According to CNN, “Florida’s got yet another spring breaker in town: Scot, a massive great white shark, has been recorded swimming off the Gulf Coast.” The shark measures over twelve feet long and weighs sixteen hundred pounds.
A “massive great white shark” swimming just offshore feels like a metaphor for much that is happening in our culture, from rising inflation to a more contagious version of COVID-19 to deepening partisan divisions. But, of course, the “shark” that dominates the news each day and has captured so many of our hearts is the horrific invasion of Ukraine and the untold suffering that it is producing.
As face-to-face talks between Ukraine and Russia continue this week, many analysts are asking how Russia’s aggression in Ukraine will end (assuming it does). In this context, three recent articles have greatly illuminated Vladimir Putin’s thinking and are therefore relevant to us today.
A “personalist regime”
In a New Yorker article titled “What is Putin Thinking?,” David Remnick points back to the failure of democracy in Russia after the 1991 fall of the USSR. Oligarchs bought up the country’s most valuable state enterprises and made their fortunes while the people struggled. One historian said at the time, “These last four or five years in Russia have produced little besides pure hysteria.”
In response, when Putin came to power in 1999, he set up what Remnick calls “a personalist regime built around his patronage and absolute authority.” Remnick explains that the national identity Putin created in opposition to the West “has played an essential role in his brutal invasion of Ukraine.”
He also cites thinkers such as Nikolai Berdyaev and Ivan Ilyin who believed in the exalted destiny of Russia and the artificiality of Ukraine, both of whom were extremely influential for Putin.
Cultural commentator Andrew Sullivan takes us further back into history in “The Strange Rebirth Of Imperial Russia.” He cites Russian intellectuals who claimed after the fall of the Soviet Union that Russia is not just a nation-state but a “civilization-state.”
Sullivan explains that this is “a whole way of being, straddling half the globe and wrapping countless other nations and cultures into Mother Russia’s spiritual bosom.” This worldview claims that Russia has always had such a civilizational destiny and mission which the West has countered and sought to undermine. Aleksandr Dugin popularized such theories in The Foundations of Geopolitics, which Sullivan calls “perhaps the best guide to understanding where Putin is coming from, and what Russia is now.”
In light of this worldview, Putin proposed in 2011 a “Eurasian Union” to counter the European Union, reject the strategic control of the US, and resist Western liberal values. His invasion of Ukraine is but the next step in his passion to rebuild Imperial Russia.
An occupying force
Journalist Jonathan Tepperman conducted a very illuminating interview with Alexander Gabuev, a former diplomatic correspondent and Russian newspaper editor who is now a scholar on Russia at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Gabuev explains that Putin thought his invasion would demoralize the Ukrainian army and that “part of the country would greet Russia with flowers and the other part would not resist.” He was clearly wrong.
When Tepperman asked Gabuev if he can imagine a deal that could end the war, he replied that Ukraine would not “accept a peace settlement that makes them semi-dependent on the aggressor, even if it saves their cities.” To achieve Putin’s imperialistic agenda, Gabuev predicts that the Russian leader will seek to “occupy Ukraine, and there will be an Iraq-type insurgency, and ultimately this will end badly, because there is no way that Russia can occupy Ukraine forever.”
“An evil person will not go unpunished”
In Romans 1 we read that God “gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). This is the permissive judgment of God whereby he allows us the consequences of our misused freedom. Tragically, the innocent are often harmed by these consequences as well.
If nations and people do not repent, God then moves to his punitive judgment whereby he works directly to punish sin and lead sinners to repentance. We see this with the plagues of Egypt, divine judgment against King Herod (Acts 12:23), and the cataclysmic judgments depicted in the book of Revelation.
Since we know that God judges nations (Psalm 110:6), it is plausible that Russia is experiencing God’s permissive judgment on its immoral invasion. If Putin persists, he and his people could see God’s punitive judgment.
Here is what we can know without question: “An evil person will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 11:21) because “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Whether in this world or in the next (cf. Luke 16:19–31), God’s judgment on sin is sure (Hebrews 9:27).
A missionary prayer I have not forgotten
How does the thought of God’s judgment on Vladimir Putin resonate with you?
Your first thought might be, “The sooner the better.” Obviously, the fewer Ukrainians who suffer or die at his immoral hands, the better.
But we must not forget that God loves Russians as much as he loves Ukrainians. He loves North Koreans as much as he loves Americans and Iranians as much as he loves Israelis (cf. Galatians 3:28). He loves each of us as if there were only one of us because he is love (1 John 4:8).
If we loved the Russians as God does, we would be praying fervently for their nation and leaders to repent of this sinful invasion. If we love Ukrainians as God does, we would be praying fervently for their protection and future. If we loved all nations as God does, we would be praying fervently for every person on earth to know Jesus as Savior and Lord.
I will long remember the time I heard a missionary pray, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks your heart.”
What breaks your heart today?