Why the Ukraine Conflict Could Lead to World War III


The official emblem of the President of the Russian Federation (Wikipedia)

By S. Douglas Woodward


The United States and the Russian Federation are engaged in a war of words—a war that has elevated tensions between these political, military, and economic rivals to its highest level since the end of the Cold War in 1989.  Eschatology students have followed Russian actions carefully for almost two centuries, believing that Russia comprises Gog from the land of Magog that moves against Israel in the last days.  Today’s bellicose discourse should especially concern us since so many experts assess that military leaders on both sides have “lowered the threshold” to “go nuclear.”  The Ukrainian conflict constitutes a significant catalyst setting off these alarms.

First, a quick backgrounder on the Ukrainian conflict:  essentially, there are two Ukrainian groups competing for control and the destiny of the country. First, we can identify Western Ukraine as faction number one.  Its leaders look to NATO for support and wish to maintain unity throughout the Ukraine including Crimea.  Then there is Eastern Ukraine and Crimea comprising a second faction.  It looks to Moscow.   These two factions (essentially distinct regions as well as points of view) are at odds over which “world” (the East or the West) the two factions would prefer to align with.  Likewise, the West (NATO and the U.S.) argues that Western Ukrainians, who wish to keep all of Ukraine and Crimea united, should be respected as a sovereign nation.  Therefore, Russia should keep its hands off the Ukraine.  Most Eastern Ukrainians (and the Crimean populace) consider themselves “separatists” and much prefer to be part of Russia (which Russia has declared to already be so).   They feel threatened by the Ukrainian nationalists in Kiev (the current government).  This faction bases its fears on links leaders in Kiev appear to hold with fascists (many in the Western Ukraine collaborated with the Nazis in WWII).

Concerning the respective views of East and West:  Russian President Vladimir Putin argues the current crisis in Ukraine results from Western ‘meddling.’  He asserts a democratically elected President, Viktor Yanukovych, took office in 2010—NATO and the U.S. just didn’t like it that Yanukovych leaned toward Russia as its economic partner.  After a bloody battle took place in Kiev’s Independence Square during February 2014 (where 100 persons were killed), Yanukovych resigned under pressure and fled to Moscow. Civil war has transpired in the Ukraine ever since.

The West (NATO and the U.S.) contends that Russia effectively annexed Eastern Ukraine/Crimea primarily as a means to protect its naval base in the Crimea and to block moves by NATO to absorb Ukraine as a member nation.  In other words, from the U.S. perspective, Russia took advantage of the civil unrest (and the ouster of Yanukovych) to move 7,000 troops secretly into the Ukraine and Crimea—with 40,000 troops stationed on the border to reinforce (if not reinstate) Russian influence there (Note: Russia still denies any troops ever came across the border).[1]   The downing of Malaysia Flight 17 on July 17, 2014, apparently by a surface-to-air Russian made Buk missile, added considerable weight to the NATO/U.S. point of view.  Malaysia Air indicates the evidence is “pretty conclusive” that it was a Russian missile operated by Russian trained personnel; however, Dutch investigators will submit a final report October 15, 2015.[2]  This event was the trigger transforming the Ukraine conflict into an international crisis.

How Western Ukrainians Regard Russian Claims to Their Country


Viktor Yushchenko (L) and Viktor Yanukovych (R)

According to Putin, historically Ukraine and Crimea belong to Russia.  As is often the case, however, the value of historical precedence depends upon how far one travels back in time.  The Ukraine and Russia have had their fates bound together since the 18th century when the Russian monarch Catherine the Great imposed her rule over these lands, then governed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire.  Given this context, a Smithsonian website article connects these actions to what is happening today:

Nearly 250 years ago, Empress Catherine II “the Great” played a similar hand (to Putin) when she attempted to impress the West while ruthlessly enforcing her authority over Russia and the surrounding region. Catherine presented herself to the world as an “Enlightened” autocrat who did not govern as a despot but as a monarch guided by the rule of law and the welfare of her subjects. Yet at the same time, she annexed much of what is now the Ukraine through wars with the Ottoman Empire and the partition of Poland and brutally suppressed the largest peasant rebellion in Russian history…[3]

Catherine fought many wars with Turkey over Poland and the Ukraine.  Eventually, Catherine established Russian presence in the Crimea creating a port for its navy there.  This gave Russia access to the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits (connecting the Black and Aegean Seas via the Sea of Marmara.)[4]  This would eventually culminate in the outbreak of the Crimean War (1853-1856), in which Russia was defeated by an alliance of Britain, France, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire.  This was a most significant war having lasting effects down to this day.[5]  Primarily, the war’s geopolitical consequence was that Russia lost control for a time of its naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea (and thus the Black Sea).  Recall that Sevastopol is the same naval base Putin seeks to safeguard by his actions in 2014, 160 years later.

However, one must also take into account that the population in the eastern one-third of the country and all of Crimea (geographically sitting atop the Black Sea) are predominately Russian-speaking. Then on the other hand, Western Ukrainians believe that Russia does not own the Ukraine any more than the Turks or the Poles do. They could argue (based on even earlier historical precedent), that the Ukraine belongs to them.  Furthermore, when one looks at the relationship between Russia and the Ukraine owing to events in the 20th century, it is easy to understand the hostility between those who identify themselves as native Ukrainians and those who see themselves as Russian.

Monarch Catherine the Great

Monarch Catherine the Great

Indeed, Western Ukrainians point out a very different historical connection to Russia, but one that hardly justifies Russian ties.  To Kiev, Moscow has repeatedly demonstrated it considers the Ukraine and Crimea nothing but “annexed” territories serving Russian purposes.

After the revolution of 1917, Ukrainians thought that the death of the Czar would lead to freedom from Russia. However, this would prove to be a false hope.  From 1921 through 1941, there was a series of famines caused by the brutality of Russian leaders.  First, in 1921, Vladimir Lenin sought to reestablish all those lands controlled by the Czar, but none was more valuable than the rich land of the Ukraine.  Additionally, Lenin sought to dispossess Ukrainians of food, stealing it from the Ukrainian people who had produced it and shipping the food to his starving patrons in Moscow.  Eventually Lenin thought the better of his action and ended his program.  His change of mind encouraged the Ukrainians once more to think that perhaps they would finally gain independence from Russia.

However, that hope was brutally dashed when Josef Stalin took over the Soviet Union in 1924. By

Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union

Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union

1929, five years into his regime, Stalin decided that he too would raid Ukraine—the “breadbasket of Europe.” He arrested 5,000 Ukrainian scholars and intellectuals, falsely accusing them of a planned armed revolt.  He shot most of them and exiled the rest in Siberia.  He then targeted a group of wealthy farmers he called “Kulaks.” The Kulaks were a special class of farmers who owned 24 acres or more of Ukrainian land.  Stalin forced his program of collectivization across Ukraine, eliminating 75% of all private farms there, eventually eradicating all of the so-called Kulaks.  In 1932-33, Stalin intensified the reign of terror leading to the murder of seven million persons in the Ukraine, counting the death of woman and children in the Ukraine and those who starved to death after being shipped off to Siberia.  Food was declared property of the state and every morsel taken to Russia. The borders were shut down.  No food was allowed into the Ukraine from any source.  Furthermore, when the Ukrainian Communist Party complained about hunger in the Ukraine, Stalin completely eliminated it, imprisoning or killing its members.  By the spring of 1933, 25,000 persons were dying daily in the Ukraine.[6]  No wonder Ukrainian nationalists have little love in their heart for Moscow.  They see Putin as one more thug in a long line of Russian despots.

Russia’s Perspective on Ukrainian Events Today

Of course, Russia sees things quite differently than Ukrainian nationalists.  Russia protests that during the past two decades, the United States has supported Ukrainian desires to participate in the European Union and encouraged it to join NATO. Understandably, Russia feels provoked and fears the loss of its submarine base at Sevastopol, a base they consider vital to both their security and economy (the Black Sea also provides access to the Mediterranean).  Additionally, Russia has sought a geographical buffer between itself and Europe since WWII, having been devastated by two great wars over the past century.


Russian Language as Basis for Division

The European Union (EU) protests the Russian incursion but seems unwilling (and totally unable) to use military force to restrain Russian designs on Ukraine and Crimea.  Only the U.S. displays the willingness and power to hold the line and demand Russia back down.  In June, the U.S. increased its rapid deployment force in Poland and the Baltic States, as well as positioned additional naval assets to put Russia in check.  In response, Putin announced plans to deploy 40 new ICBMs that can “penetrate any defensive missile system,” a direct threat to the U.S. homeland.  Importantly, the U.S. considers these Russian threats to be more than sabre rattling—it considers them genuine.  The recent military strategy document published on July 1, 2015 by the Pentagon strongly reinforces this sentiment.[7]  Upon its release, Russia condemned the strategy calling it confrontational and commenting “it would set back normalization of the relations” between the U.S. and Russia.[8]

Complicating the situation, Russian nerves remain on edge due to a slumping economy, aging conventional weapon systems especially its naval capabilities, and frequent expressions of political discontent if not civil disputes, especially in Russia’s eastern and southern republics (Chechnya has been a frequent source of conflict since 1999).   The economic crisis is particularly bitter:  most persons outside of Europe don’t realize Russia’s federal government depends on a steady, high price of oil and natural gas for its financing since 52% of its revenue comes from these sources. Falling prices for over one year have had a huge impact on the government.  Adding to the difficulties, Russia suffers under economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States.  These sanctions were to expire in June, but have just been extended another six months through the remainder of 2015.

Finally, Russia advances the ominous view that it’s Washington and not Moscow that promotes intra-country disputes throughout Eurasia, North Africa, and the Middle East. Russian leaders and the global media term these non-military conflicts “Color Revolutions.” To Russian leaders, these Color Revolutions comprise covert CIA-financed insurrections destabilizing regional areas Russia regards vital to its interests, all the way from Syria to Afghanistan.  However, to be fair, some America media regard a Color Revolution more a Russian tactic than a U.S. one.[9]  Regardless, the truth becomes academic should Russia act on its insecurities.  If Russia genuinely believes it now owns the moral high ground, justice becomes yet another motive inciting action.


There is more to the story than just history, both distant and recent. Russia has been strategically weakened in several critical areas—converging factors that imply Russia must act soon to diminish U.S. economic dominance, military superiority, and political influence.

All of these factors considered together underscore that Russia feels cornered.  And as Putin has said (reflecting on his childhood growing up in a cramped apartment in St. Petersburg), “When a rat feels cornered it has no choice but to jump up and bite.”

In short, the Ukraine controversy constitutes a symbol of a much broader and deeper conflict.  It amounts to a geopolitical sparring match—a contest in which both sides test the other’s resolve to dominate global politics in the 21st century.  Moreover, what happens in the Ukraine may lead to the last round in what could become an East-West death-match destined to trigger a nuclear war between long-time rivals.

Look for my new mini-study: Is Russia Destined to Nuke the U.S.? It will be released August 1, 2015. All the factors mentioned here are discussed in detail including an analysis of prophetic passages that indicate Russia will attack the U.S. concurrent with an attack on Israel—the so-called war of Gog from the land of Magog (Ezekiel 38-39).  This attack may not be that far away.

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  1. Douglas Woodward is author of nine books including Uncommon Sense: A Prophetic Manifesto to the Church in Babylon, co-author of The Final Babylon: America and the Coming of Antichrist, and author of Power Quest, Books One and Two.  He has also contributed to several books published by Defender (Tom Horn, Editor) including: Pandemonium’s Engine as well as Blood on the Altar.
    He may be reached at doug@faith-happens.com.  Follow his posts at faith-happens.com.


[1] Victor Yanukovych had previously replaced Viktor Yushchenko (Ukrainian President from 2004 to 2010). Critics of the U.S. actions claim Yushchenko was a U.S. puppet installed by the C.I.A. after the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004.  Readers may recall Yushchenko was the Ukrainian President apparently poisoned by Russian spies with Dioxin, a contaminant in Agent Orange.

[2] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysia_Airlines_Flight_17.

[3] See http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/when-catherine-great-invaded-crimea-and-put-rest-world-edge-180949969/#OLO03wPLOVLEm2IQ.99.

[4] The name derived from the island of Marmara, high in Marble—marmaron being the Greek word for marble.

[5] The Crimean War featured “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and Florence Nightingale.  More importantly, it employed explosive naval shells, use of the telegraph, and railways.  Hence, it was the first “modern war.”

[6] “Outside the Soviet Union, governments of the West adopted a passive attitude toward the famine, although most of them had become aware of the true suffering in the Ukraine through confidential diplomatic channels. In November 1933, the United States, under its new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, even chose to formally recognized Stalin’s Communist government and also negotiated a sweeping new trade agreement. The following year, the pattern of denial in the West culminated with the admission of the Soviet Union into the League of Nations.” (http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/stalin.htm).

[7] See http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Publications/2015_National_Military_Strategy.pdf.

[8] See http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russia-condemns-new-us-military-strategy-as-confrontational/524890.html

[9] See http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/anne-applebaum-ukraine-shows-the-color-revolution-model-is-dead/2014/01/24/c77d3ab0-8524-11e3-8099-9181471f7aaf_story.html