History and politics are like the fibers of a bird nest. They’re woven so tightly together that it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. Politics shape history and historical precedents shape political realities.
So, what can history tell us about the Ukraine crisis?
Over the past decade, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been actively annexing territory that once formed part of the USSR. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was met with international condemnation but little military response from the international community. A relatively bloodless takeover of the area boosted Putin’s popularity at home.
History shows us that when aggressors are not met with firm, decisive resistance, they do not settle for what they’ve acquired. In conducting research of Hitler’s rise to power for my current novel, I’ve noticed a trend that is remarkably similar to Russia’s actions today.
Hitler and Putin’s similar approach to border expansion
Facing domestic turbulence and eager to bolster the image of the Nazi party, Hitler took decisive action. He illegally remilitarized the Rhineland, which was supposed to be a buffer zone between France and Germany. This challenge to the Allied powers met virtually no resistance.
But Hitler didn’t stop there.
On the heels of this success came the annexation of Austria in 1938. Like Ukraine and Russia, Austria had strong historical ties to Germany. Many Austrians spoke German. Many in Austria supported the Reich and wanted to be united with the rising power. Eighty-four years ago, history and politics came together and Austria became a federal German state.
But still, Hitler didn’t stop there.
After Austria came the invasion of Poland. And the Second World War was on.
Now, as the world watches with baited breath for the next move in an unfolding drama, we must remember that passive responses do not stop global bullies. Military support, carefully worded international opinions, and economic sanctions are the responses that Putin has received. Are these responses enough?
If we again look at history, we realize the answer is no.
For, in its own way, history is prophetic.
History isn’t just shaped by politics. It’s also shaped by free will. The ability of powerful men and women to make irrational decisions based upon their own ambition. Which brings on the question:
Why is Putin really invading Ukraine?
Why would a seasoned political leader who survived the fall of the USSR take such an economic and military risk? It’s theorized that Putin dreams of rebuilding the USSR. That is a reasonable thought and certainly, Ukraine joining NATO would pose complications to that goal. But, with the Russian economy already sliding, surely a man with Putin’s experience would consider all implications before recognizing breakaway states as independent and sending in a “peacekeeping force.”
Why risk it all?
I don’t claim to have the answer. But I would suggest that perhaps behind the smokescreen of preventing Ukraine from joining NATO is something much simpler. Perhaps it is the understanding that Putin will has a limited time to make his mark on the world. It’s now or never. And as such, seeing the opportunity that a divided America presents, he is willing to take the risk.
After all, Death is the universal equalizer.
Regardless of status, gender, or political affiliation, death is the one factor that often motivates powerful world leaders to make choices that would otherwise seem irrational. It is the desire to make one great mark on history, to achieve a long-cherished dream.
In his unpublished sequel to Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote,
“The average person has the most fear of death and in reality thinks most rarely about it. The most prominent one occupies himself with it most persistently, but nevertheless fears it the least. The one lives blindly day to day, sinning away, only to sink down before the grim reaper. The other carefully observes his approach but then looks him in the eye, calm and composed.”Adolph Hitler
While Hitler should be one of the last people to talk about sinning—and I highly doubt he met death in a “calm and composed” manner—the point is that brutal dictators are constantly reminded of the fact that they must die. Joseph Stalin lived in fear of dying in his sleep, hence the reason he worked through most nights.
Could it be that this global crisis, that threatens to be the “biggest war since 1945” according to British PM Boris Johnson, is triggered in part by Putin’s desire to make his mark on history?
It appears so but the truth is, we’ll probably never know. Putin desires to rebuild the USSR, of that there can be little doubt. But can he honestly be called a patriot? A man who’s fighting to improve his country’s position in the world?
Given the economic realities in Russia—and the massive protests that Putin’s invasion has sparked in Moscow—it appears not. Putin isn’t a patriot. He’s a power-monger who desires to cloak imperialist schemes behind a veil of nationalism.
In a 2020 opinion article carried by the Washington Post we read,
Putin is a czar from the classic Russian mold, willing to subject his people to any hardship necessary to preserve his grip.David Von Drehle
If Drehle is right, then this invasion isn’t about national achievement or great leadership—it’s about personal ambition that must be satisfied “now or never.” And by responding with sanctions, the West is playing into Putin’s game.
Regardless of the cause, from a historical, geopolitical standpoint, it’s encouraging to see the world respond to the growing threat.
But it is too little, and it is already too late. Putin has not expressed fears of sanctions and, given that much of Europe depends on Russian energy, it is unlikely that they alone will make him waver in his goal.
Timing is everything
Without pointing political fingers, it stands to reason that the timing of this invasion has been well thought out. Contrary to former President Trump’s claim of Putin’s “genius,” this approach is nothing new. Brutal dictators and oppressive regimes have been employing Putin’s tactics for centuries. America’s internal divisions will only help our adversaries and it seems unlikely that a strong enough response from the United States will be forthcoming from Washington.
In the end, words alone do not win wars.
Instead of looking at this as an opportunity to attack Republicans or Democrats, America should see this invasion of Ukraine as another strike at global democracy. In an analysis on global democracy, Freedom House cited that,
Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a country that faced deterioration [of a democracy] last year.Freedom House, Democracy under Seige
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is yet again proof that democracy as a political institution is in decline, a fact that should concern every American.
But amid the chaos, hope endures.
Like a bird’s nest, isolated events and people come together by the hand of a designer who is weaving a master plan. When seen through a biblical lens, the turbulence of today becomes less threatening, especially when coupled with the Christian’s hope in a perfect, eternal tomorrow.
The Bible shows us that every political decision—rational or irrational—and every military stratagem ultimately factors into the greater plan of God. For example, a Roman dictator’s decree to tax “all the world” brought the world’s Savior to Bethlehem.
Fast-forward 2,000 years and we see that out of the ashes of the Holocaust came a resolute nation, Israel, that is revolutionizing technological capabilities.
There is a greater plan.
And we believers can take consolation in that.
So, is the Ukraine Crisis the start of World War 3?
The big question in the back of many minds is, does the Ukraine crisis signal the start of WW3?
I do not believe so. The Bible does not tell us that a final global conflict will take place in Ukraine but in the Middle East (Armageddon). While this may be the spark that ignites a global wildfire, I am reluctant to pinpoint some areas of biblical prophecy.
However, I would say that whenever the last global conflict begins, to those who have security in Christ, all will be well.
The Bible shows us that God is not taken off guard. Neither does He rely upon economic sanctions or even military might to work His will. The reality remains that, whether or not, the world acknowledges His supremacy, the “heavens do rule” (Daniel 4:26).
So, as we watch the events unfold, my prayer is for peace and that all reading will find that security in Him.
Back to you
Why do you think Putin invaded Ukraine and what do you think will be the outcome? Let me know.