As I read the news that Russia in all but name has annexed Crimea, I wondered about the lack of comment from Christians, so I’ve decided to air some thoughts.
According to everyone else, Crimea is officially a part of Ukraine but not in Moscow; there it is ‘ours’. For weeks thousands of Russian troops (no need to go along with the ‘local self-defence forces’ rubbish that President Putin has used) are stationed, operating and taken control of the surrounding area. We have a word for that in English; it’s called ‘an invasion’.
So just to be clear, in case you missed it: Russia invaded Ukraine and captured Crimea. The last time there was an invasion in Europe was 1968 when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. That occupation lasted until 1991.
While we’re on the subject of Czechoslovakia, it’s interesting to note that they were also invaded in 1938 and the pretext was, “the alleged privations suffered by the ethnic German population living in those regions.” We’re not there yet and I’m not comparing Putin to Hitler but the pretext is alarmingly similar. A point not lost on current Ukrainian President Olexander Turchynov.
The similarity won’t be any comfort to the Ukrainians, the western powers didn’t care enough about Czechoslovakia to go to war over it and it’s uncertain that anyone cares enough about Ukraine to go to war over them.
The problem is conveniently hidden by the lack of identification on the Russian soldiers who have been camped in Ukraine for the past fortnight. It allows Russia to say that it has no forces in Ukraine (even though it does) and has not invaded Ukraine (even though it has) which means the 1994 Budapest Memorandum was not broken (even though it was) and the US and UK are not obliged to front up to the defence of the Ukraine. The Memorandum will be worth less than the paper it was signed on if no signatory was ever inclined to stand up for it.
This matters because suddenly the world is a much more uncertain place and dangerous. War is, by no means, a certainty (and I think still unlikely) but it’s undeniable that Europe is closer to war than at any point since 1945. Yugoslavia was a civil war and NATO intervention made it very one-sided. Russia is the big league.
Much more likely is a return to a cold war and increasing levels of economic sanctions, which is fun when the world economy is best described as ‘fragile’. Any step-up in economic sanctions is going to bite, deepest in Russia but also in Europe and much less in the USA.
The wider geo-political situation also becomes increasingly precarious. I don’t think anyone suspects Russian intervention in the Baltic states for example, but Russian attitudes matter in Damascus, Tehran & Pyongyang. Chances are they’re about to get very uncooperative. The most interested spectator of all though, I suspect, is China. Strength matters and China will be watching the western nations to see how much objection there really is when a big nation takes a chunk out of a smaller, weaker nation. Taiwan’s leaders may be feeling a tad edgier just now.
You may well have noted that my tone suggests blame should be laid on the doorstep of Vladimir Putin, which is mostly true (for pro-russian view of events, start here). That’s not to say that everyone else is blameless.
So what, what to think of it all as Christians?
- I’ve visited eastern Ukraine on several occasions visiting with churches there. Life for many of their people is already very hard, Ukraine is poor. Life for the near future looks like it will just get harder. They are your brothers and sisters, they need your prayers and they will almost certainly need some of your money.
- It’s easier for us to look at the big picture but emotions are raw when you just see the borders of your nation unilaterally changed by a more powerful neighbour. What is a godly reaction to that? Do you know? I don’t.
- Much has been made of cultural renewal by evangelicals, so it would be odd to invest time and energy in film nights, apologetics and cultural analysis but shut up when it comes to complex situations like this. We need Christians to think hard about foreign policy.
- While borders have always been somewhat arbitrary, we now live in an ethnically diverse world that is learning to embrace multiculturalism. This Russian rush to the defence of russian speakers sets neighbour against neighbour. That’s not good.
- There is rarely a clear cut good v evil, right v wrong choice in matters of foreign policy. It’s not a marvel comics film. The reality is complex, there are arguments on both sides, wisdom and discernment are needed. Pray for your leaders.
- We live in a short-term 24 hour news cycle, Moscow will want a period of boredom so we all lose interest but history tells us that that small crises can build up to really, really big ones. Let’s not kid ourselves that humanity is fundamentally different than it was 60 years ago. Pray for peaceful resolution.
- Nations rise and nations fall. The Lord remains sovereign. That doesn’t mean He’s uninterested.