Grand setting: Russian President Vladimir Putin leads members of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights during a session at the Kremlin in Moscow (Dec. 8, 2016).Source: Sergei Karpukhin/AFP/Getty Images
Armed with shovels and metal detectors, a group of young Russians dig in the flat-open plains outside the town of Rossoschka—about 30 miles from Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad. The children are assisting with a program to unearth and properly bury soldiers who lost their lives during World War II.
Nearly everywhere they sink shovels into dirt they find human skulls in rusted helmets, as well as rib cages, femurs and finger bones. Within a few hours, the small group has found the skeletal remains of about a dozen combatants from the Eastern Front—Russians and Germans alike.
A History Channel special detailed this scene. Just under the surface of the plains in this region lie thousands upon thousands of bodies that have remained there since 1943.
In the winter of that year, frozen corpses made a macabre blanket far and wide across the area, sometimes three bodies deep. Today, the bone fields echo what took place nearly 70 years ago.
A documentary based on the book Aftermath: The Remnants of War featured an interview with a Russian man who has made it his life’s work to unearth the remains of the fallen and identify them. He described the scene around Stalingrad after the battle’s conclusion: “You would not have been able to walk through this field. It was full of rotting, stinking corpses. Unburied. Why? Let me tell you. There simply weren’t enough people. They were all cleaning up Stalingrad. Then these fields were full of mines that had to be removed. The crows had a feast here.”
The Battle of Stalingrad reveals an important lesson about the Russians: never underestimate them.
After Hitler captured much of Europe in a matter of months, he smugly declared of the USSR, “We have only to kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down” (The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler).
Instead, Stalingrad became a major turning point in the war between Germany and Russia. The battle is sometimes touted as the catalyst event that began the downfall of the Third Reich. From that point forward during WWII, the Soviets slowly drove back Hitler’s armies until they marched into Berlin in April 1945.
What the Germans found most unexpected—which serves as another lesson from this operation—was the fortitude of the Soviets. Frequently, Russians would fight to the last man, and the last bullet, in the face of overwhelming defeat.
Over and over, history’s greatest military forces have failed to understand the Russians. The Vikings, Mongols and the army of Napoleon Bonaparte were all stymied by the Russian will to win.
Russia has always baffled Western powers. Discussing the nation during World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stated, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…” (The Churchill Society).
Writing about the collapse of the USSR, The Economist said the West figured Russia “would embrace Western values and join the civilised world.” Yet, the magazine continued, the U.S. and its allies failed to take into account “the country’s ruined economy, depleted and exhausted human capital and the mental and moral dent made by 70 years of Soviet rule. Nobody knew what kind of country would succeed the Soviet Union, or what being Russian really meant.”
Even today, Moscow’s foreign policy decisions always seem to confuse the West. In Syria’s civil war, Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad, while America and its allies support various rebel groups. Russia is also quick to take Iran’s side in geopolitical squabbles and is the odd man out in ongoing conflicts in eastern Ukraine.
Such actions lead to a question: What is Russia’s end goal?
Those in Europe and the U.S. also have a hard time understanding the appeal of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yet, at home, he maintains an 80-plus percent approval rating. He has held the position for 16 years and has a path to remain in power until 2024.
No matter who is in charge of Russia, whether today’s president of a controlled democracy, the iron fist of the Soviets, the czars, or warlords before them, the nation has remained virtually the same at its core.
Therefore, a key to understanding Russia’s future is found in examples of its national character—both past and present.
Idealism has long been deeply ingrained in the Russian national psyche. Historian Albert Jeremiah Beveridge noted this characteristic in his 1903 book The Russian Advance: “No matter how casual his observation, every traveller through Russia will run across evidences of Russian idealism. On the other hand, men who have given their lives to the study of this curious people declare that the Russian is, first of all, an idealist.”
Beveridge especially saw this idealism in the nation’s literary works from Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenieff, and Maxim Gorky, which all contain the “characteristic of ideality in spite of their realism.”
In the end, he concluded that Russians believe it is their duty to preserve “order, form, and authority in civil affairs” and then “to restore to the confused, hopeless, struggling peoples of the earth those forms of social order and political authority which the [Russian] thinks are, after all, the foundation-stones of civilization.”
Put another way, Russians want to export/expand the Russian empire to spread their ideals.
The same mindset persists today. In his 2001 book Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Henry Kissinger wrote: “Both Russia and the United States have historically asserted a global vocation for their societies. But while America’s idealism derives from the concept of liberty, Russia’s developed from a sense of shared suffering and common submission to authority. Everyone is eligible to share in America’s values; Russia’s have been reserved for the Russian nation, excluding even the subject nationalities of the empire. American idealism tempts isolationism; Russian idealism has prompted expansionism and nationalism.”
Mr. Kissinger quoted what Mr. Putin wrote the day before taking on the responsibilities of Russia’s presidency in early 2000: “It will not happen, if it ever happens at all, that Russia will become the second edition of, say, the United States or Great Britain…For Russians, a strong state is not an anomaly, which should be got rid of. Quite the contrary, they see it as a guarantor of order and the initiator and the main driving force of any change.”
In Letters from Russia, French traveler and nobleman Astolphe de Custine wrote that a person could journey the entire country and “return home without having surveyed anything but a series of facades.” Custine believed that on the surface Russia appeared to be much like any European nation. Yet he felt that whenever he looked past these outward shows, he invariably found something entirely different—something uniquely Russian.
A similar statement could be applied to any period in Russia’s history. At its heart, the nation does not change. Its people are ready to sacrifice and suffer inconvenience for “the greater good.”
This formula has time and again bred success for the country. As a united nation backing one ruler, Russia has repeatedly expelled and repelled military advances from formidable foes. It continues to maintain a firm stance on certain global issues, even when opposed, and has vehemently defended its borders.
When Hitler decided to redirect efforts on the Eastern Front to the oil-rich Caucasus Mountain region, the Soviets held their own. This move essentially became a case study in Russian will.
The Nazi Wehrmacht pounded Stalingrad with 1,000 tons of artillery from the ground and bombs from the air. When this attack was in full swing, historian James Burns wrote that flames from the city were so bright “that a newspaper could be read at night forty miles away” (Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom).
After four months of being ruthlessly pummeled, the Soviets seemed far from demoralized. They secretly amassed a one million man army designed to encircle the overstretched German and Romanian Axis forces in the region.
In November 1942, Red Army forces moved to secure a 100-mile perimeter around Stalingrad. Assisted by well-placed Soviet artillery and thousands of infantrymen and cavalry, the operation, codenamed Uranus, successfully shifted the tide of battle. On January 31, the Germans surrendered—marking the first major defeat of the Axis powers.
This would be the beginning of the end of perhaps the most brutally effective army the world had ever seen. No battle has surpassed the incredible carnage of Stalingrad. By some estimates, three million fought there, and only one million lived to tell about it.
Throughout their time on the Eastern Front, the Germans learned to have a healthy respect—and in some cases, fear—for Russian soldiers. In The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II, author Andrew Nagorski quoted an eye-witness account that demonstrates Russia’s grit.
“A German soldier who was sent to the Eastern front in August 1941 described his shock in discovering that the Red Army was employing the same kind of human wave tactics that were used in World War I. The Soviet assaults ‘were carried out by masses of men who made no real attempt at concealment but trusted in sheer weight of numbers to overwhelm us,’ he wrote.”
“Describing the vision before him as ‘an unbelievable sight, a machine gunner’s dream target,’ he added, ‘It was rumored that the [Russian] commissars worked out the number of machine guns which we had, multiplied that number by the number of rounds per minute that we could fire, calculated how many minutes it would take a body of soldiers to cross the area and added to the final total a couple of thousand men. Thus some men would get through our line…’”
The Nazi soldier continued: “‘At 600 meters we opened fire and whole sections of the first wave just vanished, leaving here and there an odd survivor still walking stolidly forward,’ he recalled. ‘It was uncanny, unbelievable, inhuman. No soldier of ours would have continued to advance alone.’ As German machine guns overheated from the continual firing, the Soviet side kept sending in more waves of troops. ‘The Ivans,’ as he called them, kept up their attacks for three days, and he never saw a stretcher-bearer during the entire time.”
In addition to using “human waves,” Russian forces favored tactical retreats—using the vastness of their country to their advantage. In this way, the Soviets could direct where battles would be fought, and could use their familiarity and preparation for the harsh weather to their advantage. German military planners knew this before entering the Eurasian nation and even intended to stop this maneuver. However, the immense size of Russia and the extreme swings in weather were still formidable assets for the Red Army.
The Soviets also bolstered their fighting forces by tapping into a demographic other nations refused to even consider: women. Females made superb snipers in the defense of Stalingrad, and some women aviators were so effective in their nighttime harassment bombing raids that Germans infamously dubbed them the Nachthexen, or Night Witches.
Using female soldiers on the front line meant Stalin could increase the size of his standing army up to 40 percent. This fact, along with tactical retreats, the people’s willingness to sacrifice, and the ability to survive harsh weather, gave Russia a fighting chance against Germany.
Another feature unique to Russia is its size. The nation stretches 5,600 miles from east to west, and about 2,000 miles north to south—covering an area of 6.3 million square miles. That is nearly twice the size of the United States. Because of this, Encyclopaedia Britannica dubbed it the “land of superlatives.”
“By far the world’s largest country…It extends across the whole of northern Asia and the eastern third of Europe, spanning nine time zones and incorporating a great range of environments and landforms, from deserts to semiarid steppes to deep forests and Arctic tundra.”
This means the nation shares borders with Poland, Lithuania, North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Estonia, as well as Finland and Norway. Such a wide variety of next-door neighbors complicates the nation’s foreign policy.
“Russia contains Europe’s longest river, the Volga, and its largest lake, Ladoga. Russia also is home to the world’s deepest lake, Baikal, and the country recorded the world’s lowest temperature outside the North and South poles” (ibid.).
These unsurpassed landholdings come with an added benefit: natural resources. The CIA’s World Factbook states that Russia has a “complete range of mining and extractive industries producing coal, oil, gas, chemicals, and metals.” The nation supplies a substantial portion of energy to Western Europe and increasingly to China, which is Russia’s largest trading partner and second-largest export destination.
Russia’s national characteristics and problems today are often traced exclusively to the policies of the communist USSR. While this explains some of the current conditions, many of the nation’s attributes have deeper historical roots.
Metalworking has long been a trade associated with Russian excellence. Before the 1917 Red Revolution, Russia’s abundance of natural resources allowed it to hone the skill.
“In [Southern] Russia…a very vigorous metallurgical industry has grown up since 1860 in conjunction with the iron and coal mining,” the 1911 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica stated.
Blacksmiths in the nation did produce practical pieces, such as iron tools, but they also created works of beauty, such as intricately designed keys, and ornamented lanterns and lighting stands.
Women were also used in the armed forces before the Soviets took power. According to the book Russia’s Women: Accommodation, Resistance, Transformation, females fought for the country in the first world war: “Exact numbers are impossible to ascertain; but even if they were only a few dozen, the phenomenon of women soldiers in battle does not seem to have occurred in any other country during World War I (except for a Scottish woman who fought in the ranks of the Serbian army with great distinction).”
The book also mentions a Russian women’s military company during the reign of Catherine II, a woman who fought in the cavalry in the Napoleonic Wars and rose to the rank of captain, and reports of women fighting in the Crimean War.
In addition, tactical retreats have long been used by Russia throughout history. When Napoleon invaded the country in the early 1800s, he hoped to winter in Moscow. Yet the czar’s forces burned the city to the ground before abandoning it to leave the French conqueror with few options to survive the cold.
Moreover, mounted cavalry troops have always been an earmark of Russian military defense. So-called Cossack horsemen were effective against Hitler’s forces because of the speed at which they could patrol areas and report to commanders.
In all of this, there was a much older culture at work than what was born in the minds of communist leaders such as Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin. This should have been especially known to Stalin, who was of the Ossetians—a people who hold to the traditions of the ancient Scythians.
Some Scythians (a broad term for a number of tribes who lived north of the Caspian Sea) had similar earmarks to Russian culture as seen during the Soviet era and today. Other branches of Scythians, from a different stock, migrated to Europe and the British Isles. (Read America and Britain in Prophecy to learn more.)
The Russian Scythians were a horse-riding people who had substantial skill in creating intricately decorated metal objects. These warriors stymied foreign conquerors by using tactical retreats, and are thought to have pioneered this maneuver. They were known to poison wells and set plains on fire to gain the upper hand against enemies.
The tribe also allowed women to fight in battle. Burial mounds found in Eastern Europe and southwestern Russia contain remains of women dressed in armor.
The modern-day nation of Georgia, which borders Russia’s North Ossetia region, claims ties to a tribe similar to the Scythians—the Meskhetians—who also lived between the Black and Caspian seas. This people has been variously called Meskhi or Moschi throughout history.
Bible historians almost unanimously believe that Moschi equates with Meshech, a tribe mentioned throughout the Old Testament. In the Bible, nations, which are merely families grown large, are named after their ancestors. Meshech slowly moved north, along with his brother Tubal’s descendants, until they settled in modern Russia.
Notice Genesis 10: “The sons of Japheth”—one of Noah’s three sons—“Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras” (vs. 2). Interestingly, Tubal (sometimes spelled Tabal) and Meshech (Moschi) are phonetically similar to the modern-day Russian cities of Tobolsk and Moscow.
These brother nations were renowned for their “vessels of brass” (Ezek. 27:13), and the Bible calls to mind human-wave military tactics when mentioning, “Meshech, Tubal, and all her multitude” (32:26).
Yet the Bible is not merely a history book, from which can be gleaned only a few interesting tidbits of information. A full one-third of it contains prophecy, which can be likened to history written in advance. It lays out events yet to happen. This includes Russia’s future.
Some of the most momentous events coming soon will be epic clashes in and around the Middle East. These military battles will include many nations of Earth.
Daniel 11:44 references coming tensions between two power blocs. A unified Europe will be ruled by a figure known variously as the “king of the north” (vs. 40) and the “prince of Tyre” (Ezek. 28:2). A Russian-led confederacy will be headed by a figure called “Gog” who is also “the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.”
The European military leader will eventually move his forces to the Holy Land (Dan. 11:45). After a time, Gog’s advancing forces will catch the Prince of Tyre’s attention. Notice: “But news from the east and the north shall trouble him [the leader of Europe]; therefore he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many” (vs. 44, New King James Version).
Russia is north and east of Jerusalem, the city God uses as a starting point from which to reference the location of other geographic regions mentioned in Bible prophecy.
So, Russia and its allies will fight against Europe.
According to the prophet Ezekiel, some time later, this same military force returns to attack Israel: “And I [God] will turn you back, and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you forth, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armor, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords…and you shall come from your place out of the north parts, you, and many people with you, all of them riding upon horses, a great company, and a mighty army” (38:4, 15).
“Thus says the Lord God; Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: and I will turn you back, and leave but the sixth part of you, and will cause you to come up from the north parts, and will bring you upon the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 39:1-2).
God declares to the army that He will “smite your bow out of your left hand, and will cause your arrows to fall out of your right hand. You shall fall upon the mountains of Israel, you, and all your bands, and the people that is with you: I will give you unto the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. You shall fall upon the open field: for I have spoken it, says the Lord God” (vs. 3-5).
Of this immense army, only a “sixth part” (vs. 2), or one-sixth, will remain alive. Similar to the aftermath of Stalingrad, a new bone field will have to be cleaned up by the locals in Israel: “And they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handstaves, and the spears, and they shall burn them with fire seven years” (vs. 9).
The passage continues: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will give unto Gog a place there of graves in Israel, the valley of the passengers on the east of the sea: and it shall stop the noses of the passengers: and there shall they bury Gog and all his multitude: and they shall call it the valley of Hamongog. And seven months shall the house of Israel be burying of them, that they may cleanse the land” (39:11-12).
God punishes nations so He can get their attention. Ultimately, He wants all peoples to be part of His Kingdom and to help bring an end to all of the world’s ills.
God’s purpose aligns with a main desire of the Russians. Recall the quote from The Russian Advance. Russians believe it is their duty “to restore to the confused, hopeless, struggling peoples of the earth those forms of social order and political authority.”
The Creator is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34), and He desires “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4). God sees all human beings as potential sons and daughters, and wants everyone to learn to lead lives of prosperity and happiness.
God will give all men—everyone who has ever lived—a chance for salvation. This includes Russia and its people.
A prophecy in Ezekiel 37 helps depict how this will happen, and it involves the bones of the dead. In this biblical account, God takes the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel—in a vision of the future—and sets him “down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones” (vs. 1).
Ezekiel walks through this area in verse 2 and finds there “were very many [skeletal remains] in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.”
God then declares, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you [the bones], and you shall live: and I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord” (vs. 5-6).
The account continues, “…there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone…the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above…and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (vs. 7-8, 10).
The Eternal God tells Ezekiel that the bones “are the whole house of Israel” (vs. 11). But this physical resurrection of Israel is an example of what will ultimately happen to all of mankind—recall that God wants “all men to be saved.”
God will “lay sinews,” “bring flesh upon,” “cover with skin,” and “put breath in” countless billions, including those who lay in the bone fields of the battle of Stalingrad and those buried in the valley of Hamongog.
By this time, a supergovernment led by God will have long been established and will be teaching all nations a way that leads to peace and prosperity. Under this perfect system, Russia’s national trait of uniting to support a common cause will be fully realized.
This system is the Kingdom of God. Daniel 7:14 describes it: “And there was given Him [Jesus Christ] dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
Under the Kingdom, Russia will finally be part of a perfect government that encircles the globe—and they will help fulfill their long-held national desire to ensure order and peace in the world.