Despite the national and personal aggrandizement that came from hosting the Russian Winter Olympics, the Ukrainian crisis of late February has revealed the long suspected extent of Russia’s intrigue in the a_ airs of a nation that was, until the Soviet era, commonly called ‘Little Russia’. The failure to electively control the direction of the Ukraine through a puppet President has led to a very public loss of international credibility for Vladimir Putin and, in an aftermath that echoes the Czechoslovakian Crisis of 1938, the further unmasking of the man who may well be the Gog of Ezekiel 38 … the Autocrat of ALL the Russias

The Olympic truce was an enforced peace announced at the time of each Ancient Olympics. It was faithfully observed for the most part and allowed for the safe passage of all visitors to the Olympic city of Elis to participate in the rites of history’s most famous pagan festival. During this truce, wars were suspended amongst the fractious Greek City States, conflicts were halted and even legal disputes delayed. Literally an “ékécheiria” (gk), was observed, a “laying down of arms” that the modern Olympic movement has adopted as an ideal for the Games’ modern age.

So when, even as the skis and bobsleds were still on the snow in Sochi, a violent backlash to Russia’s deep domestic interference in the Ukraine spilled blood on the streets of Kiev, the world stood rightly aghast. There had been controversies of various kinds since the 2014 Winter Olympics were awarded to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. But although many had criticised Putin’s Russia as the wrong sort of country to host the Games, none could have anticipated the extent to which the carefully crafted extravaganza would be upstaged by an ‘invasion’ that would push the region to the edge of war. Putin may have personally won the Olympics, but he has been exposed as a gross manipulator and increasingly inhuman leader on the world stage. Most importantly, the current crisis has seen him acknowledged as an Autocrat before the entire world.

The trouble with the Olympics

In 1936, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler welcomed the world to the XI Olympiad in Berlin and to the third year of Nazi rule in a newly reordered Germany. The third Reich’s first great international showcase event exhibited, in carefully crafted fashion, the reordering that had reshaped it into a thoroughly ‘modern’, and ‘forward thinking’ nation. Although it had been awarded the Games before Hitler came to power, the Nazis would use the opportunity of the games as a propaganda exercise of immense scale. The similarities to Putin’s Games are significant.

The cost of the 1936 Berlin spectacle was immense, and although Germany only released limited official costings at the time, it has been subsequently estimated that the National Socialist government spent in excess of US$30 million on the Olympics. Considerable cost went on making it the first games broadcast live on television, while a further $7 million was spent on Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, a favourite of Adolf Hitler, in the production of her film titled Olympia. Leni invented many of the techniques now common in the filming of sports events, and despite its evil overtones, Olympia is still listed amongst TIME magazine’s 100 greatest films of all time. The film, like the games, was infused with Nazi propaganda. Olympia glorified the Athlete, the Games and in turn glorified the third Reich and its singular identity, Adolf Hitler.

The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi are the most expensive Olympic Games of any form in history, costing in excess of $50 billion. Russia reportedly set aside $2.3 billion for the ceremonies at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. According to a report by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the unprecedented costs “will not boost Russia’s national economy”, but this cost is more than all the previous 21 winter Olympics combined. In the lead up to the Games publications as diverse as Vanity Fair ran headlines such as:

“PUTIN GOES FOR GOLD – At $50 billion and counting, the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Sochi, will be the most expensive Olympic Games ever. Intended to showcase the power of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, they may instead highlight its problems: organized crime, state corruption, and the terrorist threat within its borders” http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2014/02/ sochi-olympics-russia-corruption

It is clearly noteworthy that despite calls for a boycott from some quarters, as was also the case in 1936, U.S. President, Barack Obama, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French President, François Hollande declined to attend the Olympics in what many analysts considered a boycott and personal “snub” directed at Putin. Although this was Russia’s Olympics, the world clearly recognized that they served a greater political purpose, the self-aggrandisement of President Vladimir Putin.

The 2014 Revolution

But the winter of 2014 did not go entirely to plan for Putin. The Ukrainian Revolution of the 18th –23rd of February led news bulletins before the games had even closed. Blood was spilled on the snow in a Revolution that is (currently) the culminating event of a three month crisis in the Ukraine. These wider events, known as the “Euromaidan” (Yevromaidan in Ukranian), literally “Eurosquare” have dominated the national political life of the Ukraine and evidently the mind of Vladimir Putin. The term “Euromaidan” was initially used as a hashtag on Twitter and refers to the twin issues of the ‘Euro’ and the ‘city square’ where the Ukrainian protest movement was based. The most familiar equivalent of the word ‘maidan’ is perhaps ‘Agora’ (gk); both a location and a place of public debate and sometimes dissent. The Euromaidan began in late November last year with a series of street protests focused around Independence Square in Kiev. A popular wave of ongoing demonstrations and civil unrest followed during which the gathered populace called for closer integration with Europe and the European Union. The trigger for the protests was the November 21st announcement by the Ukrainian Government of Viktor Yanukovych that the nation would suspend preparations for signing an ‘Association Agreement’ and a ‘Free Trade Agreement’ with the European Union, in order to seek closer economic relations with Russia. This announcement immediately split the country.

Yet as the Euromaidan continued into February the character of the protests began to change, the numbers of protesters remained high, but the crowd began to focus beyond the issue of European Integration alone to the related problems with the pro-Russian Yanukovych Government. Protesters now called for the resignation of the President and the lifting of the numerous civil restrictions imposed on the populace. Yanukovych, who had previously been President in 2002–2004, had a history of pro-Russian leaning in his First term and while out of office had moved closer to Putin’s Russia First Party in the signing of a collaboration agreement. In 2007 he was assigned to the post of ‘appointed chairman of the Government Chiefs Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States’, the regional body made up of the former member states of the USSR. Re-elected to a second Presidency in 2010, the result of the election revealed a deeply polarized nation split between a north of predominantly ethnic Ukrainians and a south of ethnic or culturally connected Russians.

The Ukraine’s North remains deeply suspicious of Russia and Putin and see integration with the European Community as a means of preserving Ukrainian identity. this group voted for the hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, former President Yulia Tymoshenko. The South by contrast remains theheartland of Yanukovych’s support base and is staunchly pro-Russian. The Crimean Peninsula remains home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet in a lease arrangement that Yanukovych extended till the 2040s.

Yanukovych initially tried to maintain a ‘neutral’ middle road approach in 2010 that at once moved towards Europe, whilst not joining NATO or the EU, but also maintained the Ukraine’s commitment to its “national interests to the East,” Russia. Walking the tightrope of Ukrainian nationalism while managing the competing demands of Putin, he appeared, early on at least, to maintain an improbable balance. Yanukovych policies flip flopped, outlining his desire to make the Russian language, spoken by a significant proportion of the population, the Ukraine’s second national language; only to go on to say that the issue was “too politicized” to be pursued. Yet as 2012 turned to 2013, Yanukovych moved further towards Putin in his behaviour and policies, including amassing a personal fortune estimated to be some $12 billion dollars. His detractors criticized him, as a petty dictator under the influence of the Kremlin. His attempts to remove opposition parties and leading opposition figures, like 2010 Presidential opponent Yulia Tymoshenko, whom he had imprisoned, ran parallel with moves to tighten press freedoms and bring in press censorship. According to journalist Lecia Bushak, writing on the first day of the revolution in the Newsweek magazine (18th February, 2014):

“EuroMaidan has grown into something far bigger than just an angry response to the fallen-through EU deal. It’s now about ousting Yanukovych and his corrupt government; guiding Ukraine away from its 200-year-long, deeply intertwined and painful relationship with Russia; and standing up for basic human rights to protest, speak and think freely and to act peacefully without the threat of punishment.”

The question was, would Russia’s leadership, just down the coast in Sochi for the Games, idly sit by and let that happen? To what extent would Putin act to retain control of ‘little Russia’?

Russian involvement

The tipping point in the Euromaidan, which led to the overthrow of the Yanukovych Government, came as a direct consequence of Russian involvement in the attempted crushing of the movement. Mid-February saw both a sharp swing to Russia in the position of Yanukovych and a radical and deadly escalation in the approach of his forces. Putin would crush the movement through his puppet Yanukovych and money would be his bait.

On Monday, 17 February, Russia announced it would release another $2 billion of its 17 December, 2013, agreed loan of $15 billion to the Ukrainian government. Russian authorities had already been pressuring the Ukrainian administration to take decisive action to crush protests, and in making this money available, their deep pockets carried the day. Just hours after the $2 billion from Russia was transferred, a deadly assault on the protesters by the Ukrainian Police and Special Forces was ordered. In case there was any doubt, at this point several ministers from across Europe blamed Russia directly for exacerbating the situation. Three days later, the Colonel of the Main Intelligence Directorate ofRussia (The GRU), Aleksandr Musienko, stated that “the conflict could only be solved by means of force, and that Ukraine had proven it could not exist as an independent sovereign state”. This was no idle threat as the events in the subsequent Crimean Crisis have demonstrated!

Further evidence of Russian involvement included Russian o cials serving as advisers on the military operations against protesters. Snipers were employed against the crowds in an operation to capture the protesters’ headquarters in the House of Trade Unions; prior to police defections, the plans included the deployment of 22,000 combined security troops in the city. All the time the former first deputy of the Russian GRU, who stayed locally at the Kyiv Hotel, played a major role in the preparations. The resulting bloodshed appalled the world and especially those who had gathered a few hundred kilometres down the Black Sea coast at Sochi. The Olympic peace, for what it is worth, had been shattered.

Following concessions on 21 February made by the Yanukovych Government after the failed crackdown which left up to 100 killed, Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, suggested President Yanukovych needed to stop behaving like a “doormat,” and that further loan payments would be withheld. Far from asserting himself as his Russian masters wanted, the conflict escalated rapidly; the deadly actions against civilians had sent shockwaves across the country, leading to the downfall of Yanukovych, who fled the country to Russia, and the setting up of a new nationalist government within a few days. It was the pro-Ukrainian, pro-European character of this government that led to Russia abusively labelling them as “fascists”.

The Russian response was predictable. Russian political advisor, Sergey Markov, then stated that “Russia will do everything allowable by law to stop [the opposition] from coming to power.” On 24 February, following the events of the revolution, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement, urging Ukrainians to “crack down on the extremists who are trying to get established in power”, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev refused to recognize the provisional government as legitimate. Then, with the Olympic cauldron still smouldering only 700km away, Putin chose to do the unthinkable.

The Crimean Crisis

On February 27th, as over 150,000 members of the Russian armed forces staged ‘war games’ along the border of the Ukraine, in an act of immense and gross intimidation, unidentified, masked and armed men began asserting Russian control over key infrastructure in the historically and ethnically Russian region of the Crimea. These unmarked forces were soon reported to have occupied two key airports and, as events moved quickly, many news agencies were reporting the illegal unauthorized landing of aircraft and over 2000 Russian troops were reported as “being on the ground” in the Ukraine.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s newly named interior minister, Arsen Avakov, accused Russia of military aggression stating, “I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation”. One can only wonder at the stunned reaction of those gathered in the Oval O ce. President Obama had only recently warned Russia against any military move and indicated that the United States would join the world in condemning a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. He also said, “there will be costs” for any intervention in Ukraine, although Obama was not clear what these ‘costs’ might involve.

The Washington Post joined a chorus of those critical of the U.S. President’s lack of specific action in an editorial on March 2nd:

“It took Vladimir Putin less than a day to trample on President Obama’s warning against a Russian military intervention in Ukraine. On Saturday, the Russian president orchestrated a unanimous vote by his rubberstamp upper house of parliament authorizing invasion not just of the Crimean peninsula – where thousands of Russian troops are already deployed – but of all of Ukraine. The United States now faces a naked act of armed aggression in the centre of Europe by a Russian regime that is signalling its intent to steamroller this U.S. president and his allies. Mr. Obama must demon-com/opinions/spell-out-the-consequences-for-russiasinvasion- of-ukraine/2014/03/01/8ce1466a-a196-1 1e3-9ba6-800d1192d08b_story.html

The key point of this and similar articles of early March was Obama’s vagueness. The article asserted that “Mr. Obama has been vague about the consequences of continued Russian aggression” at a time when a defined response was clearly necessary.

Putin’s legal and moral ‘justification’ for his actions had been made in a statement asserting Russia’s right to ‘protect’ the Russian population of the Ukraine. The legislators in the Russian parliament quickly passed a resolution to provide a ‘legal’ cover for the action. In order to justify the invasion, they repeatedly cited the threat of Ukrainian “fascists” in Kiev helping Russia’s enemies. They repeatedly echoed the need to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine – a theme consistent with the Kremlin’s rhetoric about Russians everywhere, including the Baltic States, being under the protection of the Fatherland. But, as the New Yorker observed:

“…there was, of course, not one word about the sovereignty of Ukraine, which has been independent since the fall of the Soviet Union, in December, 1991.”

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/ 2014/03/putin-goes-to-war-in-crimea.html Echoes of the Germans in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia in 1938 ring loud in 2014. The United States and the other great powers may now face the same problem as was encountered at the Munich Conference when Hitler threatened force to assert Germany’s protection of ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia. Southern Ukraine has a significant Russian population and, as the map above shows, the Crimean Peninsula’s population is predominantly Russian. According to the 2001 Ukrainian population census, 58% of the population of Crimea are ethnic Russians and 24% are ethnic Ukrainians.The Crimea had historically been part of the Russian ‘Fatherland’ until after World War Two when, under the internal arrangements of the USSR, it was transferred to the Ukraine. Hence Russia lost it completely in 1991 when the Ukraine became independent. Like Hitler, Putin has demographics and a historical claim on his side. Obama, like Prime Minster Chamberlain, has an emerging crisis buried deep in the underbelly of an aggressor and a conflict far from home. As Obama approaches Congressional mid-term elections he is already facing a rising disapproval rating and is politically weakened as he enters the last phase of his Presidency. Churchill famously told the House of Commons in 1938, “England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war.” The choices in any military or diplomatic solution to the current crisis may be equally as stark. How Obama will address this current crisis remains to be seen at the time of writing. I suspect that it is now timely to read up on the Crimean War.

Prince of Rosh

Writing in the New Yorker on March 1st, David Remick began an article with these words:

“Vladimir Putin, the Russian President and autocrat, had a plan for the winter of 2014: to reassert his country’s power a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-onebillion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show – a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.”

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/ 2014/03/putin-goes-to-war-in-crimea.html

If there was any doubt in the minds of observers that Russia now has an Autocrat at its head, a selfaggrandizer with the financial means to press his power and assert his claims through the use of force … an Autocrat with a taste for threatening the sovereignty of his neighbours and an eye for southward expansion … an Autocrat who views both ‘big Russia’ and ‘little Russia’ as part of the historical Russian ‘Fatherland’ and the Black Sea as a Russian water way; then let there now be no doubt. In every sense we have witnessed a further unmasking of the man whose name, beliefs and personal agenda is now completely synonymous with the nation that he rules. He is intent on becoming “Autocrat of All the Russias”. To this emerging King of the North, the treasures of the King of the South, Istanbul and the route to Egypt, lies just across the Black Sea.

The remarkable unfolding of these events has once again demonstrated the accuracy of the Prophetic Word and the vital role for each of us, as watchmen, to keep our lamps trimmed for the nearness of the return of the Bridegroom is sure. Let us keep watching.