Overview: A Revived Imperialism is on the rise in Russia
It is such a joy to know that the Lord listens and responds to the smallest moves we make toward Him in prayer, whether for purely personal matters or international ones. This far ranging article is definitely the latter! In it, we consider Russia’s resurgence and some of the fast developing trends, threats and implications this poses on both a geo-political and a spiritual level. If some of the material here is new to you, we hope it will prove eye-opening and lead us all into prayer.
At a time when the world is condemning Russia’s terrible air attacks against Aleppo – and being met with the same self-righteous protests and denials that characterised the shooting down of the Malaysian aeroplane – President Putin is busy pursuing imperialist dreams that hark back to the days when autocratic Russian czars were supported by powerful Orthodox priests.
In a recent article in Time Magazine (Putin’s Pilgrimage, 12-19 September 2016) Simon Schuster has written a fascinating analysis of the extent to which President Putin’s religious conversion has become central to the whole of his strategic outlook. Reporting on his regular visits to Mount Athos, the most holy site in Greek Orthodoxy, Schuster demonstrates how Putin’s ‘twinning’ of Orthodoxy and nationalism has not only renewed the fortunes of that Church but provided a driving ideology to replace the largely discredited communist position.
Some years ago I happened to tune in to Russian television in time to witness Vladimir Putin formally apologising for the state persecution of the Church under the communist yoke. During its early years in particular, dozens of bishops and thousands of priests were tortured or killed, which were followed by further waves of varying intensity until the Soviet Union finally unravelled.
When Stalin annexed the Baltic States at the beginning of the Second World War, he extended the persecution to them too. So the German invasion of these lands actually brought a sigh of relief to the Christians of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Ukraine since the Germans seemed to leave them alone. Stalin wasn’t happy about this, but because his country was in imminent danger of defeat he gradually withdrew punitive measures against Christians and began instead to promote the patriotic love of Mother Russia – together, of course, with resentment and hatred of her enemies. Towards the end of the 1950s Russia once more resumed her anti-religious campaigns.
What lies behind President Putin reaching out to the Orthodox Church?
Putin is learning from history. He has recognised, just as Stalin did, that the church has an ability to stir up patriotism in a way that political parties can never do. He appears to be defending Christian civilisation, and that looks good not only at home, but also to the Western world. Of a theoretical 560 million ‘Christians’ in Europe, a good 200 million are Orthodox. By developing a historical rapprochement with the Catholic Church. By developing a historical rapprochement with the Catholic, Putin is positioning himself as protector of Orthodox believers, and indeed of believers everywhere in the face of threats from Isis and others.
We should not be fooled. The Russian Parliament has recently passed draconian laws restricting the right to proselytise outside the Orthodox faith. These have the potential to take matters right back to the ultra-restrictive days of the Soviet Union.
Operation World reports that there is a great need for Spirit-led leadership in the churches, and that a shortage of godly leaders combined with considerable old style authoritarian leadership styles (a legacy of Russia’s past) are sadly shaping the way in which most Russian pastors operate today. Systematic Bible study and expository preaching appear to be rare. Cell-based Bible study groups are one key solution; pray for their multiplication.
To all outward appearances, however, Putin is playing the Orthodox church card very well, and the advantage to him is obvious when you realise how significant the Orthodox faith is in the countries that Russia continues to regard as being rightfully theirs to influence. Not only are there millions of orthodox believers in Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine and Armenia but also in the always complex Balkans, where the Orthodox are in the majority in Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. The Orthodox Church is also the principal religious organisation in four EU countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece.
The significance of Greece should not be overlooked. Crippling sanctions against Russia are due to be renewed in an EU vote in January 2017. President Putin wants Greece, as a member of the European Union, to veto the renewal. Although the Kremlin has also been targeting Hungary, Cyprus and Italy to get them to relax these sanctions, Greece is represents its most promising hope. The ardently left-wing government there has voiced its opposition to Russia’s isolation and, far more than any other EU state, approves Russian leadership.
Apart from Orthodoxy, Putin also justifies his intensely unpleasant assaults on countries such as Chechnya and Georgia by reasoning that many people in these countries speak Russian. This, of course, was the primary argument Hitler used for the taking over Austria (the Anschluss), the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia, before making the fact that many spoke German in Danzig in Poland the pretext for launching a blitzkrieg war against Poland – not to mention Alsace, in France, which had preserved many Germanic customs and characteristics.
This former KGB officer, who so deeply regrets the fall of the Soviet Union, is nurturing his own imperialist ambitions through a canny combination of empire building on the one hand and totalitarian leadership on the other – accompanied, sadly, by the imprisonment or assassination of his key opponents. Buccaneering, unpredictable, but always calculating, whenever this man has moved from propaganda to action and ordered Russian troops and planes to advance, great destruction has swiftly followed. See for example this study of Russian’s new imperialism. Unfettered by concern over civilian casualties, Russian intervention in Syria to support the Assad regime has therefore proved far more ‘effective’ than America’s thousands of air strikes against the elusive ISIL.
With sanctions from the West biting hard, (particularly in banking and oil revenues) Russia is actively pursuing a new Eurasian Union. Having massively upgraded Russia’s armed forces Putin is now developing serious military ties with China – which has itself developed a deep blue navy that goes far beyond any need for home defence. And see this article about military exercises in general. This article takes an in depth look at some of the issues involved behind the scenes in the dispute over the islands in the South China Sea.
We are joining with millions of people in praying for Vladimir Putin and his fellow leaders’; but we pray too for those who have been his victims, and who are suffering greatly. Lord, let Your Spirit move afresh throughout the Orthodox Church, but may hearts open wide to You rather than to how You can bring about a greater Russia; to recognise the difference between that which is pure spirit and that which has a nationalistic overlay, for this roots back to the propaganda and deception that lies at the heart of this regime. Forgive us for all that we in the West have done not to welcome and support, but even to gloat and to rub Russian noses in their land’s decline. Let truth and mercy touch the soul of Russia again we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Maintaining our guard in Britain
Faced with the threat posed by Hitler during the 1930s, Britain finally woke up to the need to rearm herself. There is little sign of such a thing happening today, despite an impassioned warning from General Sir Richard Barrons, the recently retired commander of Joint Forces Command, in which he commented that “Britain’s withered armed forces would not be able to protect the country from a full-scale attack by Russia or another serious military power.”
Lord at this time when many serious forces are marshalling, we ask You to oversee and restrain all that is not of You and bring about your full and perfect work in the saving of many and the shaping of Your Body on earth to rule and reign with You.
Please pray on from where this prayer leaves off – and click on our prayer cast ‘ Praying for Russia.
And take another look at the two minute prayer cast for Russia that can be found here.
You can find previous material we have published about Russia on the button Watchmen for Christ on the Malvern Mashal site.