Whether you call it good luck or a great strategy, it’s clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin is enjoying his heyday in international politics these days: Thanks to the peculiarities of Western democracies and their political systems, Putin has managed to grow his influence quickly in a number of countries including the United States, reasserting Moscow’s power on its periphery and sowing discord among his adversaries.
United States: President-elect Donald Trump was the only candidate who questioned the U.S. commitment to NATO and praised Putin by suggesting “a deal” with Russia. He said the U.S. and Russia could work together to “knock the hell out of ISIL,” using the acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, while hinting that the U.S. could stop supporting the Syrian rebel groups who are fighting against Bashar al-Assad. Trump, a businessman and the writer of “The Art of the Deal,” may be the symptom of a paradigm change for the U.S., in which a principle- and value-based foreign policy is replaced by a more pragmatic one in which everything’s a bargain for self-interest.
Britain and European Union: So few developments in the West have been as important to advance Russian interests as Brexit. As Foreign Policy observed, “Russia’s support for anti-immigrant parties may have contributed to Brexit passing by a narrow margin.” A divided Europe means not only a weaker front against Russia, when necessary, it also means that a Europe with no Anglophone voice is less likely to be aligned with the U.S. When you divide, you can rule and when you divide twice, you can rule twice as powerfully. Its implications can already be observed: Did you see how Britain and France snubbed the EU’s emergency meeting to discuss Trump’s victory?
Putin’s insider darlings: Which Western politician praised Putin even more than Trump did? UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, the chief architect of Brexit, had previously described Putin as a “world leader” who “behaved more like a statesman” than President Barack Obama before calling on the world to “stop playing war games” over Ukraine, which is occupied and partly annexed by Russia, leading to international sanctions. And Putin has actively supported or has been praised by other important figures in several EU countries, from France’s Marine Le Pen in the west to Hungary’s Gabor Vona in the east.
And even in Germany, right in the middle of Europe, supporters of the far-right PEGIDA often carry Russian flags at rallies, while Alternative for Germany (AfD) is mulling an alliance with the youth movement of Putin’s party United Russia.
The periphery: Days after Serbia deported a group of Russians suspected of involvement in a coup plot in neighboring Montenegro, Moscow reasserted its authority on two former dominions through their presidential elections this week: In Moldova, the Soviet-nostalgic Igor Dodon, who promised to restore closer ties with Moscow, has been elected. In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov quit following the defeat of his presidential nominee at the hands of a Moscow-friendly general backed by the Socialist opposition. EU-skeptic and NATO-skeptic Rumen Radev has voiced clear support for the lifting of sanctions on Russia over Ukraine. Radev drew support from the predominantly ethnic Turkish Movement of Rights and Freedoms (HÖH), too, but not from the other Turkish party, DOST, which has closer ties to Ankara. This splinter party is an interesting case to show the complications of politics in the region: The HÖH expelled its then-leader, Lutfu Mestan, for siding with Turkey in a spat with Moscow late last year. Mestan and his allies left the HÖH and formed DOST. Now Turkey has repaired its relations with Russia, but DOST has found itself as a captive of its anti-Russian rhetoric, feeling compelled to support the pro-Russian Radev’s opponent, Tsetska Tsacheva.
And where does Turkey stand in this picture? You name it.