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Russia looks to Fill Middle East Power Vacuum
As the US evacuates the Middle East, Russia has been working feverishly to fill the vacuum.
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August 30, 2021 - Audio, 26.80 MIN
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The tragedy in Afghanistan is horrific, but a greater geopolitical move is going on behind the scenes. This week we continue our review of the US withdraw from Afghanistan, but also the entire region, and Russia's resurgence in the same area, setting the stage for the latter day invasion of the Middle East. 
The Tragedy in Afghanistan

The news this week has been full of images of the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan, as the USA and NATO allies exit another country in the Middle East.

In February of 2020, the Trump administration negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. It would see America’s remaining 13,000 troops leave, 5,000 imprisoned Taliban soldiers freed, and set a date certain of May 1, 2021, for the final withdrawal. The agreement was concluded without the Afghan government.

As the American’s withdrew, the Taliban violated the agreement and attacked Afghan government forces and began conquering territory.  By September of 2020, all the Taliban prisoners were released, a condition that was required before peace talks could begin between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

By January, American forces in Afghanistan had been drawn down to 2,500.

At the end of March President Joe Biden announced the delay of the withdrawal of US troops until to the end of August, reiterating this on April 14th stating that it was time for America to end its “forever war.”

In response to this the Taliban released a statement stating the failure of America to complete its withdrawal by May 1st “opens the way for [the Taliban] to take every necessary countermeasure, hence the American side will be held responsible for all future consequences.”

By July 6th America had pulled out of Bagram Airfield, the largest Airbase in Afghanistan.

As the American and allied troops took withdrew, the Taliban overthrew Afghan government forces as a speed that surprised almost everyone. By the end of July the Taliban had taken over 40% of the country.

On August 6th the Taliban took control of an entire province.

By August 15th the Taliban entered the capital Kabul, causing US diplomats to be evacuated from its embassy by helicopter.  The former president Ashraf Ghani fled as the presidential palace was taken over by the Taliban.

With the collapse of the Afghanistan government, President Biden made the following statement:

The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.
So what’s happened?  Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country.  The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.
If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision. 
American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.  We spent over a trillion dollars.  We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong — incredibly well equipped — a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies. 
We gave them every tool they could need.  We paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force — something the Taliban doesn’t have.  Taliban does not have an air force.  We provided close air support. We gave them every chance to determine their own future.  What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.

The shocking collapse of the Afghan government and the complete under-estimation of American official has left the world with mouth’s wide open. US House of Representatives Congressman Jim Banks laid the blame for the collapse on the Biden administration, and stated the fallout about the Taliban’s newly acquired military abilities:

My job there was as a foreign military sales officer, so I was on the front lines of acquiring  the equipment that the Americans provided and turned over to the Afghan army and the Afghan police.

I’m going to read to you what is so painful for me, and so many other Afghan veterans who served in that capacity, and others who served as part of the “train, advise, and assist, equip” effort in helping the Afghans.

 We now know that due to the negligence of this administration, the Taliban now has access to over 85 billion dollars worth of American made military equipment. That includes 75,000 vehicles; over two hundred airplanes and helicopters; over 600,000 small arms and light weapons. The Taliban now has more black hawk helicopters than 85% of the countries in the world. But they don’t just have weapons, they also have night vision goggles, body armour, medical supplies, and unbelievably, unfathomable to me and so many others, is that the Taliban now has biometric devices which have the finger prints, eye scans and the biographical information of the Afghans who helped us over the last twenty years. And here’s what we just learned again in the briefing we just walked out of. This administration still has no plan to get this military equipment, or these supplies back.”

The enormity of this cache of weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban cannot be lost on us. This makes them one of the most well-armed regimes in the entire region. Those Afghans who have been trained to fly this equipment will quickly fall into allegiance with the new government, for fear of reprisal. The fear this rapid reversal and rearming of the Taliban in the region is having repercussions in all the neighbouring states.   

Then, on Thursday of this week, two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans congregated at the Kabul airport, killing over 169 Afghans desperate to flee and thirteen US service personnel guarding the area.

The catastrophe in this country is a symptom of the greater collapse of US influence in the region.

As we consider the geopolitical fallout, we are not unmindful of the personal tragedies that are occurring in the region as brutal Taliban regime regains control. Our hearts go out to the people, now under the brutally oppressive regime once again. Our focus in this broadcast is to look at the bigger picture and see the hand of God as nations are moved to fulfill his will in bringing all nations down to Israel where he will put an end to man’s selfish rule and reveal himself to the world one and for all:

“And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O Gog, before their eyes.” (Ezekiel 38:16)

Russia’s Underbelly

Afghanistan is positioned toward Russia’s southern flank, (its underbelly)  and during the days of the Soviet Union was its southern neighbour.  Afghanistan is surrounded by Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan were all part of the Soviet empire and gained independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s. 

Turkmenistan shares the Caspian Sea as a border with Russia, while it cast itself as officially neutral, it signed a strategic partnership agreement with Russia in October 2017. Turkmenistan is a country rich in natural gas resources.

Uzbekistan also border the Caspian Sea, sharing a border with Russia. It is also rich in natural gas, and has gigantic power-generation stations left over from the Soviet era. Uzbekistan, was supported by the US, and the US operated an air force base out the country until July 2005 when the Uzbek government ordered them to leave. Th country has very close ties with the Russian Federation.

Tajikistan is another state bordering Afghanistan that is friendly with Russia, who maintain a large military base in the Dushanbe, the country’s largest city. Russian is the official language. Fifty percent of Tajikistan’s GDP comes from Tajik citizens who travel and work in Russia. Tajikistan has asked Russia for help security due to the large number Afghan refugees that have fled to the country following the success of the Taliban in July of this year.

Above these is Kazakhstan another country that was part of the USSR.  It was the last to leave the Soviet Union, and joined the Commonwealth of Independent states shortly afterward in 1991 long with neighbouring Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.  Russia maintains a base here. The Kazakh Air Force is receiving a fresh shipment of Russian fighters as reported by the National Interest Magazine this week:  

"Work continues to implement a contract on the delivery of another batch of four such fighters to our Kazakh partners by the end of 2022. So far, twenty advanced Su-30SM fighters have been delivered to the Republic of Kazakhstan," said Director of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation Dmitry Shugayev on Wednesday. The Kazakh Air Defense Forces (KADF) ordered and received twenty-four Su-30SM “Flanker-H” fighters from 2015 to 2018, with an additional batch procured in 2020.

Russia’s Hegemony growing Central Asia and in the Middle East.

The collapse of US influence in the area is welcomed by Russia as the Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported:

As the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, Russia has appointed itself as a mediator in the war-torn country, underlining its position as a key stakeholder and hardly hiding its desire to expand its influence in the region to fill the power vacuum left by the retreating U.S. military.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently trolled Western countries and their dismal efforts to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan.

"I think many politicians in the West are starting to come to grips [with the reality that] it is unacceptable to impose alien standards of political life and conduct on other countries and nations," the president said during an Aug. 20 news conference after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The article went on to report:

In another sign the Kremlin has been preparing itself for the Taliban's return to power, President Putin's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said Moscow has been working to establish "contacts with the Taliban movement for the last seven years." He added that Russia anticipated the Taliban would "play a leading role in the future of Afghanistan."

Moscow has designated the Taliban as a terrorist organization and outlawed it within Russia. Still, the government unofficially welcomed a Taliban delegation to Moscow in July.

Russia is reaping the rewards from its years of careful preparations for a diplomatic offensive in the event of a U.S. retreat from the country.

As indicated by his intervention in the Syrian civil war, Putin's aim is to have a major footprint in the region. The Kremlin has already started using its power to influence the situation in Afghanistan.

As America is withdrawing Russia is re-asserting its ring of influence, as the Nikkei article went on to describe:

Since the Taliban began to gain ground in early August, the Russian military has conducted joint drills with Uzbek, Tajik and Chinese forces in areas bordering Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan -- two of the five former Soviet republics in Central Asia -- are seen by Moscow as part of its sphere of influence. Russia also has a military alliance with Tajikistan.

All these countries fear that the Taliban or other Muslim militants hiding out in Afghanistan may capitalize on the current confusion to infiltrate their territory, disrupting border areas. Through the military exercises, Russia has garnered international recognition as the guardian of the Central Asian nations.

Russia is very interested in the collapse of American’s influence, falling like dominos in these areas.

Russia’s Influence In the Middle East

Iran is also extremely invested in America’s withdrawal. American troops in Afghanistan meant American troops on its border, as Afghanistan is Iran’s eastern border.  Iran is the former headquarters of the Persian Empire. Iran and Russia are strategic allies as we have discussed many times on Bible in the News. It is openly hostile to the West, and especially America and Israel. In 1979, the Islamic Revolution overthrew the western-backed government of the Sha, and the country has been an enemy of America ever since. Iran and Russia joined efforts in preventing the overthrow of Bashir Assad in Syria, and a large Iranian force has built up in southern Syria.

Next to Iran is Iraq, the former home of the Babylonian Empire, was part of the Ottoman Empire until it was taken over by the British Empire, and granted independence in 1932. It was ruled by a Hashemite monarchy under British protection until a coup in 1947, following which a series of governments were overthrown by coups until the Ba’ath movement was established, which was eventually controlled by Saddam Hussein. Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Iraq fought a bitter war with Iran until 1988. In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, which resulted in the First Gulf War. The Second Gulf War was fought following the September 11 attacks, resulting in the overthrow of Saddam in 2003. On December 18, 2011 the US fully withdrew from Iraq and the country descended into civil war shortly thereafter.

In 2014 large swaths of land were captured by ISIS. Iraq called on outside governments to help them with ISIS and Russia was quick to jump in. America followed and signed an agreement with Iraq to help eliminate ISIS, but Russia had already got a foothold and exploited the development of the natural resources in both Iraq and Kurdistan.  ISIS forces were destroyed by December 2017.  On January 2020, the Iraqi parliament voted for a resolution to expel all US troops from Iraq following its assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani on Iraqi soil. Iraq turned to Russia for the purchase of Tanks, and was in discussions to purchase the the S-400 missile system.  Russia has signed an intelligence sharing agreement between itself, Syria and Iraq. As Ben Connable, the American military strategist put it, “Russia will move like water into the cracks and crevices left by the partial US withdrawal and by the lack of focused US policy.”

To the East of Iraq, is Syria.

Syria has been Russia’s foothold in the Middle East since the glory days of the Soviet Union.  The Soviets evacuated their fleets from Egypt to its naval port of Tartus in Syria in 1977. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Mediterranean fleet ceased to exist in 1992, the base fell into disrepair. In 2005, Russia became Syria’s main arms supplier and began to rebuild the port to service its 5th Operational Squadron. With the Syrian Crisis the Tartus port has become a supply line for Russia. Russia also operates the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria, and has access to the Tiyas and Shayrat airbases. Russia has stepped in to prop up the Syrian regime, flying sorties against the enemies of Bashir Assad, as well as making Western action against him almost impossible as his troops are now mixed in with Russians. Russia also took actions to block further US action through the United Nations. Russia continues to be Syria’s ally, not because of Syria’s worth, but because of its desire to reduce America’s influence in the Middle East.

Assessing the Situation

When you step back and assess what has happened in the past decade it becomes very clear.

America has lost influence in Iran in 1979, Iraq in 2011 (forced to withdraw all troops 2020, Afghanistan 2021. 

America is rapidly losing its post-Cold War gains, and Russia is increasing its influence according to the Biblical model prescribed by the prophets, prophecies Bible students have been closely following for hundreds of years.

Daniel paints a clear picture of a two blocks of power that have existed since the Daniel’s time, but will also come back into focus in the latter days, or “the time of the end” as he calls it:

“And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape.” (Daniel 11:40–42)

Clearly there is a northern block and a southern block of power, a “king of the North” and a “King of the South.” America had a lot of influence to the north after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the post-cold war era. That influence has seeped away like sand through the fingers, and now its influence is held in the south. It is still in alliance with the geographical area of Edom, Moab and Ammon – which speak to modern day Jordan.

Ezekiel paints a similar picture of a Northern Confederacy under the control of Gog:

“Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, And say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: 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: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee. Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them.” (Ezekiel 38:2–7)

The nations described here speak to Russia proper in Rosh, in Meshech, (the Muscovites), Tubal (the Tobolsk region), and the land of Magog (an area comprising ancient Scythia – from the Caspian and Black Seas north and stretching west to the River Danube). Also, Europe where the tribes of Gomer settled. Allied with them are Persia, Ethiopia, Libya and Togarmah. Persia is Iran. Ethiopia and Libya we recognize. Togarmah is the region between the Black and Caspian Seas. Afghanistan sits right in this belt between Iran or Persia and Russia. The pieces are being placed on the chessboard for the final showdown.  

Turkey – Russia’s Bottle Neck

Daniel makes a comment regarding the method of the invasion:

“And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.” (Daniel 11:40)

This is both a land and sea invasion. The nations to the Northeast of Israel provide the land route. But Russia’s ships are located at the port of Sebastopol in the Crimea (which it annexed in 2014), and also in the Bearing Sea. For a lightning invasion described by Ezekiel and Daniel it is hardly likely that the Russian fleet located in the Bearing Sea will sale past Sweden, Norway, Poland, Germany Denmark, England, France, Spain through he straights of Gibraltar and all the way across the Mediterranean.  The journey from Murmansk to Tartus is 5774 miles, and cruising at an average speed of 18 knots (the speed of its landing ships), it would take 13.5 days to reach its destination. If you calculated it at the speed using a battle cruiser of 30 knots, it would take eight days, and require many of the non-nuclear ships to refuel on the way.  From Sevastopol to Tartus it is only 1486 nautical miles, and would take 2 days at sea travelling at 30 knots.

This presents a bottleneck that has to be removed. Turkey is the last geographical hinderance to Russia’s designs in the Middle East. It controls the Bosporus strait. The strait forms the continental boundary between Europe and Asia. It is the world’s narrowest straight used for international navigation, connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and through the Dardanelles to the Aegean and the Mediterranean seas. The city of Istanbul, formerly Byzantium, and before that Constantinople straddles the Bosporus strait.

This is Russia’s route from Sevastopol in the Crimea (which it annexed in 2014) to the Mediterranean by water. 

Under the 1936 agreement called the Montreux Convention, it is Turkey who has the right to determine whose warships can pass through the Bosporus straight. Aircraft carriers are not allowed to pass through the straights as warships can only pass through under a certain tonnage. To conduct the lightning raid described in Ezekiel and Daniel “with many ships” would require Turkey being brought under Russian control. This is why Turkey, heir to the Ottoman Empire with Istanbul straddling the Bosporus, the former capital of the Byzantine and Roman Empires, is the stated target of Daniel’s King of the north, the “him” against which the king of the North comes in chapter 11:1. Israel and Egypt become collateral damage as the King of the North overflows his original designs, travelling down to Egypt:

He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.” (Daniel 11:41–43)

After travelling through Israel, the glorious land, down into Egypt, the evil thought described by Ezekiel is consummated:

“After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee. 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 38:8–12)

The King of the North returns to establish himself in the capital:

But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many. And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain...” (Daniel 11:44–45)

It is here that he meets his end.

“Yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” (Daniel 11: 45)

This will be when the Lord Jesus Christ establishes his kingdom, and comes to rescue mankind from the clutches of ambitions fleshly men who will stop at nothing to increase their hold on power.

“And he shall judge among the nations, And shall rebuke many people: And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruninghooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)

We pray for that day, when sorrow and signing shall flee away. When tragedies like we see unfolding in Afghanistan will be a thing of the past, and King shall reign in righteousness. We see these events around us, tragic as they are, heralding the nearness of Christ’s return, crying out to us to look up, and lift up our heads, trim our lamps, gird up our loins, and be as men that wait for their Lord, for our redemption draweth nigh.  For the Bible in the News, this has been Jonathan Bowen joining you.

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