Will Putin reconquer Constantinople in the name of Christendom?
When I first saw the title of the following article, Putin: if Turkey’s Erdoğan doesn’t stop supporting terrorists in Syria, I shall restore Constantinople (Istanbul) to Christendom, I was a tad skeptical as to its veracity. But as far as I can tell the article seems legitimate, as it cites the government owned TASS Russian News Agency
According to the article while Putin was addressing a delegation from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, he made the following stunning statement:
“Should Turkey not stop supporting al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, I am indeed eager to end the job the late Tsar Nicholas II left unfinished. During the World War I Tsar Nicholas II, He [Tsar] sought to restore Constantinople (Istanbul) to Christendom and protect Russian maritime security by liberating Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits but fate prevented him.”
If this statement is a serious one by Putin, then it represents a rather interesting turn of events in the current relationship between Russia and Turkey to say the least. It could also have prophetic implications as well.
Firstly the importance to Christianity, particularly to Orthodox Christianity, of Constantinople must be considered. The city, named after the Emperor Constantine the Great, was consecrated by its namesake in 328 as the capital of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. It was also the seat of one of the five Patriarchates of Christianity and the site of the spectacular and venerated church Hagia Sophia, constructed by Justinian I in the 530’s.
For over a millennium Constantinople remained the capital of the Byzantine Empire. But in 1453 it was conquered by the Ottoman Mehmet the Conqueror. With the fall of the City (η Πόλη), the Byzantine Empire effectively came to an end. Symbolic of this downfall was the conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque. To the Orthodox world, the fall of Constantinople was an unmitigated disaster.
While the Orthodox world was humiliated and captured, it was still able to survive the yoke of Ottoman rule. Furthermore its political power was not completely extinguished but transferred to a new seat. The Orthodox Russians saw themselves as the continuators of the Byzantine Empire, with Moscow being the capital of the third Roman Empire. Yet in spite of this continuation the fallen city of Constantinople remains in the hearts and minds of the Orthodox.
With this in mind it is not at all surprising that the issue of Constantinople–its future restoration to Christianity–would be on Putin’s mind. We should remember that Putin himself is an Orthodox Christian and is mindful of protecting and furthering Orthodox Christianity. However, it is one to thing to dream or yearn of the return of Constantinople back to Christian hands and it is quite another thing to actually threaten Turkey that you will conquer their largest city if they do not change their policy.
Putin may be an Orthodox Christian but he is also a pragmatic politician. As such it is hard to believe that his threat of finishing the work of Tsar Nicholas II is serious. Maybe Putin is being a bit jocular as he is known for having a cheeky sense of humor. For example when a little girl asked him if he would save Petro Poroshenko or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan if they were drowning he responded, “If someone has decided to drown, it’s probably already impossible to save them anyway.” Also Putin could be partaking in bellicose rhetoric intended to make the Turks realize that there will be consequences if they continue to support Islamist rebel groups in Syria.
However, it could be possible that Putin is being perfectly serious, that if Erdoğan continues on the path that he is taking then Putin will indeed attempt to finish the work of Tsar Nicholas II and retake Constantinople. It is interesting that Walid Shoebat–a former Palestinian terrorist who converted to Christianity and now warns of the threat posed by Islam and analyzes bible prophecy–believes that such a scenario will play out. In his interpretation of bible prophecy Turkey is the beast, Erdoğan the Antichrist and Russia will be the north kingdom that opposes the Antichrist.
Of course the secularists will pooh-pooh such talk as the stuff of children’s fairy tales. But when one looks at the events that are unfolding around the world and particularly in the Middle East, it appears that fantasy is in fact becoming reality. What secular analyst would have predicted the Arab spring, or the falling out between the US and Saudi Arabia, or the successful Russian intervention in Syria?
I suspect none of them believe Putin will reconquer Constantinople, and maybe he will not. However, with how recent world events have thus far unfolded, would it really be that far fetched if this were to happen? It seems to me that the prophecies found in the Old and New Testament, and the analysis of people like Walid Shoebat are eminently applicable to the times that we are in.
 For the history of Constantinople’s founding see Chapter 3 Constantinople of Byzantium: The Early Centuries by John Julius Norwich.
 For an account of the fall of Constantinople see The Fall of Constantinople 1453 by Steven Runciman or see my post The Fall of Constantinople.
 See my previous post Why is Russia in Syria? Part 5: Protecting the Christians of Syria.