is growing by 14% a year. According to the World Bank, productivity grew by 107 per cent in telecommunications, 48% in agriculture and 42% in construction between 1996 and 2002.

This growth, coupled with a flat 13% personal income tax rate has seen ordinary Russians indulging in retail therapy just like their Western counterparts: “… the workers are applying for mortgages, car loans, and retail suburban-style shopping malls are crowded with shoppers. Sales of new foreign cars in Russia were 203,000 vehicles in 2003, compared with 43,000 in 1999.”

And behind it all is tough minded Vladimir Putin. As the article says: “In many ways, Putin’s rule is much like that of the tsars of old. The people trust him, and the elites know they had better get along with him.” Putin knows that to be a significant international player, Russia must have a powerful economy.

From other sources we learn that the Russian military is re-asserting itself, and in some areas is ahead of the West. For example in recent staged “combat” between modern Russian fighter planes, operated by the Indian Air Force and others, against the best planes in the US arsenal, the Russian planes proved significantly superior, to the surprise of the “defeated” US pilots.

Russia under Vladimir Putin is showing every sign of rapidly developing the economic and military muscle to take its place, with Europe, in the role assigned in Bible prophecy.

World Court Indulges in ‘Israel Bashing’

This was just one of the headlines which greeted the decision of the World Court condemning Israel’s security fence as illegal. The editorial in The Australian newspaper following the decision was forthright in its denunciation of the decision.

“Justice should not be blind, but international justice seems too frequently blind to the moral distinction between civilised people and butchers. Even in terms of abstract legal argument, Friday’s ruling by the International Court of Justice against Israel’s security barrier along the West Bank is flawed. Israel, the key party to the dispute, did not agree to have the matter tested by the IJC in the first place, something that is required under the court’s rules. The IJC is empowered under the Charter of the United Nations, yet the UN is itself a party to the Middle East conflict, being a signatory to the so-called ‘Road Map’ to peace. And… by limiting a sovereign state’s inherent right to self-defence against attacks by another state, the ruling could potentially cripple all democracies in their battle against terror. Shaky in terms of legal principle, the ruling is an affront in terms of real-world politics, which is the proper context for considering Israel’s barrier. The very fact that the UN referred Israel’s barrier to the IJC in the first place reflects a brutal political reality: there is a permanent anti-Israel majority on the General Assembly.”

A companion article in The Australian noted the consistency of UN opposition to Israel over forty years. For example in 2002, the UN Commission on Human Rights voted 40 to 5 to support the use of “all available means, including armed struggle” to achieve a Palestinian state. Over the past forty years, almost 30% of the resolutions passed by the UNHCR to condemn specific states have been directed at Israel.

For Arafat and the Palestinians the truly galling thing about the security barrier is that it is working and suicide bombers are not getting through. Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post offered this view.

“While no-one was looking, something historic has happened in the Middle East. The Palestinian intifada is over, and the Palestinians have lost… At the height of the intifada, there were nine suicide attacks in Israel, killing eighty-five Israelis, in just one month (March 2002). In the past three months, there has been none. The overall level of violence has been reduced by more than 70%. How did Israel do it? By ignoring its critics and launching a two-pronged campaign of self-defence. First, Israel targeted terrorist leaders—attacks so hypocritically denounced by Westerners who, at the same time, cheer the hunt for, and demand the head of, Osama bin Laden.

The top echelon of Hamas and other terrorist groups, has been either arrested, killed or driven underground. The others are now so afraid of Israeli precision and intelligence—the last Hamas operative to be killed by missile was riding a motorcycle—that they are forced to devote much of their time and energy to self protection and concealment.

Second, the fence. Only about a quarter of the separation fence has been built, but its effect is unmistakable. The northern part is already complete, and attacks into northern Israel have dwindled to almost nothing.”

Europe United (Against Israel)

For Christadelphian watchmen, perhaps the most telling feature of the International Court of Justice decision and the United Nations response, has been the position of Europe. The European Union made the decision to vote against Israel as a bloc. They did not address the General Assembly as separate nations, but appointed a single spokesman to speak for the EU. We have noted previously the rise of overt anti-Semitism in Europe. This is now almost taking the form of EU policy.

An inherent anti-Semitism, rapidly becoming unmasked in Europe, coupled with anger at the refusal of Israelis to bow to their will, will surely help feed the flames leading to Armageddon.

Consider what is plainly before us: Europe united, Russia resurgent and linked ever more closely with Europe, a common hatred of Israel. Surely “spirits of devils, working miracles” are active in the earth, going “forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”

Consider, too, that it was the United States and Australia who provided the only voice (“art thou come to take a prey?”) and votes of consequence against the UN resolution against Israel. The Tarshish alliance is also a reality in today’s world.

In the West, that world is for the majority of people too troubling. Ignore it. Borrow and spend. “Buy and sell and get gain.” These are the dominant philosophies of our day and our country. This must not be true for us. “We are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us watch and be sober… For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5: 5–9).