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With the armed forces of so many nations in action over Syrian air-space at the moment, not to mention the regular Turkish strikes against the Kurds (which have been barely reported in the West), we have long been aware how easily events could spiral into a major escalation in the Middle East. We certainly hadn’t thought about Salisbury!

But whilst Russia has long since set about a vigorous rearmament programme, Britain and the West have been lulled into comparative complacency despite senior security chiefs warning that there are more Russian spies operating in Britain today than there were at the height of the Cold War – and that the current situation is, in many ways, more volatile now than it was then.

It is above all, the very public nature and danger of the latest atrocity that has left the British authorities with no choice but to address the issue head on. The use of an extremely deadly nerve agent – one specifically designed to escape detection, and even to penetrate chemical suits – is highly provocative. Until now, perhaps out of fear of rocking the boat, the authorities appeared to be willing to more or less brush the “unexplained” deaths of number of Russian citizens living in Britain under the carpet. Now that a red line has now been crossed, a strong response becomes a necessity – albeit one that is sending icy blasts through the UK’s relationship with Putin’s Russia.

Facing reality

As we will be seeing in this overview of current events, we must recognise the changes that are called for. I remember, not long ago, hearing an MOD spokesman defending the lack of capital investment in the armed forces and the huge paring down of the Royal Navy on the grounds that we did not need to invest because we do not have any credible enemies. Really? In the face of the ruthlessness of Isis, and the rise of military powers that know exactly what they are doing?

Deterrence is vital. Look at the Old Testament nations that were deterred from attacking Israel by stories of her awesome God! “When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Josh. 2:11 cf 2 Chron. 20:29)

Where these nations spotted excessive weakness, however, trouble was rarely far behind. A past master at exploiting western weakness, Putin has benefited greatly by the sheer amount of time and energy the Brexit issue is consuming in the West, not to mention the investigations into possible collusion between Trump and Russia.

Senior military leaders have been queueing up for the last three years to warn that we are in no position to defend ourselves against an attack from Russia. From across the Channel, we even heard of a key German battalion assigned to Nato’s rapid response force being obliged to use broomstick handles instead of guns on a joint exercise due to chronic shortages of equipment – a report more fitting for a Dad’s Army script than a credible military power.

A Revived Imperialism is on the rise in Russia

Putin is literally moving Georgia’s border

Spotlight on Russia and Transnistria

In terms of military developments see this important update.

Putin’s personality

For we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes. (2 Cor. 2:11)

A key factor in planning an effective military strategy is to know who it is we are dealing with. I have often sought in the last few years, to draw people’s attention to Putin’s complex personality. Most Western leaders have neither the experience nor the specialised psychological training to understand the pronounced narcissistic tendencies that are at work in his life. See this article for example and also this article.

Putin likes to convey a mighty and powerful image of himself. He has massive popular support, especially in places like the Crimea – and he knows how to use it to secure control over the institutions of power. But the truth is that, whilst Russia has become overwhelmingly formidable in some areas, it is by no means as strong as Putin might like to portray it. The nation is still recovering from the sharp drop in oil prices a few years ago, and is suffering under the sanctions applied by the UN. Historically speaking, people and nations are on thin ice when they attempt to project a power that they do not, in reality, have.

Vladimir Putin’s brazen qualities stand out, as in his claim that the army of ‘little green men’ who invaded Crimea without insignia were not of Russian origin

Watch out for little green men.

Revenge: a theme that lies at the heart of Putin’s make-up

There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground. (Amos 5:7)

Much has been made of Putin’s conversion to Orthodox faith, but one aspect that he appears to have left to one side is Jesus’ command to forgive those who oppose us. It is no secret that vindictiveness and consequent violence were built into the whole structure of KGB philosophy – and Putin is very much the product of this legacy and environment. I once saw Putin being asked on Russian television if he could forgive his enemies. His reply was telling. He replied, “Da! (Yes) – except for those who have betrayed me.” Think of the fate that journalists who have exposed the darker side of Putin’s activities have endured.

Isn’t it lovely when we come across people whose hearts are gloriously free of any trace of vindictiveness? And how hard it is to endure the company of those who are heavily weighed down by it. The desire to get even, and to see someone (or some institution, team or even country) get its due comeuppance easily becomes all-consuming. There is a tension here to work through: on the one hand we know that God isn’t just into justice, He is Justice – just as He is Mercy. And He calls us to enact it. Let justice roll on like a mighty river. (Amos 5:24, but see 5:10-24) Does He not hear the cry of those who cry to Him night and day for justice? (Luke 18:1-8)

In His deep identification with all that He has made and with all who are suffering injustice, the Lord feels this pain not, as it were on the outside but from deep within the heart of each crushed, abused and persecuted person. He is extremely aware when governments, as well as individuals, act according to narrow national interest – for instance, to justify indiscriminate sales of arms in return for fabulous payments. The EU Typhoon fighter that is a ‘flagship’ factor for our economy is as much a cash cow to the West as the Spanish treasure ships were to their Empire. (No wonder Francis Drake took such delight in plundering them!)

God sees and feels in His own heart all the heartbreak of these things. “But what can we do about it?” we cry. “These are events and forces miles beyond our ken and reach.” True – but perhaps less so than we may have realised.

In Jeremiah 12:11 the Lord warns, “The whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares.” As the Lord makes clear elsewhere, the person or government who fails to bestow care falls well short of all He intends. (Jer. 23:2) – but He greatly values those who do care. He looks for those who will stand before Him ‘in the gap’ on behalf of the land. (Ezek. 22:30) He is always seeking to woo people from the ways of violence and self-interest to share the causes of His Kingdom – and many of those He uses most powerfully are those who are prepared to grieve most deeply over the injustices of the world.

An essential starting point lies in the fundamental recognition of the consequences of our ways. As Anne Appelbaum powerfully shows, Russia has consistently been poor at ‘remembering’ and has thus effectively sentenced itself to repeating the same patterns of behaviour. The Lord warned in Jeremiah, “Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you.” (Jer. 17:4) Can you think of things that you have lost, or at least not been able to sustain, through your own fault? Perhaps because you were too headstrong or too intent on going your own way to listen to the voice of conscience and reason calling to you? (Or, alternatively, because you were too cautions to take the risk of stepping into something new?)

Pray for all who are on the receiving end of institutional vindictiveness: not only for their physical protection, but also for the response of their heart under the weight of it. Again and again Jesus refused to curse those who abused Him. May this be true of each one of us too when we are maligned and – in some cases – actively threatened for taking the stand that we do.

See 1 Pet. 2:21,23

Putin and the EU

In a deliberate attempt to upset the EU apple-cart ‘from the inside’, Putin’s influence now extends far beyond Russian borders. Far more than even just a few years ago, other leaders are being drawn to him. The ‘strong man’ of Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, for example, admires him greatly. As he commented, “The era of multilateralism is at an end, and the era of bilateral relations is upon us.” The implications of this are far reaching.

Hungary itself has close military ties with Serbia, which in turn has close military ties with Russia. All of this is part of a ‘Trojan Horse’ attempt to bring destabilising influences into the heart of the EU.

Since the recent election, the Czech Republic too is looking more to Russia now than it was only a short time ago.

It is also moving closer to China and Russia

The lurch to the right in Poland is causing extreme discomfort in Brussels, but Poland is actually feeling very intimidated by the threat of escalating Russian aggressiveness – as of course are the Baltic states. See this article for a geo political overview.

In Italy, movements such as the Five Star, now the most populous party by vote, openly proclaim Putin. The following is an important article because it reflects Putin’s desire to have one of the larger European powers if not actively favourable to him at least disinclined to impose further sanctions on Russia.

See this article for a historical look at German-Russian relationships, and in particular at Russia’s covert strategy of seeking to divide the EU from within.

The Nordic countries are more open about how nervous they feel concerning Russian intentions. We have reported before about Sweden reintroducing conscription, Finland mobilising its reserves and the distinctly disturbing simultaneous nuclear attack  that Russia simulated against the Baltic States. As a result, America is reverting to Cold War plans to put heavy armaments in place. Historically, where would we be without this shield?

At another level we do well not to forget the influence of Zhirinovsky, the violent face of populist Russia, and someone we used to mention frequently decades ago when his star was in the ascendant. There are in Russia all too many for whom violence has become a way of life, particularly amongst the far right gangs who form the core of Zhirinovsky’s support. Judging by what happened at the last European football championships in Marseille, the risk of violence at the World Cup in Moscow is considerable.

Father, we pray that You will cover the World Cup, and make it a time of good football and even of spiritual outreach rather than a hotbed of violence. Protect people, property and travel arrangements and fans and players on and off the pitch, and so thwart the enemy’s attempts to make this a flashpoint and a tinder keg. In Jesus; name, be glorified in and through Russia!

Aging rebel Vladimir Zhirinovsky is enjoying another moment.

Is Russia exporting a new breed of hooligan?

As surely as rudeness is almost always contagious, the opposite qualities are also caught as well as taught: courtesy, grace, love and prayer.

The cyber dimension

As we have also repeatedly been warning, Russia is developing the capability to completely incapacitate the Western Internet. See our article on how vulnerable all western fibre net optical cables are to being cut. Meanwhile Russian agents have hacked into the Danish defence ministry and, over a prolonged period of time, the German ministry.

See also The dilemmas that Russia is posing the world

How important it is to keep Theresa May in prayer

I have expressed many times before our belief that Theresa May has faced greater challenges from day one of her premiership than any prime minister since Winston Churchill. Father, we are asking You to protect her in body, mind and spirit and to guide her in the decisions that she reaches and the advice she is given. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Photo by A. L. on Unsplash