The United States of America is no longer the undisputed hegemon of the Middle East. It is Russia, at the dawn of 2022, that is now the indispensable power in that region. Over the last decade, Russia’s political, economic and diplomatic footprint has expanded rapidly while that of the West has receded and is now deteriorating fast.
Russia’s return to the international community as an important global actor is no new phenomenon. It has been planned. For decades, Moscow’s foreign policy has been predicated upon Russia once again assuming the standing of a recognized, world-leading nation. Yet it has only been after the opportunities presented by the Arab Spring that those grandiose plans have moved towards fulfillment. Since the Arab Spring, it has become increasingly apparent just how far-reaching and wide those Russian ambitions really were and currently are.
It all began in 1996 with the appointment of a new Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov. It was Primakov that first formulated a new Russian approach to international relations that now bears his name, the Primakov Doctrine. Essentially, this new doctrine charted a different path for Russian foreign policy ambitions, one that did not foresee Russia following the lead of its Western partners anymore.
Indeed, it was very much the opposite. According to the Primakov doctrine, Russia would now no longer follow the lead of the West in world geopolitics but would instead seek to reposition itself as an independent center of power on the world stage in its own right. Primakov was very deliberately setting Russia up as an alternative to the 1990’s US-led world order. To all intents and purposes, at the beginning of 2022, it would seem that this policy has been very successful.
Indeed, current Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov acknowledged this in October 2014 when he said,
“The moment he (Primakov) took over the Russian Foreign Ministry heralded a dramatic turn in Russia’s foreign policy. Russia left the path our Western partners had tried to make it follow after the breakup of the Soviet Union and embarked on a track of its own.” (1)
This guiding principle has commanded Russian foreign policy ever since. Now, some thirty years later, it has continued to evolve from what was an initial passive resistance to any Western initiatives to an active willingness of Moscow to take as much advantage as possible of any auspicious international events that could be exploited to the maximum advantage of Russia. The Arab Spring should be seen in this context, and take advantage of it, Russia surely did.
There have, however, been other successes that have only served to embolden Russia and her leadership, much to the exasperation of the international community. The annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine and Russian meddling within it, the recent and ongoing standoff with the West in the Baltic and Black Seas, Russia’s substantial involvement in Syria and the rescuing of the Assad regime, and of course, the ongoing alleged Russian involvement in US and Western European domestic politics.
All these interventions should be seen in the light of the Primakov Doctrine. They are all efforts at extending Russian influence towards the Middle East and former Soviet republics. They are all efforts at destabilizing traditional Russian adversaries and enhancing Russia’s global position as a center of power in its own right, much to the detriment of the United States and NATO.
Yet it is not only Russia’s willingness to exploit opportunities that have enhanced its global standing in recent years; the West’s own ineptitude has contributed to it. When Russia intervened to annex Crimea, or in the war in eastern Ukraine, for example, it did so only after NATO had expressly stated beforehand that it would not risk open war with Russia over Ukraine. Such ineptitude only serves to dramatically embolden a Russian foreign policy machine that is already looking to actively exploit every opportunity in order to enhance its own global power base.
Events around the world have also increased Russian influence. The ruin left in the wake of Western interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Libya, has allowed Russia to insert itself into these important spheres of influence and actively shape the new, emerging order there in ways very much beneficial to Russian interests alone.
Conversely, the epically inept recent US withdrawal from Afghanistan has also taught Russian decision-makers two important foreign policy lessons; firstly, that the United States is likely no longer prepared to back up policy with its military, and, more decisively, that America is currently being led by incompetent, unskilled, amateurish and a morally bankrupt leadership.
And so, we get to the current flash point of Ukraine. Over the past three months, Russia has moved in excess of 175,000 troops right up to, and all along, the Russian-Ukraine border. That they are intending some kind of invasion seems obvious. Any such invasion will likely have to occur in the next two months before the winter thaw makes efficiently moving such huge numbers of troops over boggy ground too difficult, if not impossible.
Russia is doing this because they sense an opportunity here and because they feel uniquely threatened by the encroachment of NATO into its former Soviet republics. Russia fears NATO expansion into eastern Europe and broods on the fact that there is no longer any effective buffer zone between NATO and the Russian border itself. As a result of this, current Russian policy is to aggressively assert itself into these former republics where possible, to “Balkanize” them, and thus create a bulwark and a barrier against Western militaries and their possible missile arsenals. It is in this guise that we should view what is happening right now in Ukraine.
Rapid de-escalation is necessary for any kind of conflict to be averted. At this point, no such de-escalation has occurred or looks as if it will. The United States and the EU have jointly threatened Russia with “massive” retaliation should Russia invade Ukraine. President Biden has gone so far as to say that should Russia invade, then the United States will impose upon Russia the harshest set of sanctions ever seen by the United States against any nation in the world.
If Russia does invade, it is likely that Russia would attempt to use its own version of “shock and awe,” as it has done so many times in the past. Using a mixture of massive cyber and electronic warfare attacks, it would likely seek to establish a quick victory in eastern Ukraine. However, Ukraine can fight. They have a military that is battle-hardened by seven years of fighting. In 2014, in eastern Ukraine, Russia sent in irregular forces who were beaten back by hastily organized Ukrainian citizenry. So much so that the Russians were forced to send in regular forces.
If Ukraine does not break quickly, Russia may pay a heavy price. Since 2014, the United States has provided Ukraine with $2.5 billion of military aid (2), with a potential in any conflict for much more, including helicopters, Stinger missiles, Javelin anti-tank missiles, armed patrol boats, hundreds of anti-aircraft launchers and substantial aid with intelligence, satellite imagery and analysis, and command and control capabilities.
The huge danger is that if Ukraine’s circumstances become truly dire in any conflict with Russia, then NATO allies might consider intervening with their own forces. A wider European war could easily begin in such a way. World wars begin in this way.
Ukraine today is one of the few places on Earth with the potential for a direct Russian-US confrontation. As such, it makes it one of the most dangerous flash points of 2022. The Kremlin is risking all on the huge pressure it is now exerting on Ukraine, resulting in it realigning itself with Russia, not the West. Putin is hoping to bring Ukraine firmly back within the Russian sphere of influence and to therefore keep NATO further at bay.
But will Vladimir Putin really begin a war with Ukraine? The short answer is that we cannot know; we can only hope that calm heads will eventually prevail. One thing is clear though; Russia, under Vladimir Putin, is increasingly expansionist.
The Bible tells us very clearly that Russia’s gaze will definitely move on from Ukraine to settle on Israel at some point in the near future. Approximately 2,500 years ago, Ezekiel foretold events that would occur in Russia’s as yet near future.
“You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you” (Ezekiel 38:15).
Daniel, in Daniel 5:5-35, also describes an invasion of Israel with a “king of the North” as the commander. This invading army will arrive “from the far north.” Russia is the only modern nation that fits this “far north” description.
Vladimir Putin is aggressively seeking reunification of the former Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe. He is also proactively following the Primakov Doctrine in the Middle East in places like Syria, ever seeking to expand Russian power and influence. How long until his gaze falls upon the “Beautiful land,” Israel?
Looking at events currently unfolding in both Eastern Europe and the Middle East, my guess is, not too long.
Keep looking up.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3: 5-6).
- “Lavrov Predicts Historians May Coin a New Term: The Primakov Doctrine,” TASS, October 28, 2014, http://tass.com/russia/756973