Three months ago, the Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych sided with Russia and against the European Union. Since then, we’ve witnessed a crisis unfold in Ukraine. Ukraine’s loyalties are split down its geographical middle, with the western half wanting to join the Union and the eastern half claiming loyalty to Russia. After weeks of protests and 80 deaths, the Ukrainian Parliament voted Yanukovych out of office, at which point he fled the capitol.
Sergei Aksyonov, Crimea’s Prime Minister, requested help from Russia, asking Vladimir Putin “for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea.” Russian troops have traveled to Crimea to help Aksyanov “guarantee the peace.”
President Obama’s response was to threaten Russia, stating, “Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. Indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming there will be costs for any military intervention in the Ukraine.” Secretary of State John Kerry added that, “All options are on the table,” and that “you just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text.”
Unless, of course, you are the United States. Because when you are the United States in the 21st century you can invade Iraq and Afghanistan with a “trumped up pre-text” all the while boasting to be the world’s sole remaining Super Power.
How does the United States act like the world’s sole super power? It invades other countries without fearing retaliation.
This is Vladimir Putin’s chance to show that his Russia is a world super power. That, like the United States, it can invade another country without retaliation. Both countries have shown that in the 21st century they are willing to use violence to promote their shared desire for global power. The United States has set itself up as the model for any nation who wants to be a super power. And Russia will soon discover that the United States is also the obstacle to any nation that tries to become a world super power.
We often think that conflicts stem from differences, but in this case we observe that conflicts stem from similarities. Russia’s desire for power is mimetic, or imitative, and modeled on its rival for power, the United States. Russia wants what the United States has – the prestige of being a global super power – and Russia is willing to use the same methods that the United States has used to gain and sustain that prestige – violence.
And so the United States and Russia are stuck in a decades old mimetic crisis of violence. Reagan’s demand to “tear down this wall” produced a truce of sorts but did little to eliminate the risk of the re-emergence of violence and hostility between the two nations.
So we must ask: Is there any hope for a more peaceful relationship between Russia and the United States, or are we doomed to a future of apocalyptic violence of our own making?
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27-31). When we feel threatened, we seek to restore peace at the expense of others. Peace for ourselves and our people means that we come first, our victory is what matters, restoring our prestige is equivalent to peace – for us and our people, and any method is justified to achieve such a noble goal. This is what Jesus means by the way the world gives peace – through the justification of violence. Humans always think that our violence is good and defensive, and that it will bring not only prestige, but also peace. We also always think that our enemy’s violence is bad and aggressive, and they must be defeated in order for peace to prevail.
But Jesus created the possibility for an alternative way toward peace. It’s the way of nonviolence, forgiveness, love, and the loss of prestige. In a world that seeks prestige for the self, Jesus said we must die to the self to follow him. Those who take up Jesus’ way that seeks justice and peace through nonviolent methods will likely suffer. They will likely be accused of being unrealistic, of being failures. But, let’s be realistic, if we continue to use violent methods in the name of peace we only guarantee ourselves a future of mutual suffering. In a world of nuclear weapons that could destroy the world, our only hope is in the peace of Christ.
If our model is the United States or Russia, we will be enslaved to rivalry. Most Christians in the United States will have its nation for as our model, not the One whom they claim is their Lord and Savior. Our alternative model, of course, stares us in the face and bids us to follow him into a new form of humanity. Jim Warren puts it eloquently in his book Compassion or Apocalypse when he writes, “Through his nonviolent compassion, servanthood, humility, generosity, and love Jesus becomes the model for a new humanity.”
In the face of apocalyptic violence and rivalry for world super power, Jesus, our model for a new humanity, is our only hope.