Mark Twain was noted for the one-liner: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” As the world attempts to focus on recent events in Ukraine, let’s consider some sobering historical parallels from nearly thirty years ago.
Those events revolve around the September 1999 KGB false-flag bombings of Russian civilian apartments, which were then falsely ascribed to Chechen Islamic terrorists. This triggered the Russian army’s invasion of Muslim Chechnya and the massive artillery and aerial bombing destruction of Chechen cities (including the capital Grozny). And, of course, another important side-effect of that ‘special military operation’ was the rocketing of Vladimir Putin into the Kremlin, where he has since held the Presidency of modern Russia in his iron grip.
This above-noted history is an essential key to deciphering Russian realpolitik and present military strategies in Ukraine.
From unemployed spy to Tsar of Russia
Back in 1985 Vladimir Putin worked for four years as a young KGB spy in Dresden, GDR (Socialist Germany). After the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disintegration of the USSR, Putin returned to Russia. He quickly found work at St. Petersburg’s City Hall, where his former law professor, Anatoly Sobchak, had just been elected Mayor. Within a brief time, Putin became both Deputy Mayor and Chair of the Committee on Foreign Economic Relations. This position afforded him significant financial benefit and political influence, eventually positioning him to be both Sobchak’s consigliere and his deliverer from serious corruption charges.
In March 1997, then-President Boris Yeltsin named Putin his Deputy Chief of Staff. In July 1998 Putin was made the chief of the Federal Security Service (FSB, the successor to the KGB). And in August 1999 Yeltsin appointed Putin to be his Prime Minister.
On December 31, 1999 Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and, according to the Constitution of Russia, Putin became Acting President of the Russian Federation. The first presidential decree that Putin signed on 31 December 1999 was titled “On guarantees for the former president of the Russian Federation and the members of his family” This ensured that corruption charges against outgoing President Yeltsin and his relatives would not be pursued. This was most notably targeted at the Mabetex bribery case in which Yeltsin’s family members were involved. On August 30, 2000 a criminal investigation in which Putin himself (who, as a member of the Saint Petersburg city government, was one of the suspects) was dropped. A case regarding Putin’s alleged corruption in metal exports from 1992 was brought back by Marina Salye, but the case was silenced and she was forced to leave Saint Petersburg.
Putin became President of Russia in March 2000. But prior to becoming President, he intensified a scorched-earth ‘special military campaign’ in Chechnya. His popularity ratings soared from 2% to 53% as a result. The once unemployed spy was about to become the beloved master of Russia.
Grozny means ‘fearsome’ in Russian
The country of Chechnya is located in the Eastern Europe’s North Caucasus, close to Georgia and the Caspian Sea. The majority of Chechens, though darker-skinned, could be described as the original ‘Caucasians.’ Between 1600 and 1800 A.D. the country was Islamized, with Iranian occupiers eventually giving way to Russian Tsarist control. Today many Chechens hope for an independent country free of Russian control. Other Chechens are Saudi-financed jihadis associated with al-Qa’eda or ISIS.
On April 17, 1999 Chechen jihadi leaders Shamil Basayev and Samir ibn al-Khattab met in Grozny and declared the formation of a jihadi army “the main purpose of which is the creation of the Independent Islamic State in the range of Chechnya and Dagestan.” On August 2, 1999 Basayev and Khattab launched an armed invasion by 2,000-3,000 jihadis into Dagestan from their bases in Chechnya. Their forces were pushed back into Chechen territory by August 26, 1999.
With Putin’s accession to the role of Russian Prime Minister on August 9, 1999, Chechnya-related events immediately moved into high gear. Intensive bombings (over 1,700 sorties) and missile attacks on Chechen cities and civilians began on August 25, 1999, leading to a wave of over 100,000 refugees.
Starting September 4, 1999, apartment buildings began to blow up in various places around Russia. Although Putin on September 23, 1999 blamed these on Chechen Islamist terrorists, an active KGB/FSB team had already been caught on September 22, 1999 having just placed such a bomb in the basement of a civilian apartment block in Ryazan, Russia. The bomb’s active ingredient was hexogen (RDX), a military explosive available only to Russian security services. False-flag KGB/FSB activities were the unofficial trigger for Putin’s invasion of Chechnya.
Russian accounts show that Putin’s plan for a crushing military crackdown on Chechnya had been drawn up months earlier than the campaign itself. Russian air strikes and artillery forced at least 100,000 Chechens to flee their homes. Neighboring Ingushetia appealed to the UN regarding over 78,000 refugees that had crossed their borders. Civilian refugees were later estimated to total between 200,000 to 450,000, out of the approximately 800,000 residents in the Chechen Republic.
On October 21, 1999, a Russian Scud short-range ballistic missile strike on the central Grozny marketplace killed more than 140 people, including many women and children, leaving hundreds more wounded. A Russian spokesman said the busy market was targeted because it was used by ‘separatists’ as an arms bazaar.
Human Rights Watch called on the Russian military at that time to stop using FAE, known in Russia as vacuum bombs, in Chechnya. Large number of civilian casualties were caused by what it called “widespread and often indiscriminate bombing and shelling by Russian forces.”
The Russian assault on Grozny began in early December 1999, ending on February 2, 2000 when the Russian army seized the city. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said that 2,700 ‘separatists’ were killed trying to leave Grozny. The siege and fighting devastated the capital like no other European city since World War II. In 2003 the United Nations called Grozny the most destroyed city on Earth. The estimated total number of casualties: 80,000 killed in Chechnya; 40,000 – 45,000 civilians in neighboring regions.
Similar dynamics and tactics have been used by President Putin in other conflicts, such as Syria/Aleppo (2015), and at this present time in Ukraine (2022). History may not be exactly repeating itself but, as Mark Twain noted, there is a definite rhyme here.
Syrian Aleppo – history repeating itself
The Arab Spring protests in 2011 catalyzed a civil war in Syria, with Aleppo (ancient Halab) being a key rebel center. Many of these rebels were Western-friendly and opposed to Assad. Others were run-of-the-mill jihadis. And finally, some were full-blown ISIS jihadi Islamists. By the summer of 2015, it looked likely that Syrian President and dictator Hafez al-Assad was about to lose control of the country. Russia stepped in, sending bombers, attack helicopters, artillery and missiles, and many military advisors. Iran sent in paramilitary operatives as well as Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.
By September 2015, Assad’s forces gathered against Aleppo. On September 30, 2015 Russian bombers and attack fighters hit rebel forward military positions and supply lines, and by October 2015 up to 2,000 Lebanese Hezbollah, Afghan and Iraqi Shi’a militia fighters (led by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] – Quds Force commander Major-General Qassem Suleimani) initiated their ground attacks.
By February 2017 Assad’s forces had nearly surrounded the city. In July 2017 Assad imposed an all-out siege of the city’s rebel-controlled eastern region, blocking even humanitarian assistance. With significant support from Iran, Assad cut off supplies to 320,000 people. Assad then had his forces systematically destroy the medical facilities in rebel-held parts of the city, killing or wounding many of its remaining doctors and nurses. These attacks are considered to be war crimes.
Russian forces used weapons in Syria that are currently being used in Ukraine as well, including the TOS-1A, a surface-to-surface rocket system that fires “fuel-air explosive” (FAE) thermobaric-type warheads. The Russian bunker-buster BETAB-500s was also used, able to take out entire buildings in one hit.
The UNHCR reported in July 2018 that 270,000 people in southern Syria had been displaced by a two-week escalation in fighting alone that erupted after a Russian-backed army offensive to recapture rebel-held southern Syria. By October 1, 2018 the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that Russian air strikes and artillery shells killed 18,000 people (including nearly 8,000 civilians).
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, by August 2017 Russia had carried out 28,000 sorties in Syria, with 90,000 air strikes. The graphic destruction of these airstrikes in Syria can be seen in this drone footage of Aleppo from Euronews. Such scenes were also commonplace in Grozny. They now are being repeated (and available on drone footage) throughout Ukraine in Kharkiv, Mariupol region, Kiev region, etc.
“A destroyer will come to every city” (Jeremiah 48:8)
The Bible is a comprehensive history book, a compendium of how evil dictators destroyed cities and countries before they were ultimately extinguished from the pages of antiquity. And today, as we watch Russian weapons level the apartments of Ukraine, we can ask ourselves the question: do we think that we are living in times which are so different from those of Assyria, Babylon, Rome and Hitler? This outbreak of a land war in Europe is a wake-up call for us all. Are we ready? Have we counted the cost of what is about to happen? Where does God want us to be, and what does He want us to be doing as we prepare for these challenging times?
Those who plot wickedness
The Scriptures speak strongly against those who shed innocent blood or who attack peaceful people:
- “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (Ecclesiastes 9:18)
- “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:7)
- “Rescue me, YHVH, from evil people! Protect me from violent me, who devise evil things in their hearts! They continually stir up wars. They sharpen their tongues like a snake; The venom of a viper is under their lips. Selah” (Psalm 140:1-3)
- “So I have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me. May YHVH, the Judge, judge today” (Judges 11:27)
- “Now you yourself also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me . . . he also shed the blood of war in peace. and he put the blood of war on his belt that was on his waist, and on his sandals that were on his feet” (1 Kings 2:5)
Purim – from defeat to victory
The Scroll of Esther has recently been read aloud in synagogues across the world. We heard how Haman had purposed to destroy, kill and eliminate the entire Jewish people (see Esther 7:4). Yet the God of Abraham kept His protective covenant with the exiled sons of Jacob, and turned the tables on His murderous enemies at Purim: “In the letters, the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, kill, and eliminate the entire army of any people or province which was going to attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoils” (Esther 8:11).
The prophet Ezekiel lets us know that the God of Jacob has commissioned Israel to be His mighty army (see Ezekiel 37:9-11). The Jewish nation has been called to be His secret weapon in the affairs of men.
- He says, “You are My war-club, My weapon of war; and with you I shatter nations, and with you I destroy kingdoms” (Jeremiah 51:20)
- So Israel made a vow to YHVH and said, “If You will indeed hand over this people to me, then I will utterly destroy their cities.” YHVH heard the voice of Israel and turned over the Canaanites; then they utterly destroyed them and their cities. and the place was named Hormah (Numbers 21:2)
- “For I will bend Judah as My bow, I will fill the bow with Ephraim. and I will stir up your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece; and I will make you like a warrior’s sword” (Zechariah 9:13)
- “Blessed be YHVH, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle!” (Psalm 144:1)
- “Prepare plans by consultation, and make war by wise guidance” (Proverbs 20:18)
- “For by wise guidance you will wage war, and in an abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 24:6)
- “A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8)
As war slogs forward in Ukraine, as cruel and murderous dictators accelerate the speed of their chariots and tanks, and as they direct their cannons, missiles and bombs against civilian supermarkets, shopping centers, hospitals, schools and theaters, let us pray for God’s mercy, His justice and His breakthroughs both in men’s hearts and on the battlefield.
How should we then pray?
- Pray for safety, rescue and deliverance for Ukraine’s population who are facing widespread destruction and the biggest humanitarian-refugee crisis since WWII
- Pray for the safety, rescue and deliverance of Ukraine’s Jewish population – that they will be able to return home to their prophetic motherland
- Pray for those Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainians in Russia-occupied territories who are resisting the evil decisions and policies of their Moscow-led leaders, often paying a severe personal price in the process
- Pray for all those who are reaching out to protect, preserve and share God’s light with Messiah Yeshua’s Jewish people
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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