Thursday, March 27, 2014

Post-Soviet Turmoil

In recent weeks, the headlines have been dominated between the missing Malaysian airliner believed to be at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and the crisis in Ukraine/Crimea.

Needless to say with any conflict involving Russia and the former Soviet countries, the spin you get in the media depends on the media. It's like the Cold War all over again judging by the rhetoric coming out of the State Department, European diplomats, the governments of Russia and Ukraine, and the ubiquitous talking heads. Plus people on the street outside shouting at each other.

I don't mean at all to make light of a serious situation with lots of potential ramifications. What I do mean to do is point out that ANY situation involving Russia and her neighboring countries is often a lot more complex and not as "cut and dried" as you'll hear in the media. Having said that, hats off to the BBC for posting this well written article on their website. The focus of the article is the concern of many in Latvia, one of the Baltic republics once part of the Soviet Union, now independent and a member of NATO. They're worried they might be next on the conquest list. One other region of concern is Moldova, where there is a small separatist region called Transdniester. This region has a narrow majority Russian population and the leadership there has asked Russia to annex them just as they did Crimea. Moldova, naturally, is against losing any of their territory although Transdniester (with Russian help) has been de facto independent for several years.

One thing the article helps point out is how much our world is like Nebuchadnezzar's statue dream. Feet made of part iron and part clay. Ethnic groups tend to want to hang together, and when political leaders carve out territory and move people groups around, trouble happens eventually. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (an ethnic Ukrainian) carved Crimea out of Russia and gave it to Ukraine when the 15 countries that made up the Soviet Union were one country—the Soviet Union. His predecessor, Josef Stalin (an ethnic Georgian) also did plenty of his own shuffling (and killing). And there are lasting consequences.

Another interesting thing to note about the former Soviet Union. To much of the world, it was synonymous with Russia since Russia was the largest of the 15 countries. But Soviet communist leaders were not all Russian. Vladimir Lenin was an Udmurt. Stalin was Georgian. Khrushchev was Ukrainian. Leonid Brezhnev was Ukrainian. Yuri Andropov was Russian. Konstantin Chernenko was Ukrainian. Mikhail Gorbachev was Russian, and he was the last Soviet president prior to the Union's breakup in 1991. Russian presidents since Gorbachev have been ethnic Russian. Communist ideology was the problem, not being Russian. Look how many nations and how many billions of people still live under a communist system, with variations—North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba for starters. The Cold War was about containing WORLD communism, although the chief protagonists were the Soviet Union and China. The West was worried about COMMUNIST expansionism as an ideology, as well as a military conflict.

The Russian people suffered under communist ideology as did every other of the 130 plus ethnic groups in the country. Before the communists took over, these ethnic groups—Russians included—suffered under the Tsarist system. Now, does this mean that the Russian governments of the day never grabbed territory? Of course they did, and in many cases we would probably disagree with the reasons given for doing so. But the reasons were varied. It is important to understand history in all of its nuances, and I'm still trying to grapple with it all. No people group likes being invaded. No people group wants to be conquered by another. But such is the reality of living in a fallen world. Satan is the "god of this world," and we as Christian believers are citizens of another kingdom NOT of this world. Thank God!

To the Western mind, Russia as a nation seems aggressive and intent on empire. What is not commonly known is that Russia has an almost inborn fear of invasion—precisely because they HAVE been invaded. The Mongols and Nazi Germany are just a couple of examples. That has been part of the motivation for absorbing other lands around Russian borders—a good chunk of Russia has a border very difficult to defend. Do not misunderstand me. I am not at all advocating or excusing conquest by ANY country. I am just trying to point out the extreme difficulty of global affairs and international diplomacy. Thorny, knotty problems and complex histories will not be solved or fixed by knee-jerk reactions fueled by propaganda or the media.

In the end, only God Himself knows what is in the hearts and minds of world leaders. He will be their judge. In each country, there are brothers and sisters in Christ for whom we need to pray. We must stand for what we know is right by Scripture, and speak out against evil and wrongdoing when we see it—no matter what side it's on. And remember most of all—NOTHING is as simple as it looks in geopolitics and history. The domino effects of leaders' actions have consequences—in history and today. We would do well to remember that before making snap judgments based on what we hear on television or read in the newspaper. Or online. I'm trying to keep that in my head—daily!

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