The Syrian Crisis: Putin to the Rescue?
With America on the brink of striking Syria, Russia has intervened with a possible diplomatic solution. What’s behind this geopolitical turn of events?
In the past few weeks the escalating conflict between the United States and Syria has captured world attention. The Obama administration has been tirelessly pursuing—with little success—international, congressional and popular support for a limited military strike on Syria in retribution for an alleged chemical attack carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on Aug. 21.
Enter the Russian bear
The possibility of UN participation with the United States in a war against Syria is virtually zero. Russia—Syria’s strong economic and military ally—would certainly exert its veto power. And what was a poor start to any U.S. confrontation became even more complicated earlier this week when Vladimir Putin announced a proposed solution to the Syrian crisis—offering for Russia to lead a plan to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control.
It is vital to understand Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict in its larger context, however.
This is actually a small part of a bigger trend of continued tension and competition between Russia and the United States that has slowly intensified over the last decade. Russia has become an increasingly aggressive global player, with Putin making no secret of his desire to lead Russia back to its former prominence and influence.
A recent Time magazine feature highlighted Putin’s continued emphasis on Russia’s imperial roots and rebirth, his goal being to “launch a 21st-century Russian resurgence” (Simon Shuster, “The World According to Putin,” Sept. 16, 2013).
Russia’s oil and gas industry profits have allowed the emboldened Putin to expand the nation’s role in global politics through a network of alliances with like-minded allies with the intent of creating a counter-balancing power in global affairs. Commentators are likening Russia’s mentality and aggressiveness to the Cold War-era leadership and direction of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact alliance of nations that opposed American interests around the globe.
Syria now conveniently offers Putin a decisive opportunity to increase his prominence and Russian global political power. So far, he has been successful. His vote alone stops any UN action against Syria, his voice has been the loudest in questioning and opposing the evidence presented by the Obama administration, and now he dramatically steps in with a rescue plan. President Obama announced on Tuesday night that he is delaying Congress’ vote on his plan to see if Putin’s proposal can resolve the crisis diplomatically.
But we must understand that this isn’t about Syria. This isn’t about the United States. This is about Putin’s Russia.
If this plan succeeds, Putin emerges as the clear winner. He will get what he wants—to be viewed as the statesman and leader who can successfully check the power of the United States. He will be viewed as having the diplomatic and political power to solve complex and potentially costly conflicts, the one with the power to bend other nations to his will.
As a recent editorial in The Economist pointed out: “The more America steps back, the more other powers will step in. If it is unwilling to act as enforcer, its own norms will fray. If it is even thought to be reluctant, then they will be tested. China already prods at America; Vladimir Putin’s Russia has begun to confront it—and not only over Syria.”
For Putin, America’s weariness and indecisive leadership provide a great opportunity.
The bigger prophetic picture
How the Syrian crisis will play out is still uncertain but in some respects it’s a small part of a much bigger picture.
What is certain is Russia’s growing role in international politics. Do not expect to see Russia become the world’s lone global superpower; its economy is not diversified and strong enough to take that role anytime soon. Neither does Bible prophecy reveal this role for Russia. But watch as Russia reinforces its global leadership role by strengthening its ties with other nations—particularly those to the east. Its closest ally, China, has similar ambitions. They both seek to be political and economic counterweights to the United States.
During the Cold War the world was primarily divided into two blocs of power—the Eastern (Soviet) bloc and the Western (American-led) bloc. Though similarities to that situation exist in today’s global landscape, there are major differences. We are actually seeing the emergence of a multipolar geopolitical landscape based largely on geography and culture.
This is exactly what students of Bible prophecy would expect to see. Prophecy reveals that the end-time geopolitical landscape will primarily be made up of four power blocs:
- The European bloc—a great military power referred to as “the king of the North” and the “beast” (Daniel 11:40-42; Revelation 13:2; 17:12) that will dominate the world militarily and economically during the end times.
- The Muslim bloc—a group of Muslim nations referred to as “the king of the South” that will come into direct conflict with Europe (Daniel 11:40-43).
- The Eastern bloc—an alliance of mostly Asian nations (probably led by Russia and China) that will challenge the European beast power (Jeremiah 50:41-42; Daniel 11:44; Revelation 9:13-21).
- The English-speaking bloc—the United States and British Commonwealth nations that will be defeated militarily during the Great Tribulation and rendered powerless by the European beast power (Genesis 48:19; Jeremiah 30:7).
Watch as the first three power blocs (European, Muslim and Eastern) continue to increase in political and economic power, while the English-speaking bloc continues to decline.
We are seeing the end-time geopolitical landscape develop right before our eyes. Keep watching!
For more background, see the article “Russia in the Bible” and the section on the “Middle East in Bible Prophecy.”