Making Russia Great Again

Recent weeks have been confusing, less so for those who are connected to the West. Because there has been widespread condemnation of Russia’s latest incursion into Ukrania. However, I live in South Africa which is a card-carrying member of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). So my condemnation of Russia was met with silence, not amens.

This week our President, Cyril Ramaphosa – very much a protégé of Nelson Mandela – spoke to Putin on Zoom. He offered to serve as an intermediary, seeking a negotiated solution. At the UN, South Africa was not one of the 141 nations that condemned the “invasion”. (Russia doesn’t call it that.) I found this confusing, after all the decades that we opposed South Africa’s designation of “Bantustans” as autonomous countries. Wasn’t this regress?

But slowly there have been voices speaking out of the West, voices in the wilderness of hostile public opinion. This started with voices saying that the “Rus” in Russia actually came from a medieval kingdom based in Kiev. Then along came Ghengis Khan, raging out of Asia. He decimated Kiev, which was the centre of that civilization at the time. It took centuries for it to recover, and when it did, it emerged in Moscow, not Kiev. So some voices are saying that Russia and Ukrania are really one, so Putin’s aggression is not surprising.

Then there are voices saying that Ukranians are not angels, who spend their whole time painting Easter eggs and eating perogies.  It is a hot-pot of global corruption and crime. Including neo-Nazism and mafias. Worse yet, they say that Ukrania is not well disposed to ethnic minorities – including Russians but not only. Many Russians live along the border with Russia, where two new enclaves have been carved out, to go along with Crimea which was already captured several years ago. Some voices see this as “liberation” not as “capture”.

On the other hand, no Christian can surely condone violence. This is where it gets interesting. They argue that Putin is a Christian (Eastern Orthodox) and that he is the bulwark against the anti-Christian trending known as “woke”. For one thing, the Russian Orthodox church sees the Ukranian Orthodox church as a prodigal son that needs rescuing.

Then some voices ask why bombing hospital got so many column-inches in the media, when the same thing has been going on in Yemen and Syria for years – funded by the West through its allies in the Middle East.

The deepest noise from dissident voices in the West is saying that Putin is against WEF-induced Globalism and is simply not going to accept Nato on his doorstep. The Monroe doctrine in the Western hemisphere was enforced during the Cuban missile crisis, and Russia wants Ukrania to be neutral, or even pro-Russia.  Some say that Nato’s bid to expand into Eastern Europe is one bridge too far for Russian security. The West in general and the EU in particular should back off and give Russia some space for grace.

So my views have evolved since the Russian incursion began. I myself am very suspicious of woke and WEF-induced Globalism. You don’t have to close the United Nations to put more emphasis back on national interests. It is a matter of proportions, not of either/or. Just like Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” was popular in a leading Democracy, so also Putin’s incursion can be seen in the light of “Make Russia Great Again”.

I do not mean that he wants to recover the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I don’t even regard Putin as a communist, perhaps he is a “national socialist”. Remember that's what “Nazi” stands for. Putin is a dictator whose loyalty seems to be to Russian civilization more than to Bolshevik revolution. Russia is more of an oligarchy today than a soviet republic and certainly not a democracy.

What can Christians do?

Well the first answer is to pray above all for peace to break out in Ukrania.

Second, make room for the refugees in your home and contribute to non-violent assistance. Consider taking in war orphans, as there could be many in the coming months.

Third, let’s try to created space for dialogue and a negotiated settlement. I often quote the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who put it this way: “Leadership has a harder job to do than just choose sides. It must bring sides together.”

Frankly, Western governments sound like they are dealing with another trucker blockade. To which their answer was “It’s my way or the highway”. The Russian army is not a convoy of trucks, those are tanks not trucks! Russia is a nuclear power.

Pray for a win-win solution. Battlefields rarely find these; armies engage to find a win-lose solution.

Pray for Zelensky, who has shown a lot of spunk. Pray for Putin, that he will remember what Ghandi once stated: “If we follow the principle of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth', the whole world will end up blind and toothless.”

Pray for some humility among Western leaders, so that like Ramaphosa, they can see that they are partly to blame for this fiasco. Nato expansion got out of control. We were warned time and again by the Russians of “the Putin doctrine”. There needs to be a buffer zone between Nato and Russia, any peace-maker can see that.

Pray for more dialogue and less conflict. Pray that Putin will take South African President Cyril Ramaphosa up on his offer to take on a mediation role. As a member of BRICS, this could work.

At the height of the Cuban missile crisis, JFK sent a secret message to Khrushchev that went something like this: “We are like two men pulling on a rope.  The harder we pull, the tighter the knot gets.  Let’s go and pull on another rope”.

Ramaphosa is offering a new rope for Putin and Zelensky to pull on. God help him. Blessed are the peace-makers.

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About the author

Chuck Stephens is Executive Director at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership in South Africa.