President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia received the geopolitical equivalent of manna from heaven when British voters opted to leave the European Union, speeding his long-term goal of weakening the most powerful alliance confronting the Kremlin as it seeks to rebuild its superpower muscles, The New York Times reports:
“The Kremlin is interested in any kind of disagreement, any kind of trouble in the E.U. which makes it weaker,” said Nikolay V. Petrov, a professor of political science at the National Research University’s Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
For starters, he noted, the vote removes Britain as an influential voice in European efforts to isolate and punish Russia over its annexation of Crimea and role in destabilizing Ukraine. Second, it helps Mr. Putin in his preferred method of dealing with strong countries one on one rather than as blocs. Third, it can be exploited at home as an example of how a lack of unity can lead to weakness.
“It can be used domestically to demonstrate that we are strong and everybody around us is not that strong,” Mr. Petrov said. As for any negative economic consequences, he added: “Those are not the highest priority. Geopolitically and strategically, the Kremlin thinks it will benefit.”
As a result of the UK’s Brexit vote, Europe is now weakening as Russia, its allies and its multilateral organizations are consolidating, even adding new members, argues Michael McFaul, director of Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Putin, of course, did not cause the Brexit vote, but he and his foreign policy objectives stand to gain enormously from it, he writes for The Washington Post.
The job of E.U. diplomats fighting to resist Russian aggression, especially those from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, just got harder:
- The first test will come over sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea and intervening in eastern Ukraine in support of separatists. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin made clear his prediction: “Without Great Britain in the E.U., no one will so zealously defend the sanctions against us.” Let’s hope he is wrong.
- Second, other pro-Putin, anti-E.U. politicians and movements throughout Europe just became a little stronger. Marine Le Pen, whose National Front party is partially financed by a Kremlin-friendly Russian bank, celebrated the U.K. referendum result. …
- Third, new doubts about the utility of E.U. membership also weaken Putin’s opponents in Ukraine. Those who amassed on the Maidan in fall 2013 were demanding the very thing that British voters rejected — closer ties to the European Union. ….
- Fourth, America’s closest ally when voting in multilateral forums, pressing diplomatically on global security issues and championing democratic values just became a little weaker. That’s a win for Putin.
“In the long run, Russia remains plagued by too many internal challenges and skittish EEU partners, while we in the West will find ways to recalibrate our cooperation,” adds McFaul (right), a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. “But the short-term shift in the balance of power between a united democratic Europe and an illiberal Russia is obvious, and troubling.”
One central lesson of the Brexit vote is that nationalism remains powerful in certain countries, argues Council on Foreign Relations analyst Elliott Abrams:
The EU project, which deprecates nationalism, also necessarily deprecates and undermines national sovereignty and democratic institutions. I can understand why sacrificing these values might make sense on a continent soaked in the blood of world wars, but I can also understand why it will never make sense to Americans and in the end did not make sense to Britons. They invented modern democracy and representative institutions. Their nationalism never caused a world war; instead, it fueled the effort to save freedom in Europe.