Russia: Global Chaos and Divine Order

As the Russia spy saga continues to unfold in the UK, and the US continue to investigate interference in the Presidential election, Peter Lynas looks at how we as divine image bearers respond to the forces of chaos.

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The December 2017 edition of GQ magazine carried a fascinating interview with Gary Kasparov, the former world chess champion. Kasparov is a long-time critic of Valdimir Putin and argues that he is a threat to the free world.

He makes the case that ultimately Trump is weak and that the rules of American democracy and an independent judiciary will deal with or limit him. In contrast, Putin is a dictator focused on staying in power with the help of the roughly one trillion dollars he has control over.

Putin is not an ideologue - he doesn’t care whether it is the far left or right wing nationalists. “as long as they support chaos and destruction and the undermining of existing institutions.”[1] It was the notion that he supports chaos and is seeking to undermine order that I found striking.

The dystopian BBC movie Hypernormalisation makes a similar point. It is a documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis in which he argues that those in power have given up on the real world and have built a fake world maintaining the pretence of a functioning society. The movie looks at the confusion around Russia’s actions in Syria. When looked at in a linear, rational fashion, they don’t make any sense and so the West is unsure how to respond.

Part of the reason for ensuring Russia’s inclusion in the global economy was that interconnection would reduce the risk of aggression. “But the Kremlin has figured out that this can be flipped: Interconnection also means that Russia can get away with aggression.”[2] Vladislav Surkov is the grey cardinal of Putin’s Russia, Putin’s lead propagandist. In Without Sky, a short story written under a pseudonym, he describes the first non-linear war. “In the primitive wars of the 19th and 20th centuries it was common for just two sides to fight. Two countries. Two groups of allies. Now four coalitions collided. Not two against two, or three against one. No. All against all.”

“A few provinces would join one side,” Surkov continues. “A few others a different one. One town or generation or gender would join yet another. Then they could switch sides, sometimes mid-battle. Their aims were quite different. Most understood the war to be part of a process. Not necessarily its most important part.”[3] So for Russia, Checnya, Ukraine, Turkey, Syria, Georgia are all one war rather than separate conflicts. And the war is fought using military, technology, information, diplomacy, economics and criminal elements.

Russia ‘solves’ situations such as Syria where the West has failed and in the process creates a significant foothold in the Middle East. It also inflames situations that might overwhelm the West limiting their ability to respond. Kasparov believes that in Syria, Putin sees “a chance to make millions of refugees and weaponise them.”[4] Information warfare is used, not to create an alternative truth, but to erode our basic ability to distinguish truth at all.

President Obama drew a ‘red line’ around the use of chemical weapons. The line was crossed but there was no response. Like a child threatened with punishment that never materialises, Assad and others realised that the threats were empty and they could push further. Kasparov notes, “The Iranians, Assad, so many dictators are trying to blackmail the free world because they have no way to compete on ideas, innovations and creativity.” The influence of Russia on the 2016 US election is perhaps the high point of this strategy. While is is widely acknowledged that Russia orchestrated something, what they did and what influence they had is disputed. But that suits Russia perfectly. In a non-linear war, it is perfectly happy to have the main political parties fighting with each other, their own security forces and private corporations. All the while, people are confused as to what to believe. As we cannot understand Russia’s objectives we assume they did not have any, or must have failed and so the focus shifts from Russia, all of which suits them perfectly. 

“Information warfare is not about creating an alternate truth, but eroding our basic ability to distinguish truth at all. . .  designed to make us, the targets, act against our own best interests.”[5]

All of this is guerrilla geopolitics. It is an alliance with the forces of chaos. Isis is a force of chaos. Terrorism is a force of chaos designed to strike fear into the human heart. For thirty years it was used to destabilise Northern Ireland and make it a very difficult place to live. There are chaotic forces at work in the world. They will not be successful in the longterm, but they can still have devastating consequences. They lack genuine creativity and innovation but undermine the habitable order of creation.

Scripture's cultural mandate reminds us to be fruitful and have dominion - forming and filling as modelled by God. The great commission reminds us that because of the brokenness of this world we need the death and resurrection of Jesus through whom God is reconciling all things to himself. (Col 1:20)

Our role, as divine image bearers, is to oppose the forces of chaos by joining with God's movement of bringing order into being; transforming disorder through truth and goodness. We are to lead people towards the cross because all things will be renewed through the blood shed there. The theologian Paul Marshall reminds us that everything was made by and for Jesus Christ, everything holds together in Jesus Christ and everything will be reconciled by Jesus Christ.

I love international politics, but it can be a confusing space. Our role at a micro and macro level is to call out the chaos, work for habitable order, speak truth that will always and ultimately lead to what is good and to point people to the cross where true transformation and hope are to be found.

 

[1] http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/garry-kasparov-alastair-campbell-interview

[2] How Putin is Reinventing Warfare - http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/05/05/how-putin-is-reinventing-warfare/

[3] The Hidden Author of Putinism, Peter Pomerantsev, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/11/hidden-author-putinism-russia-vladislav-surkov/382489/ Accessed 29 January 2108.

[4] http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/garry-kasparov-alastair-campbell-interview

[5] https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/putins-real-long-game-21458