Vladimir Putin appeared to throw down the gauntlet to British politicians to quit the European Union yesterday, questioning whether they would dare to deliver on the democratic mandate for Brexit that flows from last week’s EU referendum, reports suggest.
“We will see how their principles of democracy get realized in practice,” the Russian leader said.
He added “it is clear that the traumatic effect from the results of the referendum will be felt for quite a long time.”
For a long time, ever since the era of “Color Revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine, the successes of the West have been seen in Russia to be Russia’s failures and vice versa, notes Carnegie analyst Alexander
Baunov. Now the EU has apparently done Russia a favor by punishing itself.
Brexit advances Russia’s aim of a divided Europe and is the most recent Russian success in a line that started with its chess moves in Syria, argues Mark R. Kennedy, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Russia’s support for anti-immigrant parties may have contributed to the Brexit passing by a narrow margin, he writes for Foreign Policy:
While independence may benefit Britain, the EU without an Anglophone voice is less likely to be aligned with America, reducing the likelihood that a unified West would enforce sanctions against Russia. The EU will be preoccupied with negotiating Britain’s departure and addressing other separatist demands within both Britain and the EU, as the continent’s economic future darkens and the migration crisis festers. The resulting turmoil has helped bring the price of oil higher.
Exploiting divisions in target societies to undermine them is a key part of what some in the West now call Russia’s “hybrid warfare,” argues Chatham House analyst Keir Giles:
The challenge from Moscow is back in the spotlight following Russia’s return to military action abroad in Ukraine and Syria, and its direct and indirect threats to its European neighbors. But the methods of subverting and destabilizing its adversaries from within—either before or instead of more overt and aggressive action—date back to Soviet times, and have just been enhanced and updated in the age of the internet and social media.
The NATO states bordering Russia and the former Soviet Union, from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south, have the most to lose, argues Robert D. Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. In the 1990s these countries imagined themselves leaving history, with all of its tragedies, behind, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:
Now Poland drifts toward right-wing populism, Hungary is in the grip of neo-authoritarianism, Romania stands relatively weak and burdened by corruption, and Serbia and Bulgaria especially are undermined by Russian subversion and infiltration. The returning geopolitical chaos is akin, in some respects, to the 1930s.
The tremors from Brexit have just begun, and they will roil Europe for years, Kaplan adds:
While the U.S. cannot fix the continent’s political and economic problems, it can protect allied democracies in Central and Eastern Europe to preserve the regional balance of power in Eurasia. Weakening the administrative superstate in Europe may arguably be good in the long run. But it is bad for geopolitics, and America must rise to the challenge.
There are three scenarios for how Brexit might affect the Western Balkans, according to a Freedom House brief:
Even if the UK manages to remain united and retain some kind of “membership lite,” the pull of accession and the EU’s influence on the trajectory of reforms in the Western Balkans will be much diminished. Brexit will damage the EU enlargement process and therefore the development of democracy in the Western Balkans. The only question is how much and for how long.
“Frenemies” may be the best English word to describe the change in relations between Central Europe and Britain, Martin Ehl writes for Transitions Online:
Since English is the main foreign language spoken in the region, and English institutions, including the BBC, are considered role models, there will be a lot of bitterness over lost friendships. And liberalism, free trade, and free markets, which are synonymous with the British way of life, will suffer in their turn…. But with their own deeply embedded Euroscepticism, and the ongoing struggle to adopt common European values (such as the rule of law), Central Europeans cannot put all the blame on Britain for any trepidation about deepening the EU.