What just happened?
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared two separatist-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine to be independent states, and has sent Russian troops into the area on the pretense of “keeping the peace.” The move allows Putin to build military bases in the region and unleash a major war in Ukraine.
In response, the United States, the United Kingdom, and some of their allies have imposed economic sanctions on Russia.
Why is Russia invading Ukraine?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has never gotten over the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he dubbed the “disintegration of historical Russia.” Putin became a member of the Communist Party while he was in college and served as a foreign intelligence officer for the KGB for 16 years. In 2016, he said he still likes the ideas of theoretical communism “very much” and still has his Communist Party membership card at his home.
Putin’s style and agenda have given rise to the term “Putinism.” As a personalist autocracy, M. Steven Fish explains, “Putinism rests on an unrestricted one-man rule and the hollowing out of parties, institutions, and even individuals other than the president as independent political actors.”
On foreign policy matters, Putin espouses a nationalist agenda that seeks to reestablish Russia as a great world power and to offset America’s global leadership position. Under Putin’s watch, Russia has moved to expand its geopolitical influence by going to war with Georgia (2008), seizing Crimea (2014), intervening in eastern Ukraine (2014), and deploying military forces in the Syrian civil war (2015). Putin has also strengthened ties with China, India, the Arab world, and Iran in an attempt to reduce American and Western influence in Asia.
Putin has repeatedly claimed that “Russians and Ukrainians were one people—a single whole” and that the divide between the countries is “our great common misfortune and tragedy.”
Where exactly is Ukraine?
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe that borders the Russian Federation, Belarus, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Moldova. The Black Sea and Sea of Azov are along the southern border. The country, which is nearly the size of Texas, is the largest country entirely within Europe.
What is the religious makeup of Ukraine?
The majority of Ukrainians (82 percent) are Orthodox, while 7 percent are atheists, and a further 11 percent found it difficult to answer the question. But as Pew Research notes, in many Central and Eastern European countries that once belonged to the Soviet Union, religion and national identity are closely entwined. This is true in Ukraine where roughly half of all Ukrainians (51 percent) say it is at least somewhat important for someone to be Orthodox to be truly Ukrainian. Religious affiliation also differs between residents of the two parts of the country. According to Pew Research, people living in western Ukraine are more likely than those in the east to attend church on a weekly basis, to say religion is very important in their lives, and to believe in God.
The largest Protestant community is the Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine. Other Christian groups include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. There are also non-Christian groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).
Why does Ukraine matter to the West?
The situation in Ukraine is a bellwether for one of the primary geopolitical concerns of the post–Cold War: the enlargement of Russia vis-à-vis the European Union. For centuries Ukraine was controlled by Moscow and it’s still considered by Vladimir Putin to be vital to Russian interests (in Soviet times, the economy of Ukraine was the second largest in the Soviet Union).
On a broader scale, the way the situation has unfolded is of concern because of the general threat it poses to human rights and the rule of law. An invasion by the Russians could result in a major refugee crisis. The U.S. government puts the estimate at between one and five million refugees, a “massive movement of people, unseen in Europe since World War II.”
How can Christians pray for Ukraine?
In 1 Timothy 2:1–2 (NIV), Paul says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Pray that Putin will relent of his dictatorial desire to control Ukraine and that both the Ukrainian and Russian people will be able to live in peace. Pray also for our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Ukraine and are anxious about the “rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6). (Read a perspective from a missionary currently working in Ukraine.) Pray that God will use this crisis to bring about good from what was meant for evil (Gen. 50:20)