Putin, Ukraine And War In Europe

Feb 26th, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

As I am writing this, Vladimir Putin has launched an invasion of Ukraine, initiating the first European land war since 1945.  By any definition, Ukraine is a sovereign nation-state.  Christopher DeMuth of the Hudson Institute itemizes these criteria:   1. It occupies and polices a clearly defined territory inhabited by millions of citizens; 2. It has self-conscious polities with its own history, traditions and institutions of government, commerce and civil liberty; 3. It is a peaceable nation. Despite Putin’s perverted lies and distortions about Ukrainian genocide, Ukraine “has no interest in invading Russia or to rule other peoples, subvert their institutions or interfere with their corresponding prerogatives as independent nations.”  Such a bold, audacious and despicable act by the brutal and criminal dictator, Vladimir Putin, is unsettling and frightening; it necessitates answering several essential questions:

  1. Why is Ukraine important to the world?  Patrick Kingsley writes, “On the edge of Europe and thousands of miles from the United States, the relevance of Ukraine extends far beyond its borders.  First and foremost, a Russian invasion would upend the lives of 44 million Ukrainians.  But its fate has huge implications for the rest of Europe, the health of the global economy and America’s place in the world.  It would increase fears over the security of other former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe.”  Most of the former Soviet satellites and allies in Europe have joined the European Union or NATO.  Ukraine’s lurch away from Russian influence is perceived by Putin as a final death knell for Russian power in Eastern Europe. Although Ukraine is not a part of NATO or the EU, it is a democratic nation that has chosen to align itself with the West.  More than 80% of Ukraine’s citizens support Ukraine’s independence and more than half support joining NATO.  National self-determination is a core value of Western Civilization and Putin is challenging that in an arbitrary and criminal manner with overwhelming military power and targeted cyber warfare.  He is willing to risk everything to make Ukraine a part of Russia.

Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic offers several insightful observations about the recent Munich Security Conference where President Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, who is Jewish and whose relatives died in the Holocaust, put the Russian designs into historical context:  “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky . . .  flew into Munich for a few hours, despite warnings that leaving Ukraine might be dangerous, and the message he carried was not designed to cheer up the room. ‘The architecture of world security is fragile and needs to be updated,’ he said. The rules, norms, laws, and principles so highly praised by everyone else were not being upheld. The United Nations charter guaranteeing every nation’s right to sovereignty had already been violated when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, he said, and yet nothing had happened. Russia, a UN Security Council member, had already annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, and yet nothing had happened.  Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, Zelensky said, in return for a security guarantee signed by the U.S., the U.K., and Russia. What happened to those guarantees? Ukraine had been told that the doors to NATO membership remained open, but Ukraine had never been invited inside. Because the Ukrainians are not members of NATO, they know they cannot count on allied forces to come to their support. And as for those ‘lessons of history’ . . .  Zelensky wondered aloud whether they had been learned: ‘I just want to make sure you and I read the same books.’ And then, in defiance of everything that everybody else had said, he used the word appeasement, to describe not Munich in 1938, but Munich in 2022.”

  1. Why does Putin believe he can get away with this invasion?  Putin has modernized Russia’s military, which now dominates the post-Soviet space and threatens Europe.  NATO’s eastward expansion has stopped.  And though previous Western sanctions put a dent in the Russian economy, up to 2022 there has been no appetite in Western capitals for blocking the flow of Russian oil and gas, which are crucial to the global economy and have made Russian elites fantastically rich.  “The Kremlin has crushed domestic political opponents like Alexei Navalny, and though ordinary Russian may be grumpy about their lot in life, they are largely disengaged from politics.”   In this context, it is important to understand Putin’s mindset.  Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, both of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, demonstrate that “Putin is particularly aggravated by the absence of Ukraine from Russia’s sphere and sees it as a singular failure of his long tenure.  He bears the distinction of having lost Ukraine twice.  In 2004, the popular uprising known as the ‘Orange Revolution’ rejected Russian meddling in Ukrainian politics and dealt Mr. Putin a defeat from which he has never recovered.  In 2014, Russian political interference inspired another spontaneous street revolution, which became known in Ukraine as ‘the Revolution of Dignity’ and set the country decisively on the path of integration with the West and away from Russia.”  But Putin will not accept this.  He has long held that the ties between Ukraine and Russia cannot be severed.  This past July he published a 7,000 word article denying Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent country, asserting that the Ukrainian people are not separate and distinct from Russians and claiming that Ukraine can prosper and realize its full potential only as a part of greater Russia.   He therefore sees any NATO presence in Ukraine as a threat to the security and integrity of Russia.
  2. What conclusions can we draw from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine?  At this point, I believe we can identify three:
  • Putin clearly seeks to break the spine of NATO.  Most of the Soviet Union’s communist satellites have joined NATO and the EU (e.g., Lithuania, Latvia. Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria).  He desires to weaken, divide and eventually neutralize the importance of NATO.  But, it seems, Putin’s designs on Ukraine have ended up strengthening NATO.  President Biden has reinforced the importance of NATO and has  sought to strengthen that alliance.  One European leader, Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, argues that “Putin has single-handedly given NATO a vitamin injection.”  Emmanuel Macron of France sees the Ukraine crisis as a chance to once again promote the idea of “European sovereignty.”  He also speaks of building a “new order of security and stability” in Europe.  In short, Putin has miscalculated and thereby reenergized NATO and given it a new purpose.  The role of the US in NATO has been also reenergized as the fundamental anchor of Europe.  As Tom McTague of The Atlantic has commented, “With the US the chief coordinator of NATO,” the “big three” of Europe are each again playing a decisive role in NATO:  “Germany as economic leverage, France as diplomatic lead, Britain as the intelligence and military hawk.”  The question is  whether this unity will endure.
  • Putin additionally seeks to reset the European order.  After World War II, the world entered a bipolar world, defined as a Cold War—the democratic, capitalist, Christian US (and the West) vs. the totalitarian, communist, atheistic Soviet Union.  During the years of 1989-1991, that bipolar world collapsed.  The Soviet Union was dismembered and, most would argue, the US won the Cold War.  This resulted in the collapse of the Russian economy and the emergence of democratic, capitalist nations in Eastern Europe, with most of those nations joining NATO and/or the European Union.  Max Fisher correctly observes that “Moscow is demanding an overhaul to the security architecture of Europe itself, by ending or even rolling back NATO’s eastward expansion.  Such a change, however it came about, would mean altering the rules that have governed the continent since the Cold War’s end.  And it would mean formalizing a line between West and East, with Moscow granted dominance in the latter.  Rather than seeking to manage the post-Cold War order in Europe, in other words, Moscow wants to overturn it.”  In short, Putin refuses to accept the outcome of the Cold War.
  • Finally, it is amazing that some Christians have defended authoritarian strongman Vladimir Putin as a defender of Christian values.  But, as Russell Moore argues, Putin’s Christian values are not biblical values.  “Take the issue of abortion. Not only is the abortion rate in Russia high, but even when pro-government forces articulate something akin to a ‘pro-life’ view, it is usually in terms of curbing demographic decline, not about protecting vulnerable human lives. The animating principle is not ‘Every life is precious’ but ‘Make Russia great again.’  This is even more pronounced in terms of the Russian government’s treatment of the children filling orphanages and ‘baby hospitals’ around the country. Without a vibrant adoption culture in the former Soviet Union, many of these children age out into terrifying lives of immediate substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and suicide. But that didn’t stop Putin from doing everything possible to end the adoption of these orphans by Americans and others—all as a salve for wounded Russian national pride and as a geopolitical game of strength.  The situation is even worse when one looks at Putin’s response to the gospel itself. He has indeed carefully cultivated the Russian Orthodox Church, even to the point of approving mosaics of himself, Stalin, and the Crimean invasion being placed in a Russian Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the military. In so doing, the Russian regime has relentlessly pursued snuffing out the freedoms of minority religions—especially those of the relatively tiny band of evangelicals and evangelical missionaries from abroad  . . . And, indeed, religions are useful when they focus on protecting nationalism and national honor. In that sense, religions can turn already-passionate feelings of tribalism and resentment of outsiders into transcendent and unquestionable sentiments. All of that makes perfect Machiavellian sense . . . If the church is a cultural vehicle for national stability and pride, then one can hardly expect dictators to do anything other than manipulate it . . . That would be true even in a place that actually followed more or less Christian values. Yet it’s all the more true when the church is blessing an authoritarian, like Putin, who is known by his own people for poisoning his enemies . . . Evangelical Christians should watch the way of Vladimir Putin, and we should recognize it whenever we are told that we need a Pharaoh or a Barabbas or a Caesar to protect us from our real or perceived enemies.”  Vladimir Putin is no friend of genuine biblical Christianity.  His is a violent dictator, a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.  It is abominable that some Christians see him as a protector of Jesus’ values!

See Christopher DeMuth in the Wall Street Journal (5-6 February 2022); Bret Stephens in the New York Times (8 December 2021); Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss in the Wall Street Journal (20-21 November 2021); and Graham Allison and Eric Schmidt in the Wall Street Journal (8 December 2021); Patrick Kingsley in the New York Times (20 February 2022); The Economist (12 February 2022), pp. 50-52; Max Fisher in the New York Times (30 January 2022); Tom McRague and Anne Applebaum  in www.theatlantic.com (22 February 2022); Russell Moore, “Moore to the Point” (17 February 2022).

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