Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

On August 7th 2008 war broke out in Georgia, a small country on the Black Sea next to Russia. It is the first time since the end of the cold war that Russia has sent its military into an independent country.

Russia destroyed the Georgian army, sank some of its ships and blocked its port. On August 13th, after American protests, it began to pull back its army. But Russia remains in control of two parts of Georgia: Abkhazia in the north-west and South Ossetia not far north of the capital.

Georgia is small. It has about as much land and people as the American state of South Carolina. The country is democratic – power changed hands peacefully in 2003 in the Rose Revolution. Most are Christian and have been since the 300s. Their language is not related to Russian, Persian, Turkish or any other big language.

They were ruled by Russia through most of the 1800s and 1900s. Before that they were ruled by the Turks and the Persians.

To the west is the Black Sea, to the north the Caucasus mountains and over those mountains, Russia and Chechnya, where Russia has been fighting for years. To the south is Turkey and Armenia.

The Abkhaz and the Ossetians are not Georgians. Even before the war their parts of the country were largely independent, with the support of Russia. Russia gave them passports, which gives the Russian military a right to protect them.

The fighting broke out in South Ossetia when Ossetians began killing Georgians there. Both Georgia and Russia sent in their soldiers and war broke out. It is clear that Russia has been waiting for this moment for quite a while. It took the opportunity to spread the war to Abkhazia.

Many in Russia dream of the lost glory of its old empire. They think that if they bring the empire back the good old days will return too. The war does not bring back that empire, but it does help to cow Georgia and the other little countries like it that Russia once ruled.

Some Russians fear the West and how countries in eastern Europe have been joining NATO. Georgia wants to join too. NATO has promised it can, someday, but this war puts off that someday.

One thing the war has made clear to Georgia and the other small countries near Russia is that the West can do little to protect them.

America’s actions over the past ten years have not helped. Just as America protected Kosovo from the Serbians, so Russia was protecting the South Ossetia and Abkhazia from the Georgians. And just as America took over Iraq because it did not like what was going on there, so Russia sent its military into Georgia. If America can have its empire, then why not Russia too?

This war shows that maybe Russia is serious about gaining back its empire. If the West is so weak or tied up elsewhere, who is to stop it?

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Russia is the largest country by the size of its land, but much of it is in the cold north where few live. It has about as many people as Japan, Java, Pakistan or Brazil. America has twice as many people as it does.

It is still one of the top powers of the world, but it is not as powerful as it once was.

In the late 1900s both Russia and America had enough atom bombs to blow each other up and much of the rest of the world too. For about 40 years the world stood on the edge of complete destruction in what was called the Cold War.

In those days Russia was ruled by communists. They remade society according to the ideas of Karl Marx. The government owned everything. There was no private property: you could not buy land or run your own business. The government ran everything.

The people were not free. It was a democracy on paper, but the communists won every election. The people were not allowed to form their own parties to stand against the communists in elections. They had no freedom of speech or religion. The television and the newspapers and even most of the writers repeated government lies.

When the communists took over Russia in 1918 they kept its empire – the neighbouring countries it ruled to the west and the south – and named the whole thing the Soviet Union, also known as the USSR (or, in Russian, CCCP). They made a new flag: it was red with a yellow hammer and sickle in the corner.

Their war machines had red stars just as America’s had white stars.

If America was the new Rome, Russia was the new Constantinople. Its roots go back to the Byzantine empire. People are mostly Eastern Orthodox.

The Soviet Union was strong on the outside, but falling apart on the inside. Communism did not work in the long run, at least not for such a big country. In the 1980s, Gorbachev tried to save communism through reform, but it was too little too late.

In 1988 they pulled their troops out of Afghanistan, which they were never able to bring under its rule.

In 1989 they lost their control over eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall fell.

In 1991 the communists themselves fell from power. The countries that were part of the Soviet empire broke free. People in the West could not believe their eyes. It had seemed like the Soviet Union was going to be their enemy for years and years.

In the 1800s the empire was ruled by the tsar. Most Russians worked the land and the country was poor. It was the communists who brought in industry.

In the 1700s Russians settled Siberia. Go east, young man. Peter the Great began to bring in Western ways.

Russians were once ruled by Mongols and Turks: the Golden Horde, Tartary and all that.

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918- ) is perhaps the best Russian writer of the 1900s. He is most famous for the “Gulag Archipelago” (1973). Unlike most writers of his time, he has a strong Christian outlook and even looks like a bearded prophet.

For writing the truth about the evils of communist Russia, especially its system of political prisons known as the Gulag, he was a hero in the West and won a Nobel Prize in 1970.

He first wrote about one day of one man in the Gulag in the book that made him famous, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” (1962). Then he detailed the whole system in an 1800-page book called “The Gulag Archipelago.”

In “Gulag” he showed that communism is not evil because Stalin was evil: communism was evil from the ground up. Even Lenin, his hero as a boy, was part of that evil.

He sent the book secretly to the West. In 1974, a few months after it appeared, he was banished.

While he lived in America in the mountains of Vermont, he wrote his Red Wheel series about the history of Russia in the 1910s when the communists took over. Solzhenitsyn was not so much writing as rewriting history from the lies the communists have told of those times.

When he got to America he did not keep quiet about its evils either. In his 1978 speech at Harvard he said that while America has an incredible wealth of things, spiritually it is very poor. (Mother Teresa has said the very same thing). Americans do not act like men, but like animals in a herd – even their leaders, intellectuals and news reporters. They do not recognize evil and stand up to it.

After the fall of communism he returned to Russia in 1994. He crossed Siberia in a train speaking at the towns along the way. He had a television talk show in 1995, but it did poorly.

The new Russia made Solzhenitsyn sad: it had copied all that was worst in the West.

Solzhenitsyn says that if Russia does not get its moral foundation right no amount of money will save it. He longs for a Holy Russia based on God and country. To many Russians he seems old-fashioned and out of touch.

solzhenitsynSolzhenitsyn experienced the Gulag first-hand. After fighting the Germans fearlessly for three years in the Red Army during the Second World War, he was thrown in prison for letters he wrote to an old school friend. The state opened the letters and saw the disrespectful things he said about the man with the moustache. Everyone knew he meant Stalin.

After eight years as a political prisoner of Stalin – a light sentence in those days – he was banished to what is now Kazakhstan. It was ruled by Russia in those days but it was not home. He taught high school and wrote his books in secret.

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