Russia’s Empire Spirit

by Avner Boskey

A sobering look at the ancient spiritual roots of the Ukrainian War

Vladimir Putin's motivation for invading Ukraine is far deeper than modern geopolitics.
Vladimir Putin's motivation for invading Ukraine runs far deeper than modern geopolitics. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL

Editor’s note: This historical/psychological/spiritual analysis by guest contributor and Israeli Messianic Jewish leader Avner Boskey presents a long perspective of the Russian rise to power that we felt would benefit our readers in coming to grips with the present situation.

Russian tanks are rolling across Ukraine’s Eastern European Plains. Moscow’s artillery shells and rockets, missiles and bombs are striking military and civilian targets from the Black Sea lowlands to the Dnieper uplands. The iron fist of the Red Bear is smashing down on the gold-azure trident (the tryzub – a Trinitarian or falcon-like Viking symbol from ancient Kyiv) of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. A major ground war is exploding and the ground is shaking in Eastern Europe.

Yet only a few weeks ago, on February 15, 2022 Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanskiy declared that Western leaders were foolishly paranoid: “I think they need to have a good doctor, I recommend them to do it. Specialist on such paranoia cases! . . . Our troops are on our territory, [and they] represent a threat to no one.” The Great Soviet Encyclopedia of 1952 defined dezinformatsiya as the dissemination of “false information with the intention to deceive public opinion.” The whole world is watching events in Russia and Ukraine, and we remember Elijah’s words to King Ahab: “Have you murdered and also taken possession?” (1 Kings 21:19).

God offends the mind to reveal the heart (see Luke 2:34-35). The breaking out of war in Eastern Europe is exposing the secrets of men’s hearts (see 1 Corinthians14:25; Proverbs 25:2). Here are some insights into the strategic worldviews of Russia, President Vladimir Putin and Western leaders.

 

Moscow the Third Rome

History sheds light on a paradigm underpinning Russia’s worldview regarding its own calling and spiritual role.

In 1492 the Orthodox Metropolitan of Moscow Zosimus stated in the foreword to his book Presentation of the Paschalion that Tsar Ivan III was “the new Tsar Constantine of the new city of Constantine – Moscow.” The monk Philotheus of Pskov declared in the early 16th century:

“So know, pious king, that all the Christian kingdoms came to an end and came together in a single kingdom of yours. Two Romes have fallen, the third stands, and there will be no fourth. No one shall replace your Christian Tsardom according to the great Theologian!”

‘Moscow the third Rome’ (Москва — Третий Рим) is a theological-imperialist concept stating that:

  • the Roman Empire was succeeded by the second Rome (Constantinople, capital of the Greek Orthodox/Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire).
  • Constantinople was ultimately and finally succeeded by the third Rome – Tsarist Moscow/the Russian Orthodox Church.

According to this Replacement Theology worldview, God’s Messianic kingdom finds its greatest and final expression not in Jerusalem but in Russia.

Like Constantine the Great, Vladimir Putin sees Christianity as the spiritual glue that will unify and strengthen his empire. Since becoming President of Russia, Putin has cast himself as the true defender of Christians throughout the world, the leader of the Third Rome. He wants people to recognize his spiritual calling as the rebuilder of a Moscow-based Christendom.

Moscow. Is this the new center of Christianity? It will be if Vladimir Putin has his way. Photo: Pixabay

In a September 2013 speech at the Valdai Club Putin declared:

“We see many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.”

In a March 2014 speech given at the Kremlin just after Russia annexed Crimea, Putin pointed to Russia’s spiritual authority over Ukraine and Belarus, based on Vladimir the Great’s mass baptism of Kyiv in 988 A.D.:

”Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization, and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.”

On July 12, 2021 Putin again proclaimed Russia’s Third Rome perspective, that Moscow alone must rule over Kyiv:

”Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all . . . bound together by one language, … economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kyiv, still largely determines our affinity today . . . [Remember] for posterity the words of Oleg the Prophet about Kyiv, ‘Let it be the mother of all Russian cities.’”

As British journalist and Rector Giles Davis points out:

“At the heart of this post-Soviet revival of Christianity is another Vladimir. Vladimir Putin. Many people don’t appreciate the extent to which the invasion of Ukraine is a spiritual quest for him. The Baptism of Rus is the founding event of the formation of the Russian religious psyche, the Russian Orthodox church traces its origins back here. That’s why Putin is not so much interested in a few Russian-leaning districts to the east of Ukraine. His goal, terrifyingly, is Kyiv itself.”

Putin declared to the Kremlin on February 21, 2022 that “Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.” This phrase has deep resonance for those who are steeped in over a thousand years of Russian religious history. Herein lies a key to his imperialistically-based invasion of Ukraine which began on February 23, 2022.

The Ukrainian response to Putin’s narrative can be seen when, in 2019, the Ukrainian Orthodox churches declared their independence from the Russian Orthodox Church, with Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop Bartholomew I of Constantinople supporting the Ukrainian move. Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described this as “a great victory for the devout Ukrainian nation over the Moscow demons, a victory of good over evil, light over darkness.”

 

Paranoia strikes deep

“In every tyrant’s heart there springs in the end this poison, that he cannot trust a friend” (Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, line 224).

Russian history reveals the murderous role of paranoid megalomania in some of its most outstanding leaders. While it is true that paranoia is the bane of many dictators, Moscow seems to have had more than its fair share of these. A cursory study of these manifestations may help us to make sense of current events in Eastern Europe.

King Saul’s fears of losing his crown led to the growth of malignant suspicion and murderous paranoia against David, his loyal servant:

Now it happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with other musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Then Saul became very angry, for this lyric displeased him; and he said, “They have given David credit for ten thousands, but to me they have given credit for only thousands! Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” And Saul eyed David with suspicion from that day on. Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul’s hand. (1 Samuel 18:6-10)

Saul’s toxic fears left his heart wide open to demonic influence and murder. He began to suspect his loyal diplomats and courtiers of siding with his ‘enemy’ David:

“For all of you have conspired against me so that there is no one who informs me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who cares about me or informs me that my son has stirred up my servant against me to lie in ambush, as it is this day.” (1 Samuel 22:8)

The Oprichniki by Nevrev. Ivan the Terrible and his court mock a former ally before ordering his brutal execution. Public domain

Ivan the Terrible and his Black Riders

The first Tsar of All Russia (‘Tsar’ is the Russian pronunciation of the Latin word ‘Caesar’ or emperor) was Ivan IV  (1547-1584), known as Grozny (‘formidable’ or ‘fearful’). Severely cruel treatment he suffered as a child left a hard residue of extreme mistrust, blinding hatred and anger – especially toward those he felt had betrayed him. As a teenager, Ivan took his resentment out on animals, pulling the feathers off live birds and throwing dogs and cats out of windows.

Ivan created a thousand strong group of fanatically loyal secret police, known as the Oprichniki. They were akin to the Nazgûl, the ringwraiths or Black Riders of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. Dressed totally in black, they rode around in solid black carriages pulled by black horses. Severed dogs’ heads were tied to their saddles, symbolizing resolve in sniffing out traitors, as well as brooms (symbolizing a murderously clean sweep of traitors). Anyone suspected of treason or betrayal was tortured and/or murdered. Methods included boiling alive, impalement, being roasted in huge frying pans over an open fire, or being torn limb from limb by horses. In 1570 the entire civil, religious and business leadership of Novgorod (12,000 people) was rounded up, tortured, beaten to death. Their wives and children were bound and thrown into the icy Volkhov River. Ivan ended up killing his own son Ivan Ivanovich in a fit of paranoid rage.

Michael Khodarkovsky, Professor of Russian History at Loyola University in Chicago, notes that the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin justified both his own mass murders and “his claim that Russia needed a strong leader” by referring to Ivan the Terrible’s behavior. In our day, he added, “President Vladimir Putin relies on the images of Ivan IV and Stalin to convey the same message and validate his own dictatorial rule.”

In 2016, the first ever monument to Ivan the Terrible was unveiled in Oryol, about 200 miles south-west of Moscow, to mark 450 years since he founded the town in 1566. Alexander Prokhanov, editor of the extreme-right Russian newspaper Zavtra declared in honor of the event:

“Weak leaders have ruined our country. Alexander II freed the serfs and they came to the city and caused a revolution. Nicholas II was a weak tsar and look what happened. Gorbachev was weak and as a result a great state collapsed.”

Local Governor of Oryol, Vadim Potomsky added:

“Look at the size of [our] country. How else would you rule it? Trying to do it calmly and tolerantly is never going to work. We need a strong leader. And people here respect strong authority. They don’t fear it, they respect it. Remember how Russia was treated 15 years ago? Nobody asked us anything. And now thanks to Putin we have recovered our position in the world.”

 

Peter the Great’s murderous paranoia

Peter the Great transformed his country (at the loss of many lives) into a major European super-power. He was well known for his extreme cruelty and paranoia. Two of his strongest motivations were: a fear for his personal safety, a hatred and need to revenge himself against an ‘old Russia’; and a desire for total independence in his actions and control over his environment.

Peter oversaw the death of 30,000 to 100,000 workers in his construction of St Petersburg. He put his son Alexei on trial, had him tortured and whipped to the point where he died of his wounds. No other European monarchs oversaw the torture and death of their own children.

Peter oversaw savage reprisals and tortures to crush the leaders of the Streltsy infantry rebellion. Between September 1698 and February 1699, 1,182 Streltsy were executed and 601 were whipped, branded with irons or sent into exile. The investigation and executions continued up until 1707.

Peter the Great, too, was more paranoid and brutal than many realize. Public domain

The paranoid uncle

Joseph Stalin, the infamous dictator of the Soviet Union (or ‘Uncle Joe’ as he was nicknamed by FDR)  had the blood of between six to nine million people directly on his hands, with the possibility of tens of millions more following in quick succession. Between the summer of 1936 and 1938, Stalin’s regime summarily executed over 750,000 Soviet citizens without trial. In the same period, more than a million Soviet citizens were sent to the labor camps of the Gulag, and many would not return.

Stalin also engineered two forced famines (1921-23) and the infamous Ukrainian Holodomor [Ukrainian for ‘death hunger’] of 1932-33, in which between 8 and 10 million Ukrainians died.

In 1951, Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan, members of Stalin’s inner circle, were his guests at the Black Sea mansion of Novy Afon. One evening, Stalin walked out of his vacation home and addressed Khrushchev: “I’m a rotten person. I don’t trust anybody. I don’t even trust myself.” As Khrushchev recalled in his 1970 memoirs: Stalin “instilled in … us all the suspicion that we were all surrounded by enemies.” The destructive influence of Stalin’s paranoia on generations of Russians, especially on members of the KGB, needs to be factored into any consideration of what motivates Vladimir Putin’s worldview and strategies.

 

Non-Russian paranoia

Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein once told a guest:

“I know that there are scores of people plotting to kill me, and this is not difficult to understand. After all, did we not seize power by plotting against our predecessors? However, I am far cleverer than they are. I know that they are conspiring to kill me long before they actually start planning to do so. This enables me to get them before they have the faintest chance of striking at me.” 

This striking vignette reveals something about how the leadership of Russia views the West, NATO and Ukraine, and why Putin has engaged in what is for him a preemptive strike against Ukraine.

 

Karl Marx’s take on Russian world domination

In a speech delivered in London on 22 January 1867, Karl Marx stated that Russia’s “methods, its tactics, its manoeuvers may change, but the polar star of its policy – world domination – is a fixed star.” Marx spoke of pre-Communist Russia at that time. Years later, the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of world revolution as a historical necessity added fuel to the fire of this political dynamic during the 20th century.

 

The sword, the shield and Alexander Nevsky

The symbolic icon of the KGB (Russia’s former equivalent to the American CIA) was a sword and a shield – the shield to defend the revolution, and the sword to smite its foes.

Kyiven Prince Alexander Nevsky (one of the historical founders of ancient Russia) traditionally made a declaration in 1242 A.D. which sums up Russian perspectives on how it sees the West as an existential threat:

“Those who come to us in peace will be welcome as guests. But those who come to us with a sword in hand will die with that very sword!”

Emperor Alexander III (the father of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II) used to say that Russia has only two allies – the army and the navy.

Maxim Litvinov, former Soviet Ambassador to the USA (1941-43) noted that, from his perspective, the root cause of the clash between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. is “the ideological conception prevailing here [in Moscow] that conflict between the Communist and capitalist worlds is inevitable.” In “Soviet Foreign Policy: Mental Alienation or Universal Revolution,” John Hodgson agrees.

Dr. Robert E. Berls Jr., doyen analyst of Russian strategic studies, has noted that many believe that “Russia will never abandon its vision of itself as a great power and must strive to attain this status . . . Russia cannot survive other than as a great power . . . A conflict with the West as inevitable because neither side is willing to compromise. Although many Russians view some elements of the West as a model to be emulated, they consider that the West remains a threat to Russia.”

Vladislav Surkov, a former ideological advisor to President Putin, has stated that Russia has abandoned its centuries-long hope of integrating with the West and is bracing for “100 years of geopolitical solitude.” This “solitude” does not mean complete isolation, but it does mean that Russia’s openness to the West will be limited in the future.

According to Michael Kimmage and Liana Fix of the German Marshall Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization, “Putin has begun exploring coercive options beyond the annexation of Crimea and occupation of the Donbass, neither of which has given him what he wants . . .  A minimal objective would be to topple the Ukrainian government . . . and to install a puppet leader. A more ambitious objective would be to divide the country in two, with the line between Russia and a rump Ukrainian state one of Putin’s choosing. The most expansive goal would be to conquer Ukraine entirely and then either to occupy it or to demand that its independence be negotiated on Putin’s terms.”

 

The dying of the light?

In Tolkein’s The Two Towers, Théoden’s delivers a sobering soliloquy before the Battle of Helm’s Deep: “The days have gone down in the West, behind the hills, into shadow. How did it come to this?”

In the days of Hitler, the West was asleep at the wheel. Chamberlain’s indecisive stutter greeted the Nazi belligerent annexation of Czech Sudetenland, where more than three million people (including many ethnic Germans) lived. Most of Europe applauded the Munich Agreement, believing that this was the best chance to prevent a major war on the European Continent. Hitler announced that this was his last territorial claim in Europe. Europe’s enabling of Hitler actually opened the door to a full-blown WWII.

A question needs to be asked: Is the West ready and willing to stop Putin by responding militarily and check-mating Russia’s expansion westward, its Drang nach Westen (‘push to the west’), before it becomes unstoppable? We seem to be living in days which have strong parallels to those just after WWII, days when the Berlin Wall still stood unblinking, when Russia still stretched its gnarled hand across Eastern Europe. Could we be witnessing the rise of an evil manifestation – something like unto what Daniel the prophet described as ‘the fourth beast’ – “a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth” (Daniel 7:7).  It bears remembering that Russia – Putin’s ‘Third Rome’ – is, historically speaking, a modern flowering of one aspect of the revived Roman Empire.

But rather than recognizing the immediacy of the threat, many in the West are responding with agonizing slowness. A spiritual narcissism is revealing itself with questions like: how would the spread of hostilities affect Western pocketbooks, or raise the price of gas, or affect inflation. But would such a timid Western response have been sufficient to stop Hitler in his tracks back in the day? And what about the agonies that Ukrainians are facing as they face the Russian juggernaut with Molotov cocktails and anti-tank shoulder-fired rockets? Some are stating that, as long as Russia does not cross into NATO-affiliated countries, there is no need to respond militarily to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Had this sort of response been the reaction to Hitler’s blitzkriegs, WWII would have been decisively lost. Should the West wait until Poland or the Baltic Countries or Hungary are overrun?

As long as the West refuses to move toward energy self-sufficiency and balks at keeping up its military deterrent, Russian bullying and military threats will more than win the day.

 

How should we then pray?

  • Pray for clarity, discernment and revelation concerning demonic plans taking shape in the heart of Europe
  • Pray for protection for the citizens and defense forces of Ukraine and for the blunting of the Russian advance
  • Pray for the sparing of life on the battlefields on both sides
  • Pray for wisdom for the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, USA, NATO, England, Germany and France as they weigh options and make decisions
  • Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth

 

www.davidstent.org

 

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