This week President Putin announced he was pulling out most of his military from Syria. His announcement shocked many who assumed Russia was eager to grow its military presence across the Shi’ite Crescent. I had indicated in my post the day before that Putin was “in Syria to stay”. Despite the announcement, I maintain my position that Russia remains THE major threat to the region. Ostensibly, Putin is moving many of his resources out of the area, likely because he does not wish to get stuck in a quagmire in the Shia-Sunni fight. But other factors are likely at play. The ‘Great Game’ between the United States and Russia is very much still afoot.
The fact that Turkey and Saudi Arabia conducted war games along the borders of Syria and Iraq, raised the stakes. The possible ground invasion by the ‘ Turks’ and the ‘Saudis’ that could have led Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons to protect Russian resources (people and military equipment) likely had some impact on his thinking. Additionally, for the time being at least, he accomplished his mission. He wanted to dramatically weaken the rebels fighting Bashar al’ Assad and give Assad’s military a chance to regain territory, some prestige, and turn its dwindling morale around. Furthermore, Putin solidified his naval base at Tartous and his air base at Latakia ‘just up the coast’ from Tartous. The structure is in place to move Russian resources back into the area quickly if the Alawite government of Assad is threatened again. Undoubtedly, some forces will remain.
Then there is the fact that Putin likely now concurs with the United States that Assad, a murderer of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens, is much more of a liability than an asset. Look for a transition government to be put in place in the months ahead.
Another factor in play: Russia doesn’t want to take on Turkey – not at this time. As I have explained before, Russia is essentially a land-locked nation that must have access to the Mediterranean Sea via the Bosporus in Istanbul. It would not surprise me at all to learn that the U.S. helped talk some sense into both Turkey and Russia. Russia may even have left Syria for the short term with assurances that their naval base in the Crimea (at Sevastopol) will be undisturbed and that the Donbass Region in Eastern Ukraine will remain in Russian control for there foreseeable future. All of these items would deescalate the tension that has been building over the past two years.
However, should we expect that all is now well? Hardly. The potential for an enormous conflict continues. The following extract is from my latest book, The Next Great War in the Middle East. While the book goes into considerable detail with expositing scripture, it also provides a recap of the geopolitical issues of the Middle East and how Bible prophecy is being fulfilled in our world today. About 100 pages of the book’s 272 pages address the geopolitical topics based upon my research and compilation from scads of experts that discuss what is happening and what it will mean in the months and years just ahead.
The Islamic Antichrist Theory (IAT) puts forth the idea that Turkey, not Russia, will be the incarnation of Ezekiel’s Gog. This has become a very popular point of view. Few realize however, what the theory fully entails. The IAT conflates the Antichrist and Gog, seeing them as one person. It also conflates the War of Gog and Magog with the War of Armageddon, assuming that there is only one war and at its conclusion Jesus returns. Being much more aligned with the conventional view of the last days, I challenge both of these premises, believing that much of the scriptural witness of the end times is deleted from the picture if we conclude what Joel Richardson and Walid Shoebat (among others) have decided – that Turkey is the Beast nation from which Antichrist (aka Gog) springs and Saudi Arabia (and Mecca) is Mystery Babylon. One of the biggest objections I point out to the notions included within the IAT is this: for the Islamic Antichrist Theory to come to pass, Russia and the United States must be sidelined and uninvolved, giving way to the leadership of the Sunnis.
Some might assume that what has just happened with Putin’s announcement proves this assumption about Turkey and Saudi leadership to be coming true. However, I would remind everyone what Ezekiel says about Gog and his role in this great Middle East war involving many Islamic nations: Gog may want to “opt out” and not get involved; but according to the prophet Ezekiel, Gog will not be allowed to “opt out” – he will be turned about by God Himself and pulled back into a conflict that he might have wished to avoid.
“Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them splendidly attired, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them wielding swords” (Ezekiel 38:2-4).
IS RUSSIA’S MILITARY STILL A THREAT TO THE U.S. IN THE MIDDLE EAST?
Is Russia Once More a Force to be Reckoned With?
Has Russia fielded a military team that can effectively compete with the U.S. in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East? Apparently, the answer resounds, “Yes!”
Michael Kofman, an analyst with the CNA Corporation, a nonprofit research institute, and a fellow at the Kennan Institute in Washington who studies the Russian military, said that the operations over Syria showed that Russia has caught up to the capabilities the United States has used in combat since the 1990s. That nonetheless represented significant progress given how far behind the Russians had fallen. [i] [Emphasis added]
As this book was nearing completion, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) completed an analysis of the Russian Navy, with a particular focus on its activity and capability in the Middle East, entitled “The Russian Navy: A Historic Transition” (published late December 2015). A summary statement from its Executive Summary reaffirms our Navy’s awareness that Russia has committed itself to advance its capability in order to compete effectively with Western powers in regions where Russia holds strategic interests.
On the basis of currently available data it is projected that the Russian Navy will retain its core missions. Although the national defense mission of the strategic and general purpose navy has remained, today’s fiscal realities require that the decreased number of major naval platforms be multi-mission capable and armed with the latest capabilities in weapons; sensors; and command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems. Russia has begun, and over the next decade will make large strides in fielding a 21st century navy capable of a dependable national defense, an impressive but limited presence in more distant global areas of interest, manned by a new generation of post-Soviet officers and enlisted personnel.
Anthony Capaccio filed an article on this ONI report, “Russia Deploys Advanced Cruise Missiles in Major Navy Reboot.” (Bloomberg Business, December 30, 2015) Capaccio notes the key issues in Russia’s employment of the new class of cruise missiles demonstrated in the Syrian theater as 2015 came to a close. This was the KALIBR-class missile. The ONI report indicates that this new missile is “profoundly changing its ability to deter, threaten or destroy adversary targets.” These missiles promise difficulties for our Navy due to their 1,553-mile range, supersonic speed that skims across the war (based on the older but formidable anti-ship missile, the Sizzler, with which Chinese submarines are equipped). Given the use of these types of weapons, “big does not mean better” in terms of the ability for Russian assets to stand up to large U.S. Naval platforms. And while this ONI report continues to emphasize that lack of finances constrains Russian plans for modernization and also suggests Russia does not share the same type of “projection of power” as does the U.S., the reality is that Russia need not to deploy its Navy globally to have an enormous impact on the West. Just look at Syria.
Russian Financing of its Military
Andrey Biryukov in his article for Bloomberg, June 2, 2015, “The Secret Money behind Vladimir Putin’s War Machine” cites Global Firepower, a service that ranks “conventional” war-making capabilities of 129 countries. He points to the facts showing Russia ranks a strong No. 2 after the U.S., but clearly ahead of China, India, and the U.K. (Turkey ranks 10th). His primary point: Putin is moving his economy toward an intensified “military-industrial complex” (i.e., a war economy), which will shore up the economic weaknesses besetting the nation during the past two years. Biryukov asserts that much of the money going toward defense spending is “black” (off the books). Says Biryukov:
Putin is allocating unprecedented amounts of secret funds to accelerate Russia’s largest military buildup since the Cold War, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The part of the federal budget that is so-called black – authorized but not itemized – has doubled since 2010 to 21 percent and now totals 3.2 trillion rubles ($60 billion), The Gaidar Institute, an independent think tank in Moscow, estimates.
Stung by sanctions over Ukraine and oil’s plunge, Putin is turning to defense spending to revive a shrinking economy. The outlays on new tanks, missiles and uniforms highlight the growing militarization that is swelling the deficit and crowding out services such as health care. Thousands of army conscripts will be moved into commercial enterprises for the first time to aid in the rearmament effort. [ii]
“The government has two urgent tasks: strengthening security at all levels of society and promoting innovation to end the macroeconomic stagnation,” said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies and an adviser to the Defense Ministry in Moscow. “The solution to both problems is to intensify the development of the military-industrial complex.”
In 15 years, Putin has increased military spending 20-fold. At $84-$90 billion (as itemized in the budget), it exceeds all other nations except for the U.S. and China.[iii] The point not to be missed: When considering where the battle lines have been drawn in the Middle East, Russia has demonstrated not only that it can compete with the U.S. military, its increased deployment of its newest weapon systems could mean the U.S. would have to back away due to the power of the Russian Bear in the region. And that has dramatic consequences for the U.S. over both the short and long-term. True, the U.S. can project power almost anywhere in the world. Russia, however, only needs to project power in the most critical “choke-point” of the world economy and geopolitical situation. By exerting its influence in Syria, Iraq, and through its partner Iran, Russia now finds itself in the catbird’s seat. The U.S. is indeed backpedaling having failed to topple Bashar al-Assad in Syria and having established a reputation for creating chaos after every war in which the U.S. engages in the Middle East (looking at Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan).
Analyst Hugo Spaulding, published a highly intelligent paper on December 1, 2015, on the web site of The Institute for the Study of War, “Russia’s False Narrative in Syria” which summarizes the situation critically in respect to the respective moves of Russia and its nullifying what Spaulding sees as productive U.S. to responses to work constructively in the Middle East. While I disagree with him that the U.S. has taken the proper steps to end the influence of ISIS and pressure Assad into resigning, I judge that Spaulding correctly assesses what Russia wants by its intervention in Syria. He views Russia’s intention as clearly to end NATO and distance Europe from the U.S.:
Russia also leverages its air campaign in order to advance its strategic objective to challenge and undermine NATO. Russia’s establishment of its first airbase on the Mediterranean Sea represents a direct threat to NATO’s southern flank. Russia continues to increase its force projection capabilities in the region by deploying advanced hardware that provides little value in the direct fight against ISIS, including air superiority fighters, its most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile system, and its flagship guided missile cruiser. Russian warplanes nominally tasked with targeting terrorists have violated the airspace of NATO’s southernmost member Turkey on multiple occasions in order to assert Russia’s freedom of action in and around Syria. Turkey’s downing of a Russian bomber on November 24 represented a direct challenge to these force projection efforts. Moscow has nonetheless used the incident in order to cast [falsely portray] Turkey and NATO as obstacles to the destruction of ISIS. [iv]
Furthermore, the strategy of “divide and conquer”, from Spaulding’s perspective, remains key to appreciate Russia’s approach to influence the nations of the Middle East:
The Kremlin claims the legitimacy of its intervention in Syria from its alliance with the Assad regime, which it refers to as the country’s “lawful authority.” Russia insists that Western anti-ISIS efforts are illegitimate because Assad has not given the West permission to operate in Syrian airspace. Russia’s campaign to pull regional actors such as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Israel into its counterterrorism axis is part of a larger effort to weaken Washington’s ties with traditional U.S. partners in the Middle East. Russia’s decision to establish a joint Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi information coordination center in Baghdad in the buildup to its air campaign demonstrated its intent to threaten U.S. partnerships and bolster the international legitimacy of the Assad regime under the guise of building a counterterrorism coalition. Russia has frequently expressed its willingness to conduct airstrikes in Iraq if requested by the Iraqi government, an escalatory step that would curtail U.S. operations in the country. Russia may eventually use the pretext of anti-ISIS efforts to expand its regional military footprint to Iraq or Egypt. [Emphasis added] [iv]
The issue in the months ahead revolves around how long Russia can play this hand to continue to advance its goals of destroying NATO in Europe and removing all vestiges of U.S. influence in the Levant (the eastern Mediterranean region). Will European nations join with Russia? That has already happened. Will the U.S. determine that “if you can’t beat’em, join’em” and buckle under the pressure to allow Russia to lead the coalition against ISIS? Or will it instead attempt to challenge Russia’s military presence in Syria? The fact that the U.S. has already opted to favor Iran and the Shi’ites over the Sunnis, thinking them the best choice to stabilize the Middle East (which most analysts now recognize was the motive behind the Iran “Nuclear Deal”), only makes the Russian position stronger. Predictions from several years ago that the U.S. would support Israel in an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has proven to be a pie-crust promise (easily made, easily broken). Diminished U.S. support for Israel and the recent (although quiet) backing for Iran not only betrays Israel, but also betrays our cherished principle as champion of freedom and liberty, as well as our long-term policy of “making the world safe for democracy.” A different principle is clearly now in play: The U.S. leads the world toward the New World Order.
This principle sees Russian nationalism as a major obstacle that must be thwarted if the New World Order is to succeed. Of course, many would advance that American nationalism is also an enemy of the NWO. Thus, defeating nationalism both in Russia and the U.S., for advocates of the NWO inside the U.S government – including the advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski – constitutes a much higher objective than defeating ISIS. Once we understand the priorities of our Presidents – from Bush 41 to Obama today – we may begin to understand the tangled web we’ve woven in the Middle East.
In the final analysis, for all intents and purposes, Russia’s presence has as its goal an ongoing effort to push the U.S. as far out of the region as it can get away with. However we choose to assess its effectiveness, Russia’s military possesses sufficient power to exert real pressure on the U.S., causing the U.S.-led coalition to avoid fighting over who controls of the Shia Crescent. U.S. double-mindedness is apparent to all the players (Iran, Israel, Russia, and Syria). Even if ISIS were defeated, the U.S. appears to have already lost the chess match to the Russians. But then, the Russians always have been considered the better chess players.
[i] Steven Lee Myers and Eric Schmitt, “Russian Military Uses Syria as Proving Ground and West Takes Notice,” New York Times, October 14, 2015. See www.nytimes.com/2015/10/15/world/middleeast/russian-military-uses-syria-as-proving-ground-and-west-takes-notice.html?_r=0ttp. .
[ii] Andrey Biryukov, “The Secret Money Behind Vladimir Putin’s War Machine,” Bloomberg Business, June 2, 2015. See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-02/putin-s-secret-budget-hides-shift-toward-war-economy.
[iii] Analyst Hugo Spaulding, “Russia’s False Narrative in Syria”, December 1, 2015, The Institute for the Study of War. http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russias-false-narrative-syria-december-1-2015.