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Is Ukraine on the Brink of War?


President Vladimir Putin of Russia recognized the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine yesterday. In his speech, he claimed that “Ukraine has never had traditions of its own statehood,” calling the eastern part of the country “ancient Russian lands.”

He then ordered the Russian army to launch what Moscow is calling a “peacekeeping” operation in the area. The BBC reports this morning that footage overnight appeared to show Russian military vehicles heading toward the Ukrainian border. The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting last night during which Western countries condemned Russia’s actions as a break with international law and an implicit attack against the territorial integrity of every UN member state.

Leaders from France, the European Union, the European Commission, the United Nations, NATO, and Lithuania condemned Russia’s move. US President Joe Biden signed an executive order to halt US business activity in the breakaway regions. European Union members are meeting today to decide what sanctions to impose.

The start of conflicts to come?

I have found two articles on the escalating crisis in Ukraine to be especially informative.

In the first, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt writes, “A Russian invasion of Ukraine would look like the kind of war that has been largely absent in the past eighty years and that was once common. It would involve a powerful nation setting out to expand its regional dominance by taking over its neighbor.”

He adds that such a “voluntary war of aggression” would signal that Putin believes the US, the European Union, and their allies have become too weak to exact painful consequences in response.

Like Russia, the leaders of China, Iran, and Venezuela are also autocrats. According to Leonhardt, they are watching the Western response to Russia: “If the world is entering an era in which countries again make decisions based, above all, on what their military power allows them to do, it would be a big change.”

In addition, Leonhardt notes, a Russian takeover of Ukraine would be an autocracy taking over a democracy by force. Putin and his inner circle believe that Western democracies are in decline, polarized by cultural conflicts, and led by weakened political parties and leaders.

Consequently, this could well be the start of similar and escalating aggression to come.

"Does history repeat itself endlessly?"

A second article I wanted to discuss with you today is by bestselling author and historian Yuval Noah Harari. Writing for the Economist, he states, “At the heart of the Ukraine crisis lies a fundamental question about the nature of history and the nature of humanity: Is change possible? Can humans change the way they behave, or does history repeat itself endlessly, with humans forever condemned to re-enact past tragedies without changing anything except the décor?”

He describes two options. One is a school of thought that “firmly denies the possibility of change” and “argues that the world is a jungle, that the strong prey upon the weak, and that the only thing preventing one country from wolfing down another is military force.” His second option is the belief (to which he subscribes) that “war isn’t a fundamental force of nature. Its intensity and existence depend on underlying technological, economic, and cultural factors. As these factors change, so does war.”

Harari then points to evidence for the second position: “In the past seven decades there has been no direct war between superpowers.” With this result: “In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, human violence has killed fewer people than suicide, car accidents, or obesity-related diseases. Gunpowder has become less lethal than sugar.”

According to Harari, “The decline in war didn’t result from a divine miracle or from a change in the laws of nature. It resulted from humans making better choices. It is arguably the greatest political and moral achievement of modern civilization. Unfortunately, the fact that it stems from human choice also means that it is reversible.”

"The arc of the moral universe"

Leonhardt highlights the enormous stakes of the crisis in Ukraine as a bellwether of similar crises to come. In the face of this looming threat, Harari bases his hope for the future on “humans making better choices.” This is because, as an atheist, he does not believe in a God who has “concrete ideas ... about human politics.”

But you and I know better. We know that the God of the universe “makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away” (Job 12:23). By contrast, “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12).

This is why we place our hope for the future in the Lord of eternity.

Consequently, please join me in praying fervently for God to change human hearts bent on war and destruction. Ask him to protect the persecuted from their persecutors (cf. Psalm 35). Ask him to redeem the suffering of the innocent (1 Peter 5:10; Romans 8:18).

And remember, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This is because the King of the universe is “a God of justice” (Isaiah 30:18).

So let us claim these familiar words for our broken and unjust world:

This is my Father’s world.

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong

Seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

The battle is not done:

Jesus who died shall be satisfied,

And earth and Heav’n be one.

Publication date: February 22, 2022

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Pawel Gaul

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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