War in Ukraine; more than 125 days. From our Western perspective it is Vladimir Putin’s despicable effort to crush a fledgling democracy, using the full weight of Russia’s armed forces that have established their bombardment methodology in Georgia, Chechnya and Syria. We have been impressed by the courage and skill of Ukraine’s resistance (aided by some Western arms) as well as the commitment of Ukraine’s national and local leaders. We have been horrified by the stories of Russia’s indiscriminate (even deliberate) shelling of schools, hospitals, residential areas, shopping centres and civilians’ refuges. We have been appalled as accounts of torture, rape, and summary execution have emerged from newly liberated towns and villages outside Kiev and Kharkiv, and from still-occupied Kherson.
Many of us have been asking ourselves, “How should I respond? What can I do?” I have been a committed Christian for as long as I can remember, but it was only in my 40s that I began to realise the significance of Jesus’ command to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and of the wisdom of God’s strategy that refuses to take the path of violent overthrow of evil powers (John 18:36; 1 Corinthians 1:18–25). Since then, I have been committed to the path of non-violence. However, this war has frequently made me question that commitment.
I decided to try to better understand the origins of this latest Russian military operation, and have recently finished reading Catherine Belton’s important work, Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West (HarperCollins, 2020). It is an impressive piece of investigative journalism that focusses on the financial operations of the KGB and FSB through which Putin has extended his influence far beyond Russia, blurring the lines between organised crime and political power. Clearly there has been a strategy over decades to export money to West, not for safe-keeping, but as a means to win influence and corrupt Western institutions – European banks were used to process money, and friendships were cultivated with suitable politicians. One of the foremost destinations for Russian money was “Londongrad.” As one Russian tycoon said, “In London, money rules everything… Anyone and anything can be bought. The Russians came to London to corrupt the UK political elite” (Belton, 364).
Although New York is the world’s largest financial centre, in terms of international finance the City of London is still more important. I had not realised the significance of the power and autonomy of the City of London until I read Luke Bretherton’s Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship and the Politics of a Common Life (Cambridge University Press, 2015). He wrote (65), “The City of London Corporation is central to creating and perpetuating a spider’s web of tax havens or “secrecy jurisdictions” around the world that serve as feeders into the City. These “secrecy jurisdictions” or “states of exception” exist half inside and half outside the regulatory frameworks and political systems of Europe and North America and have been crucial to the development of economic globalization.” Recent events have sharpened attention on Russian oligarchs who are domiciled in wealthy areas of London, but we should be aware that many British lawyers, accountants, and PR companies have become exceedingly rich servicing the oligarchs’ enterprises. Meanwhile, shell companies are subject to extraordinarily light regulation. Certain Western politicians and activists have allowed corrupt money to facilitate their campaigns and to shape their policy decisions, and they have got away with it. Investigative researchers and reporters have sometimes been intimidated; in 2017 the Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was murdered by car bomb.
War is often glamourised in films and dramas, war may sometimes seem necessary to protect the vulnerable. Courage and skill have their place, but the combatants in the battle zone have no right to question orders; they become expendable pawns in larger manoeuvres. In practice war is always horrifically cruel, monumentally destructive and beyond lawless; it is about raw power, ruthless domination and fake news. But war is also about money; arms manufacturers and financial speculators make vast profits from it. We have a responsibility to become more aware of what is happening and more involved in campaigns that seek to expose and combat corruption at national and local levels.
“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
After a career in Christian ministry and teaching theology in higher education, Jeremy with his wife Kathy, an artist, now live in Pembrokeshire. Most recently he wrote” Interpreting the Old Testament After Christendom” (Cascade, 2021).
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.