Analysts worry the West's attempts at declawing the Russian bear may provoke an angry response, the Bible clearly indicates Russia's future actions.
This week saw Russian President Vladimir Putin defend his country's position in his annual New Year’s press conference. During his discussion he brought up the analogy of the Russian bear:
"Sometimes I think maybe it would be better for our bear to sit quietly, rather than chasing around the forest after piglets. To sit eating berries and honey instead. Maybe they will leave it in peace," Putin said.
"They will not. Because they will always try to put him on a chain, and as soon as they succeed in doing so, they tear out his fangs and his claws."
"Once they've taken out his claws and his fangs, then the bear ... (will) become a stuffed animal," he said. "The issue is not Crimea. The issue is that we are protecting our sovereignty and our right to exist."
"The president also insisted Russia's economy and the ruble would quickly recover from the current crisis. In opening remarks, he acknowledged that the ruble could slide further because of falling oil prices and warned that spending cuts might be necessary — but said the economy would return to growth in two years.
Putin went on to defend Russia’s position over the Ukraine, as the Associated Press reported:
Putin denied Russia was embarking on a new Cold War. "The only thing we've done is protecting our interests in a tougher way," he said. "We're not aggressive. We're not attacking anyone in the political sense of the word."
The scriptures indicate something different is going to eventually happen.
The Price of Oil and the Russian Economy
As analysts around the world watch the current economic crisis in Russia, they link it to the drop in world oil prices and to the sanctions being placed on Russia by the West and Europe.
Putin was reported by the Associate Press as stating that 25% of Russia's economic crisis — including its faltering currency — was caused by sanctions imposed following the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
One might think that Putin would be down in popularity with the direction he has taken the country in, but this is not the case. AP reported,
"Putin is enjoying historically high poll ratings. Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research poll released Thursday found that about 80 percent of Russians still support him — an increase compared to 2012."
This is way more than President Obama can boast, with approval ratings running around 48 percent at the end of December, according to a Gallup poll.
Russia to be driven to desperate measures
However, analysts around the world are concerned that Russia will be driven to desperate measures as the economic noose tightens.
The Associated Press reported in January,
"Once an economy luxuriating in a cornucopia of oil and gas revenues, the collapse of world oil prices in 2014 has left Russia suddenly vulnerable. Added to that is the effect of Western sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Most painfully, the sanctions deny Russian businesses access to Western credit markets. The ruble also lost about 45 percent of its value against the dollar in 2014."
There are real concerns that if prices of oil continue to fall, Russia will become desperate. Australia’s International Business Times reported on January 3rd, 2015 :
"According to Reuters, Russian authorities believe that the country can still make it through 2015 if the price of crude oil, Russia's main export driver, will remain near current levels. However, economists think that even at the current price of $60 per barrel, the oil price is only a little more than half of what Moscow needs to balance the budget. The Kremlin is quickly losing money.
Without drastic action, Russian officials are becoming less confident about the country's future in 2016-17 if global oil prices continue to drop towards $40."
What could this drastic action be? It remains to be seen, but the heat is certainly being turned up on the world stove. The New York Times stated on Dec 31, 2014:
“The risk is that an economic collapse might lead the Kremlin to lash out more severely against Ukraine and t
he West…. The collapsing economy adds serious risk to an already tense standoff with Russia. Mr. Putin is well aware that his popularity rests on economic, social and political stability. A severe downturn could erode his domestic support. To save himself, he may again resort to the dual levers of nationalism and foreign adventurism to shore up his popularity at home. While this strategy would not be sustainable in the long term, in the near term it would guarantee that the animosity between Russia and the West spirals to dangerous new lows. The most severe consequences would surely be felt by Ukraine, but the Baltic states could also be targeted.”
The scripture points to a time when Russia will be forced to take action and come into the land of Israel for economic reasons (amongst others):
“And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords:” (Ezekiel 38:4)
God will draw Russia and its allies into the Middle East. It will be an evil plan they concoct to gain control over the economic prosperity of Israel:
“Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought: And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land.” (Ezekiel 38:10–12)
So while Russia’s economic downturn may make her more hostile against the West, we know ultimately she will set her sights upon the Middle East and Israel.
Pushing Russia Away from the West
The effect of sanctions has been to push Russia away from the West and into the arms of its traditional allies. In his speech to Russian lawmakers back in December, Putin stated:
“I would like to say a few words about sanctions. This is not just a nervous reaction by the U.S. and their partners to what we did with respect to the Ukrainian coup or even the so-called Crimean spring… if this did not happen they would come up with another excuse to hold Russia back, to contain Russia, to influence Russia, or to take advantage of Russia for the purposes of their own interests. This is the policy of interests that has been existing forever, for decades, or even centuries. That’s the policy the west have been pursuing. Every time they think that Russia is too strong, too independent, they use these tools immediately."
He went on to state that Russia would not cut back its ties with the U.S. and Europe but would build new relations with South America, Asia and the Middle East. "The more ground we give and the more excuses we make, the more our opponents become brazen and the more cynical and aggressive their demeanour becomes."
According to Richard Weitz of the World Economic Forum, Russia has had some major economic wins in the past year. In a December 30 article he stated:
"Bilateral security cooperation also progressed, with the Russian Navy holding a three-day maritime exercise with Iran’s Caspian fleet. So far, efforts to weaken Russia’s relationship with Iran – not to mention its other major Middle Eastern ally, Syria – have repeatedly failed. In October, Russia’s United Nations ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, faulted the US-led initiative against the Islamic State for its failure to involve Iran and Syria, which he called “logical allies in the fight against terrorism in the region.”
This is specifically interesting to students of Bible prophecy because the picture in the time of the end shows Russian being tied to both Syria and Iran. We read in Ezekiel 38:
“And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet:” (Ezekiel 38:4–5)
The move for sanctions has pushed Russia closer to Iran, formerly known as Persia, in the world’s great game. The article went on to state:
"Russia has signed an agreement that will ensure that its own firms remain the dominant foreign players in Iran’s civil nuclear-energy sector, even if a nuclear deal leads Western powers to ease sanctions on Iran. Under the terms of the deal, Russia will help Iran construct at least two more nuclear reactors – and as many as eight."
It has also strengthened its ties with North Korea, forgiving its 11 billion dollar Soviet era debt, made military deals with Pakistan for the sale of military jets, and struck a 30-year, $400 billion gas-supply deal with China.
Associated press also published an article with the headline, “Russia-led trade bloc of 4 nations born in times troubled by ruble's fall, Ukraine tensions”. The article reported:
"The Eurasian Economic Union, a trade bloc of former Soviet states, expanded to four nations Friday when Armenia formally joined, a day after the union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan began."
Not only this but Kyrgyzstan (a southern neighbor located between Kazakhstan and China) also signed a treaty to bring its economy in line with the rules of the union so it can also join.
Joint security has also been stated as a goal of the Economic Union. Stratfor reported Putin as stating, “The development of cooperation in the defense industry between the members is not just possible but necessary.”
The addition of Armenia expands the union into the area that includes what is also described in Ezekiel 38 as Togarmah.
“Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.” (Ezekiel 38:6)
Ancient Togarmah covers the area of the Caucasus and includes Armenia and other areas Russia has fought over influence in during recent years including Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The total current population of the Union would be 182 million and covers 20 million square kilometres, which is 15% of the world’s land mass.
So as the world looks with doubt and dismay at the coming year, Bible students can be encouraged that the hand of God is at work in world events, bringing them into line with God’s purpose as he “rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomoseover he will.” As Russia, or Gog is instructed to “be prepared and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee…” (Ezekiel 38:7), we must heed the warning of the Lord Jesus Christ:
“Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” (Revelation 16:15)
So let us continue to watch the Bible in the News as we prepare for Christ’s imminent return and the time when:
“The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)
For the Bible in the News, this has been Jonathan Bowen joining you.