Putin in the Arctic: Cold War II Gets Colder
Tensions between Russia and the West indicate we have entered a second cold war. Recent news from the Arctic shows relations may be getting even colder.
Relations between the U.S. and Russia haven’t been this bad since the days of the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and proxy war with Ukraine through pro-Russian separatists have chilled relations with the United States—as well as Europe.
This past week, U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to Alaska to highlight his initiatives on climate change. But his trip also highlighted what could be the next battlefield in the chilly relations between the U.S. and Russia: the Arctic.
Cold War II’s new frigid battlefield
While in Alaska, President Obama also announced an initiative to speed up the construction of more icebreakers for the U.S. to use in the Arctic.
An icebreaker is a ship designed to break through open water ice. These ships allow access to the vast resources contained under arctic ice, as well as opening sea lanes for exploration and transportation.
The West is just coming to realize the danger of a Russian-dominated and -militarized Arctic—but it may be too late to do much about it.Why is this important?
Russia currently has 40 operational icebreakers (with six more under construction) that Mr. Putin is using to gain a foothold in the Arctic. The United States has two.
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan describes the problem this way: “The highways of the Arctic are icebreakers. Right now the Russians have superhighways and we have dirt roads with potholes.” Russia’s current domination in this area gives it an advantage in a region that likely contains a quarter of the world’s yet-to-be-discovered gas and oil resources.
The Arctic contains 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, over 90 billion barrels of oil and likely enormous amounts of iron, uranium, platinum and gold. Some scientists are predicting that the Arctic Ocean could be seasonally free of ice by 2030—meaning whoever gains strategic control of the area could more easily begin extracting some of the world’s most valuable resources.
On top of that, whoever controls the Arctic has the potential to control the northern sea route between Europe and China—similar in strategic importance to the Panama Canal in providing a shortcut for ships. Most people don’t realize that 90 percent of the world’s trade is still shipped by sea.
But Russia is doing more than just exploring the Arctic. On Aug. 4 Russia informed the United Nations that it was claiming over 460,000 square miles of the Arctic. On Aug. 24 Russia began “a series of large-scale military exercises in the Arctic.”
The West is just coming to realize the danger of a Russian-dominated and -militarized Arctic—but it may be too late to do much about it. It would take the United States years to produce the icebreakers necessary to compete with Russia—and this is less likely to happen in the midst of a major downsizing of the American military.
On top of all of this, President Putin has maintained close relations with strategic enemies of the United States—such as Syria and Iran—and there has been an alarming increase in military “close encounters” between Russian and Western military aircraft.
The icy roots of Cold War II
When analyzing the news, we need to first look at the past. The current tensions between the U.S. and Russia have historical roots.
After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were the most powerful nations to emerge victorious over Hitler’s Germany and imperial Japan. For about four decades, these two powers competed with each other to be the world’s dominant power. The United States tried to promote free market democracies (in its image) in order to build a more stable (and U.S.-friendly) world. The Soviet Union tried to spread Soviet-style communism throughout the world—with the real goal to tip the world’s balance of power in favor of the Soviet Union.
For about 40 years, these two powers competed for weapons technology, for influence over smaller nations, for advancements in space, for economic resources and for military supremacy.
But, in the late 1980s, it became clear that the Soviet system could not win the Cold War. It could not compete with the economic growth and power of the United States and Western European nations. And communism’s grandiose promises of a classless society and economic equality were never realized.
So, thankfully, the Cold War ended with a whimper, not a bang.
The post-Cold War period seemed hopeful. The Soviet Union ceased to exist—becoming Russia once again. It adopted a form of democracy; its former satellite states were given independence; and Russia began to reengage with the West.
Why history won’t repeat itself
The United States and the West were the clear victors in “Cold War I.” A series of U.S. presidents—including Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan—presided over a nation with the economic, military and moral will to defeat the Soviet Union by challenging its influence in specific locations and by simply outlasting it through consistent military and economic growth.
It may be time to acknowledge that America has lost its will to lead the world—or protect it from the rise of tyrants who want to dominate peoples and resources.
The Atlantic’s Christopher Layne put it this way: “That era of American dominance is drawing to a close as the country’s relative power declines, along with its ability to manage global economics and security.”
This is why Mr. Putin’s escalating aggression couldn’t come at a worse time. The United States will likely not win a second cold war.
We are approaching a time the Bible calls the end time. This will be a time marked by national conflicts all around the world. Jesus prophesied: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. … For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6-7). The world will be engulfed in conflict—and the United States and Commonwealth countries will no longer be world powers able to protect the weak from the strong—as they did so many times in the past.
The Bible shows that during the end times there will be three major power blocs that will engage in what may someday be called World War III:
- A combine of European nations known in the Bible as the beast and the king of the North.
- A confederation of Islamic powers centered in the Middle East and northern Africa known as the king of the South.
- Russia and Asian nations—who will eventually make war with Europe (Daniel 11:44).
Expect Russia to continue to challenge the West while likely seeking stronger ties with China. Meanwhile, Europe will eventually emerge from its current troubles to form a political and economic union that will dominate the globe. All the while, watch events in the Islamic world—which will eventually produce a “king of the South” who will attack the European power (Daniel 11:40).
Thankfully, these coming massive battles will be cut short by the return of Jesus Christ to earth.
Keep watching and praying for the return of Jesus Christ!
For our past coverage on Russia and Vladimir Putin, read: