Further reflections on war in Ukraine:
The situation in Ukraine continues. My first article very briefly looked at some of the political, historical and military aspects. My second piece offered some scriptural reflections that might be of use in these dark days. Here I will speak a bit more to all these various matters.
First I will offer just a bit more of a timeline to supplement what I had offered in my first piece. Second, I will look at how the US, especially under Biden, has so much to answer for here. Third, I will offer a few more spiritual considerations.
Some key dates
(As in my earlier article, I offer here only a very brief and sketchy look at just a few important dates. Those wanting much more detail on this will find many other resources that can be turned to.)
In 1994 the Budapest Summit was held and Russia was a party to it. Among other things the Summit memorandum spoke of “the obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations and the Helsinki Final Act.” In part the West basically told Ukraine that if it gave up their nukes, it would defend their territorial integrity.
The opening months of 2014 were crucial. Much of what is still of so much contention goes back to this period. Included were these important events:
-The pro-Russian President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by a pro-Western revolution. An interim government was set up.
–Putin invaded and annexed Crimea with seeming impunity. (Recall that this occurred when Obama was President of the US. When Trump was in office he clearly warned against any further such actions. Biden is of course now President – but see more on this below.)
-The Donbas region (two secessionist regions: the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic) broke off from Ukraine.
In 2014 and 2015, Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany took part in – and signed – the Minsk Accords – a series of cease-fire agreements.
In 2018 the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was established, much to the dislike of Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church.
In April of 2019 the former comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky, was popularly elected President of Ukraine. He had promised to restore Donbas to the country.
America and the current crisis
Few serious observers believe that if Trump were still in the White House Putin would have made this sort of move. Indeed, this is the second major foreign policy debacle we have seen in the first year of Biden’s term in office, Afghanistan being the first.
Much is made of Putin’s concern about Ukraine joining NATO. He wants non-NATO-aligned nations on his border. While this may be a legitimate concern of his, it does not explain everything we now see. If this is in fact an attempt to completely take over Ukraine as part of his plan to rebuild the old Russian empire, then this is clearly a matter of power, imperialism and aggression as well.
Basic geopolitical realities must be kept in mind. Putin has 6,000 nuclear warheads. Israel is 1200 miles from Ukraine. For what it is worth, Zelensky himself is Jewish, and many of his relatives were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust. And will the Baltics be next? Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all NATO countries, and as Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty says:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Just one quote – of many – can be offered here. Historian Timothy Garton Ash said this:
This is not the third world war. It is, however, already something much more serious than the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The five wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s were terrible, but the larger international dangers that flowed from them were not on this scale. There were brave resistance fighters in Budapest in 1956, but in Ukraine today we have an entire independent, sovereign state with a large army and a people who declare themselves determined to resist. If they don’t resist, at scale, this will be an occupation. If they do, this could be the largest war in Europe since 1945. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/feb/24/russia-invasion-ukraine-europe-ukrainians
Biden’s emphasis on sanctions has not been very helpful. They don’t really deter or punish. A proper use of sanctions includes the strategic use of resources. Cutting off American supply of Russian energy exports would be a big part of this. But they should have done proper sanctions months ago as numerous Republican politicians had been urging. Things are now all too little, too late.
The matter of energy dependency and security can be discussed a bit further. Russia provides 10 per cent of the world’s oil and gas, with much of Europe relying on it. Some nations there – especially those closest to Russia’s western border – rely entirely or largely on Russian oil and gas exports.
The US doubled its supplies from Russia over the past year. At the same time under Biden, America has become very much at risk in terms of energy security. The Keystone XL pipeline was stopped, and various drilling and supply options have been heavily curtailed by Biden.
America was a net exporter of oil and gas just a year ago. But not now. The Iranians and Russians make ever more money every time the price of gas goes up in the US. Things never should have been allowed to get to this place. Biden has severely put America at risk.
As Texas congressman Dan Crenshaw stated: “We import 595,000 barrels of oil a day from Russia. The Keystone XL pipeline would have produced 830,000 barrels a day. Relying on Russian oil is a choice. And it is a stupid one.” In sum, we have a decade of policy failures by people like Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John Kerry that in large measure is the real blame for what we see happening now in Ukraine.
One can here only offer some of the bigger-picture biblical and spiritual perspectives. One major principle is this: the Christian believes that sin has affected everything. Thus not only individuals, but nations and governments and leaders are also sinful and fallen.
That means – in the current crisis – that there is plenty of corruption, wrong and evil in Putin and Russia. The same with Zelenskyy and Ukraine. Neither one is all sweetness and light, and historical and geo-political matters need to be taken into account. But no, I am not saying we have a simple case of moral equivalence here.
And trying to get God’s detailed perspective on such conflicts will not be 100% clear. But we do know that God cares deeply about things like justice, righteousness, human life and human suffering. We can pray hard for this situation even if we do not have full knowledge and understanding of everything involved.
Obviously there are plenty of pros and cons already being tossed around here as to who is the real villain, who is really at fault, which country has the most legitimate claims, and so on. So we need some caution here in how we approach all this. But as Christians we do have an obligation to be peace-makers. And we are called to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And we are instructed to pray for our leaders. All that and more we can and should do. While exact clarity in terms of how we can pray regarding all sorts of specifics about this crisis might elude us, we do have enough general truth found in Scripture to help us along the way as we ask God to move mightily and to glorify himself.