Putin’s European Fifth Column

by Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Gérard Roland, and Edward W. Walker

Yuriy Gorodnichenko is Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Gérard Roland is Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Edward W. Walker is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Executive Director of the Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies The writers are pictured in the text.

BERKELEY – If the world should have learned one thing from the recent months of tensions between Russia and the West, it is that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategic ambition and skill should never be underestimated. It is in this light that the West should view Putin’s recent overtures to some within the European Union.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko

Putin may or may not truly believe that last year’s anti-Russian uprising in Ukraine was the direct result of interference by the United States and the European Union. But there can be no doubting his awareness of the role that European ideals – and the possibility of EU membership – has played in motivating the struggle in Ukraine and constraining his actions.

The popular desire to join Europe’s community of democratic states was a key force behind the collapse of right-wing dictatorships in Greece, Spain, and Portugal in the 1970s. It also played a critical role in the collapse of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And it certainly contributed to the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych – a key Putin ally – in 2014. Indeed, the existence of a European model continues to guide and encourage those pursuing transparent, democratic governance in many post-communist countries.

Gérald Roland

There is no question that Putin would benefit from the EU’s demise. Europe’s attractiveness as a model of democratic governance would be greatly weakened. Aspiring EU member states would turn elsewhere. Indeed, some current EU members, such as Hungary, where Euroskepticism and illiberal sentiment are already widespread, might be tempted to follow Putin down the path toward authoritarian rule. And countries in the region would be more exposed to Russian pressure and the temptations of Russian patronage.

Putin knows this, which is why the Kremlin has been reaching out to Euroskeptic parties and groups from both extremes of the political spectrum. In some cases, Russia may have actually provided financial assistance to these groups. In November, for example, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, acknowledged that her party received a €9 million ($11 million) loan from a Russian state-owned bank.

Edward W. Walker

Meanwhile, Russian oligarchs have been purchasing European newspapers, including The Independent, The Evening Standard, and France-Soir. The French newspaper Libération recently highlighted the extent of pro-Putin connections in French academia, think tanks (on both the left and the right), media, and business networks. And the state-owned energy giant Gazprom has been suspected of bankrolling anti-fracking activism in Lithuania and Romania.

Putin’s efforts appear to be bearing fruit. Despite the ongoing tensions between Russia and the West – or perhaps because of them – Putin enjoys remarkable support among some European intellectuals and politicians. The Kremlin’s portrayals of the uprising in Ukraine as a fascist coup, and of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for Ukrainian separatists as defensive, have been reproduced through a dense network of Putin supporters – including the Princeton University professor Stephen F. Cohen, Czech President Miloš Zeman, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the German leftist Matthias Platzeck, and the Dutch rightist Geert Wilders – and media outlets.

Putin’s narrative may be reminiscent of Soviet propaganda. But that has not prevented it from being embraced by many at a time when the European project is already under great stress from the continent’s economic crisis.

A battle of values is looming. In one corner is the EU, standing for democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and institutionalized international cooperation; in the other stands Putin, representing authoritarianism, intolerance, and the use of force and intimidation as instruments of foreign policy.

"A battle of values is looming. In one corner is the EU, standing for democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and institutionalized international cooperation; in the other stands Putin, representing authoritarianism, intolerance, and the use of force and intimidation as instruments of foreign policy."

Unfortunately, the European establishment is not doing enough to counter Moscow’s anti-European, divide-and-rule offensive. That is particularly true in Berlin, where the German government continues to promote austerity in the eurozone in the face of anemic economic growth and widespread unemployment.

"Unfortunately, the European establishment is not doing enough to counter Moscow’s anti-European, divide-and-rule offensive. That is particularly true in Berlin, where the German government continues to promote austerity in the eurozone in the face of anemic economic growth and widespread unemployment."

If Putin has indeed set out to destroy the EU, such an approach is the best way to help him. Europe is in desperate need of growth, and achieving it will require bold leadership from the EU’s most important member state, Germany, and its most important leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German public must be made to understand what is at stake – and why continuing on the current path could end up delivering the EU into Putin’s hands.

Highlighting by the Editor to Facts & Arts

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015.


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.



Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 19.05.2018
The protests that rippled across Russia ahead of Vladimir Putin’s fourth inauguration as president followed a familiar script. Police declared the gatherings illegal, and the media downplayed their size. Alexey Navalny, the main organizer and Russia’s de facto opposition leader, was arrested in dramatic fashion, dragged out of a rally in Moscow by police. On May 15, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison. More than 1,600 protesters across the country were beaten and detained.
Added 16.05.2018
Many knowledgeable people dismiss the prospect of advanced AGI [=Artificial General Intelligence]. Some, ..........,argue that it is impossible for AI to outsmart humanity........Yet other distinguished scholars........do worry that AGI could pose a serious or even existential threat to humanity. With experts lining up on both sides of the debate, the rest of us should keep an open mind.
Added 15.05.2018
The world’s most important bilateral relationship – between the United States and China – is also one of its most inscrutable. Bedeviled by paradoxes, misperceptions, and mistrust, it is a relationship that has become a source of considerable uncertainty and, potentially, severe instability. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the brewing bilateral trade war.
Added 15.05.2018
Viewed from Palestine, it’s hard to disagree that we’ve perhaps seen one of the most inflammatory weeks in recent memory. In just a few days, several extremely sensitive events have coincided to devastating effect: the culmination of weekly protests in the Gaza Strip, the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the 70th anniversary of the 1948 Nakba (from the Arabic, “Immense Catastrophe”) and the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Throw in for good measure Israel and Iran’s recent clash over the occupied Golan Heights and it seems that more than ever, the region is something of a tinderbox.
Added 14.05.2018
The irony, of course, is that this is exactly the type of “grand bargain” Iran proposed to the Bush administration in May 2003. Bush rejected the offer, vowing never to talk with a member of the “axis of evil.” As Vice President Dick Cheney put it in reference to North Korea – another member of that fanciful “axis” – Americans “don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” But by trading diplomacy for saber-rattling, the Bush administration slammed the door on a solution with Iran. Today, as Trump embraces the same tactics, it’s hard to fathom how the outcome will be any different.
Added 12.05.2018
Quote: "If you take out a piece of paper and put 10 political issues that are important to you on one side and the words “Republican” or “Democrat” on the top, then categorize them, most of you are likely to find that you, too, are a hybrid of both. If my contention is correct, and enough voters get fed up enough with the political status quo in the mid-terms and the next presidential election to say that neither Party actually represents their belief system, we may just find that the 40% of American voters who are already Independent turns into 50% or 60% in the near term. I am willing to bet that in spite of all the hype about most Americans being firmly in one political camp or the other, that most Americans are actually middle ground voters who form part of the emerging hybrid political class. Whether they choose to remain affiliated with either the Democrat or Republican Parties in the future remains to be seen. Stay tuned".
Added 10.05.2018
Quote: "China, clearly, is emerging as a world power, even more quickly than it otherwise would, to the extent that the US is coming to be seen as an unreliable partner concerned only with advancing its own interests – at the expense, if necessary, of other countries. But the belief that China will continue growing at mid-single-digit rates for an extended period violates the first rule of forecasting: don’t extrapolate the present into the future. At some point, China will hit bumps in the road, and there is no guarantee that its leaders will admit their failures and adjust policy accordingly."
Added 08.05.2018
The decertification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by Trump is most unfortunate. It seems that Trump was not swayed by either France’s President Macron or Germany’s Chancellor Merkel to preserve the deal. Instead, he appears to have taken Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s advice to decertify the deal, even though Iran continues to fully adhere to all of its provisions. It is dangerous that neither Trump nor Netanyahu appears to fully grasp the dire regional and international implications of the unilateral decertification of the deal by the US.
Added 04.05.2018
Quote fromthe article: "Iran has been instrumental in the survival of the Assad regime since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011. Since then, Israel has used its air power to disrupt weapons supplies to Hezbollah and maintain a buffer zone in the southwest, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But now it seems things are heating up. Is this now a far bigger, more direct confrontation in the Syrian arena?"
Added 03.05.2018
As signs of an incipient slowdown in the European economy begin to multiply – coincident indicators suggest that industrial production has slowed sharply in 2018 – the case for agreeing on a Brexit deal and refocusing attention on capital markets union is becoming more powerful and more urgent. The commissioner now responsible, Valdis Dombrovskis, said in London in late April that the “building blocks” will be in place early next year, to “help our companies to better cope with the departure of Europe’s largest financial center from the single market.” That is a laudable goal, but it could well be too little, too late.
Added 03.05.2018
Gaza has often been invaded for its water. Every army leaving or entering the Sinai desert, whether Babylonians, Alexander the Great, the Ottomans, or the British, has sought relief there. But today the water of Gaza highlights a toxic situation that is spiralling out of control. A combination of repeated Israeli attacks and the sealing of its borders by Israel and Egypt, have left the territory unable to process its water or waste. Every drop of water swallowed in Gaza, like every toilet flushed or antibiotic imbibed, returns to the environment in a degraded state.
Added 24.04.2018
Renewable electricity costs have fallen faster than all but the most extreme optimists believed possible only a few years ago. In favorable sunny locations, such as northern Chile, electricity auctions are being won by solar power at prices that have plummeted 90% in ten years. Even in less sunny Germany, reductions of 80% have been achieved. Wind costs have fallen some 70%, and battery costs around 80%, since 2010.........[The] estimate that the cost of going green will be very small has proved too pessimistic – the cost will actually be negative.
Added 23.04.2018
Electric Vessels, EVs don’t rise or fall on Tesla — Nissan and the Chinese brands are arguably way ahead, and the Chevy Bolt is comparable to the Tesla 3. But it is unarguable that a price spike in petroleum would certainly help the company get past its current Tesla 3 production problems by substantially bolstering investor and consumer confidence.
Added 20.04.2018

As the US, Russia and China test each other’s patience and strategic focus, speculation about the chances of a world war has hit a new high.

Added 18.04.2018

HONG KONG – At the beginning of this century, when China launched its “going out” policy – focused on using foreign-exchange reserves to support overseas expansion and acquisitions by Chinese companies – few expected the country quickly to emerge as a leading economic player in Latin America.

Added 18.04.2018

BEIJING – Last month, US President Donald Trump enacted steel and aluminum tariffs aimed squarely at China. On April 2, China retaliated with tariffs on 128 American products. Trump then announced 25% tariffs on another 1,300 Chinese products, representing some $50 billion of exports.

Added 17.04.2018

WASHINGTON, DC – Last week was a most unusual one for President Donald Trump’s administration.

Added 16.04.2018

All the attention being given to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica regarding their breach of public trust and exploitation of personal data is richly deserved.

Added 12.04.2018

CAMBRIDGE – Why were democratic political systems not responsive early enough to the grievances that autocratic populists have successfully exploited – inequality and economic anxiety, decline of perceived social status, the chasm between elites and ordinary citizens?

Added 11.04.2018

LONDON – The world will soon witness a historic test of wills between China and the United States, two superpowers whose leaders see themselves as supreme. In the immediate sense, it will be a battle over trade.