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Unveiling the New Russia

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Unveiling the New Russia

From the rubble of the Soviet Union, a new Russia has arisen. Where is it headed?

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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For decades, most of the world was affected by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Regions were divided as each superpower attempted to exert influence and control.

For almost every conflict—whether economic or strategic—the U.S. would support one side and the USSR the other, such as Iran versus Iraq, India versus Pakistan; the Warsaw Pact countering the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It was a time of spy planes, secret military bases located deep within mountains, nuclear bunkers, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly called “Star Wars.”

Beginning in the late 1980s, following Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms of the economy and public access to information, the USSR began to undergo significant political change. Following the August coup in 1991, several communist states declared independence. That December, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the Belavezha Accords, which dissolved the Soviet Union. Within weeks, it was confirmed: the Soviet Union had ceased to exist.

For some, it was a time of rejoicing—the Cold War was finally over, the Soviet Union was dead. Some even declared the U.S. the winner. At that time, and to a large degree ever since, the United States has been the world’s only superpower.

The new Russia went through a period of economic woes, increased crime and social unrest. It even began to receive financial aid from the U.S., the International Monetary Fund and other Western countries.

Another concern was the old Soviet nuclear arsenal. By the late 1990s, the U.S. was spending over $1 billion a year to help Russia dismantle its weapons of mass destruction.

By the beginning of the 21st century, a new Russia had emerged: no longer communist, but quasi-democratic, with a new president, Vladimir Putin; missing some of the strategic assets it once controlled, but suddenly finding itself at the helm of major energy resources and revenues; no longer an enemy of the West, yet not quite an ally. More recently, it has become a nation that is again showing signs of confidence, strength and power.

Rapid Change

Optimism existed in the late 1990s and even into 2000 that economic and social reforms would continue—Russia would remain on its presumedly slow but steady course toward Western capitalism.

Russia’s response to the 9/11 attack on America was similar to most other nations: sympathetic and supportive. Moscow even surprised some by offering the U.S. military access to former Soviet bases in Central Asia in the war in Afghanistan.

Some believed that, in return, Moscow expected Washington to “look the other way” regarding the conflict and apparent abuses in Chechnya. At the time a friendly relationship was established between Mr. Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush.

U.S.-Russian relations changed, however, as the U.S.-led “War on Terror” spread from Afghanistan to Iraq. As the case for war in Iraq was being presented to the American public during the latter half of 2002 and the first months of 2003, Russia, along with most of the major European countries, maintained that an invasion of Iraq should be sanctioned only with permission from the United Nations.

Russian energy: Energy has become a hot topic between Russia and its European neighbors.

Then, in November 2004, Russia was suspected of interfering with federal elections in Ukraine, and providing support for the Kremlin’s “candidate,” Viktor Yanukovych, while being accused of sanctioning the attempted poisoning of pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko. At the time, neighboring governments predicted Ukraine might split, particularly under the influence of “outside” (i.e. Russian) forces.

In addition to Ukraine, Russia’s relationship with Poland and several other former Soviet states has been considered shaky at best over the past several years, with issues such as gas pricing as well as political and military interference causing the most damage.

Domestically, President Putin has also made several changes, primarily aimed at providing the Kremlin more power and control.

Early in Mr. Putin’s presidency, the focus appeared to be on the Russian media, previously owned by the Russian oligarchy. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mr. Putin “has brought much of the once thriving post-Soviet media under indirect government control through the use of punitive tax audits and hostile takeovers. All three major television networks are now in the hands of Kremlin loyalists.”

Critics of the government often encounter threats to their security.

Anna Politkovskaya—a journalist who ran a campaign exposing corruption in the Russian army and its handling of Chechnya—was shot to death, the 13th journalist killed in Russia in 2006.

In addition, Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who had accused his superiors of ordering the assassination of media mogul Boris Berezovsky, died from highly-suspicious radiation poisoning involving the rare polonium-210. Mr. Litvinenko was a vocal critic of the Putin administration, particularly regarding the way in which it came to power in 1999.

Tensions Rising

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has earned significant revenues from its tremendous wealth in oil and natural gas resources. These have also provided considerable diplomatic leverage with neighboring and purchasing states, including, perhaps most importantly, members of the European Union.

In January 2006, Russia brought Europe to a winter energy crisis when it threatened to cut natural gas deliveries to Ukraine, the primary route to the West. Moscow “turned off the tap” after Ukraine refused to sign a contract with Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy monopoly, in response to quadrupled prices. Some experts believe the price hike was punishment for the 2004 “Orange Revolution,” a series of Ukrainian protests and political events organized to thwart Russia’s influence.

Russian-Belarus Oil Dispute


As this article was written, the Russia-Belarus energy dispute was raised to crisis levels. Belarus, a former Soviet state, began blocking the transit of Russian oil through its pipeline to European countries.

A spokesman for PERN, the Polish pipeline company, told AFP, “Deliveries were disrupted overnight and then totally cut off Monday morning on the main Druzhba pipeline, which supplies crude oil to Poland and Germany. Fifty million tons of crude pass through the Druzhba pipeline each year. Of that, 18 million tons are supplied to Poland and 22 million tons to the German refineries of Schwedt and Mider Spergau.”

Just a week or so earlier, Russia and Belarus had come to a begrudging agreement regarding natural gas, with Belarus eventually accepting a doubling of prices. Belneftekhim, a Belarusian industrial and energy holding company, had ordered the suspension of the transit of oil through the Druzhba, or “friendship,” pipeline, which supplies Germany, Poland and Ukraine. Contacted by the Associated Press, officials from Belneftekhim declined to comment.

The head of Transneft, the Russian state pipeline operator, said, “On Jan. 6 the Belarusian side, without warning anyone, unilaterally started illegally siphoning off oil from the Druzhba pipeline designed solely for the transportation of oil to consumers in Western Europe,” stating that Belarus had diverted 79,000 tons of oil.

A week earlier, Belarus had announced it would charge an import duty of $45 per metric ton on Russian oil shipped to Western Europe in pipelines that crossed the country. That move had been in response to Russia imposing an export duty of $180 a ton on oil sold to Belarus. With Russia refusing to pay the duty, Belarus began to take oil off the pipeline. In response, Russia simply stopped the flow of oil.

European energy supply disruption—particularly from Russia—through former Soviet states has been an ongoing concern for several years now. In 2006, Russia and Ukraine were in a similar dispute. Poland’s deputy economy minister told TVN24 television, “This shows us once again that arguments among various countries of the former Soviet Union, between suppliers and transit countries, mean that these deliveries are unreliable from our perspective.”

The supply disruption would apparently have little impact on day-to-day operations, due to strategic reserves. The EU’s energy chief indicated that Poland had 70 days of reserves and Germany 130 days.

Russia was then “condemned” by the European Union for cutting off the oil supply without consultation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel dubbed the move “unacceptable” and one that “destroyed trust” in Russia. She went on to state that the current conflict reinforced the point that Europe’s energy sources needed to be more diverse.

Russia’s Energy Minister Viktor Kristenko replied that the pipeline closure constituted a “force majeure”—which refers to a situation in which the events are beyond the country’s control, therefore freeing it of any related obligations.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin warned that his country might have to reduce oil output. Some experts suggest this was a sign he was hoping to force Belarus into a climb-down. “It’s necessary to secure the interests of Russian companies that have obviously encountered losses,” Mr. Putin added.

Supply to the pipeline has since been restored. However, as Andrew Rettman of the EUObserver wrote, the “damage is done.” Reacting to a deal that had been reached earlier that day, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso remained lukewarm, saying, “…you should inform your partner first, before making any closure. We have an addiction to energy and like anything else, it’s worse if you depend on someone else for that addiction.”

Details of the agreement remain unclear, with the EU and the International Energy Agency (IEA) still annoyed that they have not been kept in the loop.

“This lack of information is much worse than the actual disruption in supply,” IEA executive director Claude Mandil told EUObserver.

Interestingly, a significant part of Brussels’ new energy policy is devoted to reducing dependency on Russian oil. This could produce interesting geopolitical possibilities in the near future.

The EU called for an emergency meeting of energy ministers. Mr. Putin used stern language as the deadline approached: “If no clear response [from Kiev] follows, we will conclude that our proposal has been rejected.”

In May 2006, both Reuters and the EUObserver reported that elements of World War II and the Cold War had returned, with tensions rising between some in Europe, Russia and the U.S. During an April 30th transatlantic conference in Brussels, Polish Defense Minister Radek Sikorski compared the new Russian-German pipeline to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (named after the Soviet and Nazi foreign ministers who divided Poland in a secret protocol).

The new pipeline, around 750 miles long and currently under construction, will link Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states. Poland has insisted that Germany should have consulted with other EU states before proceeding, to which EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs agreed. To this day, the issue remains a point of contention, causing the Polish government to veto a proposed EU-Russian energy deal in late 2006.

That August, the Financial Times reported that new OPEC statistics indicate Russia had surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of crude oil. Russia extracted 9.2 million barrels of oil—46,000 more than Saudi Arabia. Russia’s production for the first half of the year was a 2.3% year-over-year improvement. The populist Komsomolskaya Pravda daily newspaper ran a story headlined, “Russia takes first place in oil output rankings.”

Maintaining a Major Military Power

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, the mainstream media misconstrued Russia as having become militarily weak. Images of the once-great Soviet army, navy and air force rusting away in “storage” were not uncommon in the 1990s.

Yet a 2004 Wall Street Journal editorial pointed to Russia as the leading threat to U.S. security. “[F]oreign policy elites in Washington have been misled by their own claims and have come to believe that the U.S. is now the world’s only military superpower, holding an overwhelming advantage over any potential rival. This is patent nonsense.”

“The Pentagon Budget may be larger than the sum total of what the rest of the world spends on defense, but Russia can still incinerate all of the U.S. in about 15 minutes—hardly a condition for world domination by Washington.”

Russia has continued to develop advanced weaponry, including new missile and nuclear technology. After more than ten years of inactivity, signs of “new life” have been detected at the underground nuclear testing facility on the Russian island of Novaya Zemlya.

Vladimir Smetanin, chief of administration at Belushya Guba, the capital of Russia’s Central Nuclear Test Site, even admitted that the test site is (again) becoming a facility of “federal significance.”

The Izvestya newspaper reported that the military had been tasked to ensure Russia’s “nuclear deterrence,” and it is continuing to work on “modernizing and improving the Russian nuclear arsenal.”

The Washington Times reported in November 2005 that Moscow, in an attempt to possess the ability to penetrate the new U.S. missile-defense system, has been developing a warhead that can change course in mid-flight. Testing involved a Topol-M missile (designated by the Pentagon as the SS-27) that flew from the Kapustin Yar launch site in southern Russia.

Analysis by U.S. intelligence agencies indicates significant progress in the warhead’s development, as it indeed dropped down to a lower trajectory and was able to maneuver. Current ballistic missiles do not alter their paths once they reach space, but this new Russian missile can, despite traveling at speeds of up to three miles per second. This is a major physical-engineering achievement, as any object traveling at such a speed is expected to disintegrate at the slightest change of course.

At a January 2006 news conference, Mr. Putin stated, “Russia...has tested missile systems that no one in the world has.” He added, “These missile systems don’t represent a response to a missile defense system, but they are immune to that. They are hypersonic and capable of changing their flight path.”

Not only is Russia still a major military power, developing and producing superior weapons, but the nation also exports its products to a select few.

Strengthening Ties

Historically, Russia and Iran have maintained a strategic relationship, along with Syria. Although Russia and China endured their difficulties during the 1960s and 70s, relations have dramatically turned for the better in the last 10-20 years; most would plainly identify their relationship as a strategic alliance.

In addition, Russia and Europe have increased cooperation in recent years. The EU offered Moscow a “most favored nation” status, which will ensure Russian exports the lowest possible EU tariffs—a direct trade benefit of 300 million euros (nearly $400 million USD) a year.

According to the Moscow Times, the partnership deal will include cooperation in the following areas:

• Trade and EU investments in Russian transport

• Telecommunications and energy projects

• Cooperation in law enforcement and non-proliferation issues

• Settling border disputes with new EU members Estonia and Latvia

• Negotiations for visa-free travel for Russians in Western Europe

In a sign of a growing alliance, China and Russia held their first joint military exercise in August 2005. It involved 10,000 troops from land, air, naval, paratroop and marine forces. The size of the exercise underlines their governments’ determination to strengthen and solidify their alliance.

As China’s official news agency, Xinhua, described it, “The drills mainly aim to deepen Sino-Russian mutual trust, promote mutual friendship and enhance the cooperation and coordination of the two armed forces in the areas of defense and security.”

The war games came as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov visited Beijing and was expected to discuss increasing Moscow’s multibillion-dollar annual arms sales to China.

President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China told Mr. Ivanov, “We promote the development of the two countries’ strategic collaborative relationship in order to safeguard and promote regional and world peace” (China News Service).

The former Cold War rivals have built up military and political ties since the Soviet Union’s collapse, driven in part by a joint desire to counter-balance U.S. global dominance.

China has become Russia’s largest customer for military technology and products. While the U.S. and the EU have banned weapons exports to China since its 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests, Russia has greatly assisted in advancing and growing the Chinese military, supplying it with high-performance Su-27 fighters and other advanced arms.

In March 2006, the BBC reported that Beijing and Moscow had strengthened their alliance again with the signing of a major natural gas deal. This was only 1 of 15 agreements made to promote commercial cooperation between the two resurgent powers. President Putin, along with a 90-member delegation, visited Beijing for two days at that time. While a major oil deal was elusive, Messrs. Putin and Hu pledged stronger ties in the telecommunications and transport sectors.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry described ties between the two countries as at “a very high level.” China imports significant resources as well as advanced military equipment from Russia.

In April of that year, as the UN tried to grapple with how to deal with Iran’s progressing nuclear program, Russia and China issued warnings not to antagonize Iran. Both countries have increasing economic and strategic ties with Tehran. Any international crisis involving their new ally would certainly force their hands.

Russia in Bible Prophecy

An empire is emerging in Europe; in fact this will ultimately become the seventh and final restoration of the Holy Roman Empire, as revealed in Revelation 17:8, 12. It is likely that the current, cautious cooperation between Europe and Russia will continue.

However, it will be short-lived! Europe will have established some control over parts of the Middle East (Dan. 11:41-43), but Russia and her allies (China, possibly also India and others from Asia) will attempt to exert their own control in the region (vs. 44), causing the European power to make a preemptive strike (Rev. 9:1-10). For more details, you may wish to read Revelation Explained at Last!

And yet, shortly following that, the opposing armies will actually join forces once again, this time to fight Jesus Christ at His Second Coming (Rev. 16:14; 17:14; 19:17-21).

Even after the Return of Jesus Christ, perhaps within a few years of the beginning of His reign, Russia, in league with the armies of Asia, will once again attempt to invade the region of Jerusalem (Ezek. 38; 39:1-12). But this attack will fail.

Finally, the whole world will come to realize that God is in charge (38:23). Like all other nations, Russia, a great people and country, will submit to the government of God. Peace, prosperity and truth will abound!

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