Russia and the United States continue to butt heads on nearly every international issue, hearkening back to the Soviet era.
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From World War II until the collapse of the Berlin Wall, mapmakers had it pretty easy. Just one new nation broke off from an existing one during that period—Bangladesh. A number of countries secured independence over those decades, but their borders generally remained the same.
Foreign affairs were also relatively easy to follow at the time, with global viewpoints dictated by the terms of the Cold War. You could either side with democracy, represented by the United States, or communism, the Soviet Union.
Everything changed with the dissolution of the USSR in December 1991.
Political columnist Richard Gwyn documented this tremendous shift in a 1992 article for the Toronto Star: “Suddenly, the rare has become the routine: More than 20 new countries have either already been carved out of existing ones, or soon will be.
“Last summer, the three Baltic states. On New Year’s Day, the remaining 12 members of the old Soviet Union. This week, international recognition is being accorded to the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Slovenia; two more, Macedonia and Bosnia-[Herzegovina], aspire to the same status. In Ethiopia, the Red Sea region of Eritrea has all but become independent.”
“This phenomenon is hard on map-makers,” he continued. “It’s even harder on our inner, mental maps, which have suddenly gone all blurry.”
Over the coming years, the global landscape remained blurry. The West floundered without a clear foreign-policy goal. So did Russia (sometimes spelled Rossiya), which was beset by rampant political chaos, a weak economy, high inflation, hunger, war and crime throughout the 1990s.
The September 11 attacks in 2001 seemed to help bring the world into focus again. This time, America set out to eradicate terrorism. A year earlier, Russia began to find its footing with the election of Vladimir Putin to the office of president.
At the time, USA Today wrote that Western nations hoped Mr. Putin would be both “businesslike and pragmatic” and “a modern politician the West can work with.”
These optimistic views, the newspaper continued, were tempered by the fact “that Putin, a former KGB operative, is a typically Russian enigma—a political phenomenon shrouded in mystery, whose true intentions about how he will lead Russia’s chaotic, fledgling democracy remain to be seen.”
Fast forward to the present. The war on terror has spawned an even more complicated worldview than before 9/11 and Russia’s enigmatic intentions continue to befuddle outsiders.
To make sense of the still-blurry global map, many have begun to view the world again in simpler Cold War terms. It is still Moscow versus Washington, but communism has been replaced with Mr. Putin’s perceived authoritarian leanings. Confrontations over how to handle the situations in Syria and Iran are perfect examples.
Viewing the modern world through the lens of the Soviet years appears to bring clarity to a tumultuous time. Could the world be entering another long-winded Cold War?
The February 2014 ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych brought Cold War themes to the fore. After turbulent protests and a violent government crackdown that left over 70 dead, the nation’s political future was uncertain.
Russia wants the former Soviet state to remain close to Moscow, as it was under Mr. Yanukovych. The European Union—and the West—want to welcome Ukraine into its fold.
The East-West tug of war over the country elicited Cold War headlines the world over. The Telegraph wrote, “Why Are We Trying to Start a New Cold War with Russia?” The New York Times printed, “A Cold War Battle Heats Up.” The Washington Post mused, “Is Ukraine the Cold War’s Final Episode?”
Events of late seem to support this theory. The West is unhappy about Moscow continuing to side with Bashir al-Assad in Syria’s civil war and Iran on its nuclear program. Russia is miffed at the United States for its global spying tactics, a throwback to 1970s tensions. To demonstrate its displeasure, the Eurasian nation granted Edward Snowden temporary asylum after he leaked sensitive U.S. National Security Agency documents.
Another event in February 2014 seemed straight from the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Agency France-Presse reported: “A Russian warship was docked in Havana…without explanation from Communist Cuba or its state media.” Typically, the purpose of such naval tours are announced to the press.
Yet Washington has been trying to distance itself from the Cold War viewpoint. During the North American Leaders Summit in Mexico, U.S. President Barack Obama told the press that he does not view the Ukraine situation as part of “some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.”
The U.S. later issued a sterner verbal warning when pro-Russian forces were activated in the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine. How Washington’s statement was received across the globe, however, demonstrated the stark differences between today’s situation and the USSR era.
Germany, which is no longer divided by the Iron Curtain, declared that it would not pursue sanctions, but rather a separate diplomatic solution.
China, which was until recently Moscow’s bitter rival, chose to edge closer to its northern neighbor. The Telegraph reported that Russia’s foreign ministry stated that the two nations have “broadly coinciding points of view” regarding the Ukraine situation.
Another towering difference between 20th and 21st century Russia is that of motives. The Soviet Union had a clear purpose: bring their brand of communism to the entire world. With Marxist ideals off the table, the Cold War is not quite the right lens through which to view current Russian actions.
Certain historical trends can be gleaned from the Soviet years but Russia’s modern interests remain blurry in Western minds. This comes as no surprise because the nation has long perplexed Europe and America. Perhaps the most famous example of puzzlement comes from British statesman Sir Winston Churchill. During WWII, he stated: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…” (The Churchill Society).
This quote is just as true today, and was seen during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. An editorial published in The Independent labeled the opening ceremony “confusing and spectacular in equal measure.”
The newspaper continued: “For some reason there were some giant horses being chased by what appeared to be a giant orange biscuit.
“There was a big inflatable bull. And an inflatable teapot. And an inflatable cathedral. And then they all floated up into the air.
“There was also a massive bear and at one stage the floor of the Fisht Stadium turned into a black and white depiction of the sea, complete with guys dressed as pirates.”
Throughout the opening and closing ceremonies, Western commentators had to painstakingly explain what was taking place.
Time and again during the 16-day event, the host country exhibited a sense of grandeur and proud heritage. It showed it was a force of reckoning by taking home the most Olympic medals.
Yet the fact was clear: Russia remains utterly foreign to the rest of the world.
To begin to understand a nation that is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” one needs a firm grasp of its history.
Contrary to common belief, Russia’s expansionist aspirations did not start under communism. Before Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin espoused statewide atheism, the nation set out to spread Christianity under the czars.
In his 1904 book The Russian Advance, American historian Albert Jeremiah Beveridge attempted to explain the Russian enigma: “No matter how casual his observation, every traveller through Russia will run across evidences of Russian idealism. On the other hand, men who have given their lives to the study of this curious people declare that the Russian is, first of all, an idealist.”
Writing before the Soviet era, he felt he had pinpointed what drove this idealism: “Remember, now that even deeper than this idealism in the soul of this strange people is religion; and then call to mind its passion for order, its devotion to mere form; and, with this, recall again that, buffeted for centuries by Asiatics on the east, by other Asiatics on the south, by warlike Europeans on the west, Russia has been compelled to develop a foreign statesmanship, unnecessary and unknown to any other nation, and a diplomacy skilful and resourceful beyond that of any other people of ancient or modern times.”
To Beveridge, it was Christianity that drove Russia toward expansionism. Yet if he was alive today, he would have witnessed the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. He would have also seen modern Russia asserting its ideals on the global stage. Both times, Rossiya acted sans a religious motivation.
Yet the author did detail a driving factor of Russia’s idealism: “…namely, the preservation of order, form, and authority in civil affairs, and when the rest of the world shall have completed its circle of liberty, and then license, and finally anarchy (which is what the Russians believe we are doing), to restore to the confused, hopeless, struggling peoples of the earth those forms of social order and authority which the [Russian] thinks are, after all, the foundation-stones of civilization.”
Remove religion as the motivating factor and a Russian endgame begins to take shape. The nation is ready to swoop in and offer sure-handed solutions to vexing situations, particularly in the East and Middle East.
Much more can be gleaned from The Russian Advance when one realizes that religion was really just a vehicle to extend Russian ideals: “Incident to this last is the more immediate Russian idealistic purpose of spreading her dominions over all of Asia. To the Russian mind, China is to be Russian, Persia is to be Russian, India is to be Russian. It is Russian power which is to restore the cross to Jerusalem…So thinks the Russian.”
The motives for these expansionist ideals are not religious or communist. Instead, Russia has an utterly different view on how to resolve world problems.
Political thinkers have made the same observations today. In his 2001 book Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Henry Kissinger wrote: “Both Russia and the United States have historically asserted a global vocation for their societies. But while America’s idealism derives from the concept of liberty, Russia’s developed from a sense of shared suffering and common submission to authority…American idealism tempts isolationism; Russian idealism has prompted expansionism and nationalism.”
Mr. Kissinger quoted what Mr. Putin wrote the day before taking on the responsibilities of Russia’s presidency in early 2000: “It will not happen, if it ever happens at all, that Russia will become the second edition of, say, the United States or Great Britain…For Russians, a strong state is not an anomaly, which should be got rid of. Quite the contrary, they see it as a guarantor of order and the initiator and the main driving force of any change.”
It is only when one realizes that the Russian mind is markedly different from the West that their actions begin to make sense. While the West often views Moscow’s actions as severe, most in the nation see it as the only solution for turbulent times.
Russians can argue that history is on their side. By uniting behind authoritative governments—the czars, the USSR, or a strong-arm democracy today—the nation has repeatedly expelled and repelled military advances from formidable foes such as the Mongols. They beat Napoleon. And the Soviet push-back against a Nazi invasion is considered a decisive turning point for World War II.
Yet understanding Rossiya’s historical motivations paints only a partial picture of its future. There is another crucial key needed to clear up the blurred modern landscape.
In 1943, The Plain Truth, this publication’s predecessor, asked the question, “Will Stalin Double-Cross and Invade Britain and America?” The piece, written by Plain Truth Editor-in-Chief Herbert W. Armstrong, proved beyond a doubt that the United States and United Kingdom would never suffer an invasion by the Soviets. A similar article titled “Why America Will Not Attack Russia!” was published posthumously in 1986.
What made Mr. Armstrong certain that the Soviets would not launch an attack on U.S. soil? What made him absolutely sure during the closing days of WWII and toward the end of the Cold War?
Put simply, he viewed the Cold War through the dual lenses of history and Bible prophecy. The Plain Truth followed this winning pattern for decades. Its track record regularly proved skeptics wrong. The Real Truth continues to do this today.
Real Truth Editor-in-Chief David C. Pack wrote in his book The Bible’s Greatest Prophecies Unlocked! – A Voice Cries Out: “Approximately one-third of the Bible is prophecy—history written in advance. Over four-fifths of this future history is yet to be fulfilled. Tragically, most Bible readers are completely unaware of awesome, impending world events, soon to involve all nations. Vast sections of Scripture are hidden, and remain outside their understanding—completely lost to them. The result is that most simply have no idea what the future holds.”
To truly understand world events, one must first prove that the Bible is God’s Word. If you have not already done this, be sure to read Bible Authority...Can It Be Proven?
The prophecies of the Bible make it clear that the United States and Russia will not enter another decades-long Cold War. While there may continue to be friction between the two superpowers, Moscow’s attentions will be fixed on alliances in the East and an increasing interest in the Middle East.
For a fuller picture of what the coming years hold for these two nations, read our article What Is Russia’s Endgame?, and Mr. Pack’s book America and Britain in Prophecy.
Both provide rock-solid historical and biblical proof as to the future of these former Cold War foes. In addition, they bring today’s blurred political landscape into crystal clear view.