Signs of the times
News reports almost every day confirm the perception that Western leaders are increasingly nervous about the activities and intentions of Russia: we seem to be entering a new period of ‘Cold War’.
The crisis over Ukraine has led to harsh economic sanctions being imposed on Russia by the US, the EU and other countries, in an attempt to isolate the Moscow government. Russia has responded with sanctions of her own, including a ban on food imports from the US, Canada, EU, Australia and Norway. This has led to a financial crisis in Russia. The rouble went into free-fall – a combination of sanctions and cheaper oil; in 2014 it lost more than half its value against the dollar. Potentially Mr Putin could be in serious difficulties. Indeed, his disappearance from public view for a while recently led to feverish speculation in the Western press that there might have been a coup against him – which proved to be unfounded.
NATO is also attempting to pile on the pressure. In a largely symbolic gesture, NATO soldiers in full combat gear took part in a military parade to celebrate Estonia’s Independence Day (February 24), held close to a border checkpoint with Russia. Also in February Britain announced that she would join America in helping to train Ukraine’s armed forces, and last month that work began. The BBC reported that British military personnel will give training “in medicine and defensive tactics and give non-lethal equipment …The British government is also supplying first aid kits, sleeping bags and night-vision goggles as part of its pledge to provide assistance and more British teams are expected to arrive in Ukraine over the coming weeks” (March 19). The Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in welcoming the assistance, saw it as a “first step” and expected that the USA and other European countries would follow suit. “Please help us to defend our country and your peace”, he said.
Despite words of appreciation from Kiev – and predictable criticism from Moscow – it is difficult to see the help as being anything more than symbolic, especially with Britain’s reducing defence budget. America has stated its intention to send a battalion for training purposes, but in a recent article in The Daily Telegraph, Fraser Nelson argues that “Barack Obama has concluded that while the Ukraine crisis may be a problem for Europe, it’s not really one for America” (February 27).
Russia’s extending influence
There are other indications that despite Russia’s economic woes, Mr Putin may be more than holding his own, especially in exploiting any cracks in European unity. An example of this was clearly seen at the end of February when Russia and Cyprus signed a number of agreements. These provide for interest rates to be cut on a 2.5 billion euro bailout loan from Russia to Cyprus and extend payments by several years; they also allow Russian naval vessels access to Cypriot ports. With the Syrian civil war still raging, and an uncertain outcome, Russia’s well-publicised naval base at Tartus may be at risk; thus access to ports in Cyprus will have real strategic value for the Russian navy, as well as sending out a message to the world at large that a Russian presence in the eastern Mediterranean is here to stay.
Last October The Moscow Times, in connection with some Russian naval exercises, stated:
“The Soviet Union’s Fifth Naval Squadron maintained a permanent presence in the Mediterranean Sea for most of the Cold War. But as its economic and military power shrank in the 1990s following the fall of communism, Russia disbanded the unit, limiting itself to temporary tours in the area. But the ambition remained. Recently, with the ongoing modernization of the Black Sea Fleet following Crimea’s annexation from Ukraine in March, Russian naval planners have re-energized plans to re-establish the permanent force, which would allow Russia to secure shipping access to the Suez Canal and extend its influence in the Middle East” (October 16, 2014).
The latest agreement with Cyprus will enable Russia to move one step closer to achieving this aim.
The situation is potentially awkward for the UK that still has military bases on Cyprus. In the article by Fraser Nelson referred to above, he observes:
“It’s quite a coup for the Kremlin. Cyprus was British until 1960; now it has been absorbed into Putin’s new empire. It’s not an empire that NATO, with its Cold War mindset, would recognise; it’s not one that can be described by colouring in nations on a map. This is an empire of influence – far cheaper to acquire, harder to spot and easier to maintain. It doesn’t cost much for Russia to provide eighty per cent of foreign investment into Cyprus, but with investment comes gratitude. Cyprus, an EU member, opposes sanctions on Russia – making the hard task of a common EU foreign policy that little bit harder”.
In addition to this, a recent Stratfor report argued that Russia has been working hard “to boost its leverage in Central Europe over the past few years”, with the Ukraine crisis giving added impetus to this policy. There is particular interest in
“Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic that are struggling to balance between Russia and the West … Central Europe is strategically important to Russia because of its geographic location on the eastern edges of the European Union and NATO” (March 4).
The extension of Russian influence, however it is achieved, is entirely in line with expectations based on Bible prophecy. When the latter-day invasion of the Middle East and specifically the land of Israel occurs, as foretold by the prophets, it will be so devastating that the only possible counter-response will be a weak protest,
“Art thou come to take a spoil?” (Ezekiel 38:13).
To the surprise of the conqueror, and indeed the world at large, the invasion will be met by an overwhelming divine response, heralding the new age of Christ’s kingdom upon earth.
- A Plan spoken of in long past times
- Russian government has the power to shut down any sort of organisation they do not like
- Looming verdict for the one who dares to speak and unravel
- Powerful Russia rising from the ashes
- Negative consequences of Special Labelling and Trade-Restrictive measures
- Mother of Ukraine or Crimea
- Battling Borshct in Ukraine
- Ukrainians should be free to shape the future of their country
- When Crimean people made their choice
- Crimea votes overwhelmingly to join Russia
- Russian take-over of Crimea
- Swallowing up Crimea, who is next
- 2014 Politics all over the world
- Christadelphian brothers and sisters in Ukraine
- 2015 European Year for Development
- Meeting to focus on humanitarian issues for Syria
Further Additional Reading:
- Baltic states
- Russia’s Syrian Power Play
- Report: Russia Preps Marines for Syria
- Why Russia Evacuated Its Naval Base in Syria
- Syria Talks to Reopen in Moscow to Focus on Humanitarian Issues, Russia’s Role (israelnationalnews.com)
Talks on ending the Syrian civil war open in Moscow on Monday, but with key opposition figures absent, little progress is expected on resolving the shifting conflict. Instead, the discussions are expected to focus on humanitarian issues and serve as a way for Russia, a main backer of the Syrian regime, to build its profile as a potential mediator in the conflict.
- Information Warfare: The Russian Exception (strategypage.com)
Russian media, using government data, recently understated the number of military bases that Russia operates outside its borders; apparently forgetting about the several bases Russia has in the Caucasus and elsewhere. This came about when the Russian president, at the high-profile annual press conference was asked about the possibility of a “new Cold War” and Russia’s aggressive moves around its Western borders. The reply insisted that it was in fact the West who was being aggressive. This was emphasized by pointing out that there are a lot more American military bases abroad than Russian ones, and certainly a lot more American military personnel deployed close to Russia’s borders than the other way around. But this response neglected to mention several other bases Russia has abroad:
- Russia’s Overseas Military Bases (matthewaid.com)
It might be beneficial for American and European leaders to think about an actual reengagement approach with Russia and look at the rationale for the actions of their adversary. As every nation state operates in within their own self-interests, Russia is no exception to this. The security concerns stated by Russia due to possible NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union are legitimate to Russia. But the U.S. and Europe don’t accept this as this is done at the invitation of Russian neighbors that fear a return of the traditional Russian aggression against its neighbors. If this is ultimately responsible for the creation of a new Cold War it is merely a recycling of what caused the first Cold War. Russia does not accept the fact that their aggression is never acceptable to anyone. – Ryan Schinault
- Syria and Iraq are awash with Russian, Iranian, and Chinese weapons (businessinsider.com)
As ISIS first blitzed across northern Iraq in June 2014, the militants seized large quantities of US arms and vehicles from the fleeing Iraqi forces.
Over the almost past year of fighting, however, ISIS has gone from fielding large quantities of US weapons to using a mixture of Iranian, Chinese, Russian, Soviet, and Sudanese ammunition.
- Syria ‘Welcomes’ Larger Russia Presence (infiniteunknown.net)
Following Vladimir Putin’s demands for an “immediate cessation of military activities” in Yemen, AFP reports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s comment during a recent interview that “with complete confidence that we welcome any widening of the Russian presence in the eastern Mediterranean and on Syrian coasts and ports,” including the port of Tartus. Amid the Western-backed opposition National Coalition’s planned boycott of talks, Assad pointedly remarked, “the negotiating parties must be independent and must reflect what the Syrian people want… people would not accept that their future, their fate, or their rules are decided from outside.”
- Czech President, US Envoy Spar Over Moscow Parade (voanews.com)
Czech President Milos Zeman has “closed the door” of Prague Castle to the U.S. ambassador, Andrew Schapiro, following the envoy’s comments comments perceived as critical of the Czech leader’s decision to attend a World War II commemoration in Moscow, according to local media reports.
European Union leaders are boycotting the ceremony in May over Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict, though Zeman – who frequently has departed from the EU line – has said he would attend.
- Czech president ‘bans US ambassador from Prague Castle’ over Russia visit (theguardian.com)
Schapiro told Czech television earlier this week it would be “awkward” should Zeman attend the ceremony as the only statesmen from an EU country.
Zeman, a former prime minister, has criticised sanctions against Moscow. The Czech government, which is responsible for foreign policy, has held the EU line.
The Czech presidency is largely a ceremonial role but Zeman – the first president to be directly elected, taking office in 2013 – is outspoken on his views on both domestic and foreign policy.
- As Syrian Civil War Rages On, Chemical Weapons Use Persists (foreignpolicy.com)
recent days have made clear just how tenuous the dream of eliminating Syria’s stockpile had been all along. Earlier this week, Syrian rights activists reported the Syrian government forces had dropped barrel bombs containing chlorine gas on the city of Sarmin. The Syrian government has — of course — denied responsibility and blamed the attack on rebel groups.
On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the regime’s reported use of chlorine. “While we cannot yet confirm details, if true, this would be only the latest tragic example of the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people, which the entire international community must condemn,” Kerry said in a statement.
And as chlorine has reappeared on the Syrian battlefield, the weapon has apparently also made its way into Iraq. Over the weekend, Iraqi Kurdish officials alleged that Islamic State forces had used chlorine gas — the origin of which is unclear but was probably pilfered from Syrian government stocks — in an attack on their troops.
- Czech president bans U.S. ambassador from Prague Castle (yalibnan.com)
A presidential spokesman told local media that Schapiro could still attend social events at Prague Castle, the official residence of the Czech president.
Schapiro told Czech television earlier this week it would be “awkward” should Zeman attend the ceremony as the only statesmen from an EU country.
Zeman, a former prime minister, has frequently departed from the common EU line onUkraine and criticized sanctions against Moscow. The government, which is responsible for foreign policy, however, has held the EU line fully.
The Czech presidency is largely a ceremonial role but Zeman – who was the first president directly elected when he took office in 2013 – is outspoken on his views on both domestic and foreign policy.
- Meeting to focus on humanitarian issues for Syria (christadelphianworld.blogspot.com)
The war in Syria is going on already much too long, having demanded lots of innocent civilians and having made the rebel fundamentalist groups stronger but also more divided. In the four years the battle is going on there seems to be more loosers than gainers.
Very interesting. Thank you.
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