Recently when 10 Russian spies were discovered living comfortably on American soil, many viewed it as just a quaint throwback to the Cold War era. Often Russia is thought of as the "defeated" opponent from 20 years ago when the Soviet Union disintegrated, leaving America as the only great power with unparalleled economic and military capacity.
But Russia is stronger both economically and militarily today than most people realize. And Bible prophecy reveals it is destined to play a major role in end-time events.
From Russia with love
The spy scandal broke in June when the United States uncovered a ring of suspected Russian secret agents who were using false identities to try to gather sensitive U.S. intelligence.
FBI counterintelligence agents explained that the Russians had communicated with Moscow by concealing invisible text messages in photographs posted on public Internet sites, and some had met with Russian diplomats.
The espionage drama was characterized as episodes reminiscent of the Cold War, scenes straight out of a spy novel and made to be a Hollywood blockbuster.
And American intelligence experts even characterized 28-year-old Anna Chapman as a spy right out of the James Bond movie From Russia With Love.
Within days all 10 were sentenced to time served and whisked by jet to Vienna in a shroud of secrecy, as part of the biggest spy swap since the end of the Cold War.
From Communism to depression
But this espionage drama does not illustrate that Russia is a defeated Cold War relic. In fact, not only does Russia today have an extensive intelligence operation, but the Russian bear is also bounding back strongly from a major economic meltdown.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) was a single-party political system dominated by the Communist Party. When its economy stagnated in the mid 1980s, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an effort to modernize Communism. But his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the Soviet Union into Russia and 14 other independent republics.
Russia's economy moved away from a globally isolated and centrally planned system toward a more market-based and globally integrated one. Democratic reforms were implemented by the first post-Soviet Russian president, Boris Yeltsin.
But an economic crisis, almost twice as deep as the Great Depression of the 1930s, soon struck all post-Soviet countries. And within a couple of years of the new millennium the economy of Russia had degenerated to the point that its gross domestic product (GDP) was only about half of what it had been in the early 1990s.
Clawing its way to revival
However, as the new millennium dawned, the Russian bear was standing up to this major economic challenge. During President Vladimir Putin's two terms in office, Russia shifted its previous democratic ambitions toward a more centralized semiauthoritarian state that carefully manages major industries and national elections.
A decade of sustained economic growth, averaging 7 percent a year, pulled Russia back from the brink. This amazing turnaround resulted from the effective use of rising oil prices, increased foreign investment, higher domestic consumption and greater political stability. By the end of 2008 Russia was the world's sixth largest economy. And it quickly rebounded more than a year ago from the worldwide recession.
The first half of this year its GDP grew by 4.2 percent according to the Associated Press ("Russia's Economy Expands 4 Percent in January Through June as Commodity Prices Rebound," July 19, 2010). And it is projected to continue to grow by around 5 percent through next year.
Today much of Russia's economic growth continues to be fueled by abundant natural resources available in the world's largest country in land area. It is the number one oil producer and oil exporter—recently passing Saudi Arabia. It also leads the world in exporting natural gas.
It is a mistake to view Russia today through the prism of the 1990s, when its economy and military were in shambles and its government was paralyzed. Russia is now stronger than many people realize.
Mother bear—lost in the global forest
In spite of Russia's major economic resurgence, it has been thrashing through the global wilderness groping for a new place—much like a wandering mother bear that has lost her cubs.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, summarizes Russia's quest in Foreign Affairs: "Two decades after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and nearly 20 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has shed communism and lost its historical empire. But it has not yet found a new role.
"Instead, it sits uncomfortably on the periphery of both Europe and Asia while apprehensively rubbing shoulders with the Muslim world. Throughout the 1990s, Moscow attempted to integrate into, and then with, the West. These efforts failed."
During President Putin's second term, "Russia abandoned its goal of joining the West and returned to its default option of behaving as an independent great power. It redefined its objectives: soft dominance in its immediate neighborhood; equality with the world's principal power centers, China, the European Union, and the United States; and membership in a global multipolar order" ("Russia Reborn," November/December 2009).
The disintegration of the Soviet Union has left Russia feeling it is surrounded by a group of countries that it sees as hostile to its interests to various degrees and heavily influenced by the United States, Europe and, in some cases, China.
Top Russian leaders have made it clear that they intend to reassert their influence in the former communist states of Europe, whether those countries want it or not. And they have been using technological, economic and military means to do so.
More placid bear?
At the end of last year it looked like the Russian bear of old was still rising anew. But more recently, signs are emerging that Russia may be responding to U.S. President Obama's offer last year to "reset" relations.
Russia wants and needs better relations with the West in order to meet its goal of doubling foreign direct investment in the next four years and moving away from overreliance on energy exports.
Russia's recent overtures include the unusually quick and quiet unwinding of the spy scandal, on seemingly mutually beneficial terms; the backing of the U.N. resolution imposing sanctions on Iran; and permission to transport cargo through Russia to the war theater in Afghanistan.
In an article titled "Russia Sees Positive Effects of a Less Confrontational Foreign Policy," Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle says, "Nuclear deals, trade agreement, signatures on international treaties: Russia has been in a cooperative mood since the turn of the year...
"Russia seems to be a very different animal. The snarling bear with a sore head has been replaced by a more placid beast and while it may not be ready to roll over and have its tummy tickled just yet, Russia certainly seems less likely to take a bite out of its rivals than at any other time in the past year" (July 19, 2010).
But many experts remain leery, including James Kirchick, as he discusses in the New York Daily News: "Russia continues to be marked by domestic authoritarianism and aggression beyond its borders... Press freedom has declined precipitously since Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came to power 10 years ago...
"A recently 'leaked' Russian foreign policy document cites NATO enlargement...as the greatest threat to Russian security, underscoring the paranoid mind-set that dominates Kremlin thinking.
"And nearly two years after its invasion of Georgia, Russia continues to occupy 20% of the country's territory, has illegally recognized two separatist provinces as 'independent' states and stands in violation of a European Union-brokered ceasefire" ("I Spy a Nuisance, Not a Partner: Beyond the Espionage Case, Russia Is Belligerent and Defiant," July 4, 2010).
Growing military muscle
Above all, many are concerned about Russia's aggressive revitalization of its military muscle over the past decade. The extensive conventional and strategic military complex it inherited from the Soviet Union is being reinvigorated with increasing acceleration. Some even speculate they may be preparing for a new Cold War.
Russia still maintains its military bases in Armenia, Tajikistan, Georgia, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan. It has over 1 million military personnel on active duty. This is the largest force on the European continent and the fourth largest in the world.
In July it conducted the largest military exercise in its history, with more than 20,000 troops and extensive air, land and sea hardware, "Vostok-2010."
Russia today has the world's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, the largest tank force and the second largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines. It is the only country with a modern strategic bomber force, besides the United States. And its surface navy and air force are among the strongest.
In June Russia introduced the new "fourth generation" nuclear submarine, touted to be the quietest in the world. And the Russians are testing the new lighter and more sophisticated RSM-6 Bulava submarine-launched intercontinental missiles capable of carrying six to 10 MIRVs (a missile with two or more warheads designed to strike separate enemy targets) with a range of 6,200 miles.
In July they installed a new missile system in the military region around St. Petersburg, capable of striking some EU and NATO member states, including Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Finland.
Defense expenditures have more than quadrupled over the past decade, reaching $61 billion annually in 2009, the fifth largest in the world. And defense spending will increase by an additional 60 percent over the next three years, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Oliver Bloom, "Russia Plans 60% Increase in Defense Budget by 2013," July 30, 2010).
And Russia continues as the number two arms supplier to the world, behind the United States. It has more than doubled its sales to 80 countries over the past decade.
Russia's major military revitalization assures its growing political and economic strength will be backed by one of the world's strongest military operations.
Key prophetic relationships
Russia's increasing military and economic ties with China and India will likely directly impact prophetic end-time events.
Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the Chinese-Russian diplomatic relationship, which has grown even closer since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was further enhanced about a decade ago with the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation and a regional security organization consisting of the two countries and four other Central Asian states—the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
SCO has deepened cooperation in economic, cultural and security areas. And under its auspices extensive joint military exercises have been conducted over the past five years.
Bilateral trade totaled $38.8 billion in 2009. China imports most of the arms needed to modernize its army from Russia.
For several decades one of Russia's closest strategic, military, economic and diplomatic relationships has been with India. India is the second-largest market for the Russian arms industry and the two countries have conducted joint military drills for years.
What this all adds up to is that the Russian bear has emerged from hibernation. It is not the defeated Cold War relic of the past. And its political, economic and military resurgence will likely have major prophetic significance in events leading to Jesus Christ's return.
The Bible reveals that at the time of the end, during the Great Tribulation, the world will be dominated by a commercial, political and military union of 10 leaders centered in Europe that combine power with the "beast" for a short period of time (Revelation 17:12-14 Revelation 17:12-14  And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength to the beast.
 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
American King James Version×). This "beast" power will wield such tremendous military might that the whole world will question, "Who is able to make war with him?" (Revelation 13:4 Revelation 13:4And they worshipped the dragon which gave power to the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like to the beast? who is able to make war with him?
American King James Version×).
The prophet Daniel refers to this power as the "king of the North" (Daniel 11:40 Daniel 11:40And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
American King James Version×). He will sweep down with major military force, occupying Jerusalem and much of the Middle East in response to aggressive actions by the king of the South (verses 40-43).
This dramatic military move rallies a massive counterforce both east and north of Jerusalem. "But news from the east and the north shall trouble him" (verse 44, emphasis added throughout). Some translations render "trouble" as "alarm" or "frighten him" (English Standard Version, Good News Bible and Jewish Publication Society). East of Jerusalem is China, India and many nations east of the Euphrates River that will likely coalesce into a troubling and alarming eastern military alliance.
Russia lies to the north of Jerusalem. Whether acting out of self-interest or in a coalition with eastern nations, its actions trouble or frighten the king of the North. "Therefore he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many" (verse 44).
It is unlikely this kind of massive attack would occur unless those being attacked also have powerful military operations. The Bible gives no indication of how many will die on the northern front of this horrific end-time battle. But the eastern front death toll is staggering. Ultimately a third of humanity will perish (Revelation 9:13-19 Revelation 9:13-19  And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like to serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.
American King James Version×).
The rise of the Russian bear is destined to have a major impact on these end-time events leading to Christ's return.
Thankfully the Son of God will literally return to this earth as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16 Revelation 19:16And he has on his clothing and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
American King James Version×) and will save humanity from self-destruction. Then Russia and all nations will forgo their historical national agendas as every knee will be given the opportunity to bow before Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace (Philippians 2:9-11 Philippians 2:9-11  Why God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:  That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;  And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
American King James Version×; Isaiah 9:6 Isaiah 9:6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
American King James Version×). WNP