With the crisis in the Ukraine, the past few weeks have seen the re-emergence of international dynamics not seen since the days of the Cold War -- as diplomats and world leaders wrangle over the fate of the Crimea while lobbing charges and threats at one another. The overthrow of Ukraine’s dictatorial (but Moscow-aligned) president led to a power vacuum that Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to have skillfully exploited... sending in unmarked troops to occupy the Crimean peninsula -- a historically Russian area that was only added to Ukrainian territory by Soviet leaders in the 1950s -- while fomenting unrest amongst the ethnic majority Russian population (who the faux “militia” is ostensibly “protecting”). The international community has reacted with anger at what it perceives as an invasion of another nation’s sovereignty; meanwhile, however, Crimea’s parliament has voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, and a referendum is scheduled to ratify that decision -- escalating the crisis and causing President Obama to respond by imposing sanctions. Despite the looming specter of sanctions which could severely damage the Russian economy, Putin has held firm in the course he has plotted, threatening to retaliate for any economic sanctions by freezing American assets.
As all this swirls around, taking a step back to view the larger picture reveals what may really be Putin’s prime motivation -- the desire to reassert Russia as a great nation while maintaining access to its warm-water naval base on the Black Sea. That raises the question of exactly what it is that makes a great nation... and in the modern age, it’s usually defined in terms of economic and military might -- a superpower that other nations respect and fear. That’s clearly one of the dynamics in play as Russia’s position seems strong enough to withstand global criticism, while the measured response of President Obama is lambasted in many quarters for appearing weak. But in the next installment of The Immediate Word, team member Chris Keating notes that when God tells Abram in the lectionary’s assigned passage from Genesis that “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you,” he has something very different in mind. Our blessings come from God’s love for us and our faith in him -- not from treading carefully and kowtowing to the power of earthly dominions (or from making others bend to our will). The Psalmist underlines this further, pointing out that our help comes not from those who are strong (or from making ourselves strong); instead, it “comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Here’s a preview:
by Chris Keating
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121
Like the bitter “polar vortex” that has held much of North America in a vise-like grip of freezing weather this winter, the crisis in the Ukraine has sent a deadly chill across the world. In response, diplomats are skating on patchy ice, while some world leaders fumble with their skates.
What’s ahead isn’t going to be easy. Clearly, there will be no easy jumps across this pond.
It was an unexpected postscript to the Sochi Olympic Games, and a story that continues to evolve. At the moment, however, the world is again focused on Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Having already been authorized to use military force in the Ukraine until the “socio-political situation is normalized,” Putin is proving that he isn’t worried about winning popularity contests.
Following the bedazzling fireworks of the Olympics, Putin quickly ignited a far more dangerous spectacle by invading a sovereign nation. To borrow a line from Machiavelli, Putin’s actions demonstrate he seemingly prefers to be feared rather than loved.
It is proof that spring is still weeks away.
Clearly, Russia yearns to assert itself as a great nation. The occupation of Crimea reinforces the image of Russia as a mighty superpower -- an image it tried to put front and center during the Olympics. Yet analysts warn that the move is fraught with difficulty, proving this could be another snowflake that won’t unfold.
Putin’s march on Crimea coincides with our Lenten reading of the call of Abraham in Genesis 12, and offers an opportunity to consider anew God’s promise to “make of you a great nation.” Abraham was blessed as he trusted God’s leading -- a response that seems vastly different than Putin’s rather unholy promise to seize a sovereign nation.
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