Saturday, 1 July 2017

From Russia with Brexit & Trump

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the threat of a military attack from Russia was diminished. Many in the West were nonetheless concerned with two aspects of the successor regime. The democratic critics believed that, despite its move to multi-party elections, Russia still retained many illiberal traits in how it treated dissidents, the media, opposition leaders, and neighbouring countries such as Ukraine. The plutocratic detractors, by contrast, were mostly worried about the extent to which Russia might continue to get in the way of big businesses from the West making money there because in place of anti-capitalists, they were now facing oligarchs who also wanted to make money by all means necessary for themselves.

Putin had a choice. He could fight on both fronts, or he could flip one set of opponents and get them to inflict damage on the other. Given his illiberal nature, it is hardly surprising that he chose to woo the plutocratic-minded. It did not take him long to work out that those who would be most susceptible to his overture would be those with three core characteristics: (1) illiberal with little respect for human rights; (2) wanted money for their own ambitions; and (3) enthusiastic about promoting a brand of ‘nationalism’ that targets immigrants, refugees and Muslims, but not antagonistic towards Russia.

As to the specific individuals he would get on side, that was determined by the thorns he wanted to remove: first and foremost, the US-EU alliance that was on his back about his support of Syria, invasion of Ukraine, oppressive treatment of dissidents, and cyber intrusion against the West. To achieve that, a systemic weakening of the EU, coupled with the rampant destabilising of the US would be the priority.

Against this backdrop, moves were swiftly made on the geopolitical chessboard. People who could seriously damage the EU by promoting its disintegration and a candidate who would threaten the democratic foundation of the US if elected President (i.e., Farage, Le Pen, Trump), all came out in unison to say how reasonable Putin was, why they could all do business with him, and no one should criticise his foreign or domestic policies [Note 1].

In return, they were all helped, by one means or another, to pursue what they (and Putin) wanted. Investigators will in time tell us more about the widely suspected Russian interference in aiding the Brexit vote [Note 2], and helping Trump win the US Presidency [Note 3]. In the case of Le Pen, the chaos engendered by Brexit ironically persuaded the overwhelming majority of people in France to back the pro-EU Macron, irrespective of what Putin could do to help the Front National [Note 4].

The question is not what favour Farage or Trump would do for Putin, but how the destabilisation they have caused has already played to Russia’s advantage. The EU has to divert attention to negotiate with the UK over Brexit. A united front to challenge Russia’s oppressive stance at home and abroad is less likely with Trump’s unilateralism and the UK unsure what position it should take with its imminent departure from the EU. The US, instead of having a consistent, critical stance against the illiberal and corrupt practices of Russia, has itself come under an administration that is proudly illiberal and increasingly sued for corruption [Note 5].

The game-changing moves coming up? Special Prosecutor Mueller’s investigation, and UK’s Brexit negotiation. Either Trump continues to wreak havoc and UK goes into self-destructive ‘no deal’ mode, to Putin’s delight; or the Russian links are fully exposed, the UK reaches a sensible agreement with the EU, and Putin’s advance would at last be checked.

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Note 1: On Trump’s, Farage’s, and Le Pen’s admiration for Putin, see: http://www.france24.com/en/20161115-why-west-right-wing-admires-putin-le-pen-farage-trump

Note 2: On Brexit and Russian interference, see: http://uk.businessinsider.com/labour-mp-ben-bradshaw-suspicious-russian-interference-brexit-2017-2?r=US&IR=T

Note 3: On Trump and Russian money, see: http://uk.businessinsider.com/trump-russia-probe-follow-the-money-mueller-2017-6?r=US&IR=T

Note 4: On Le Pen and Putin: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/24/putin-welcomes-le-pen-to-moscow-with-a-nudge-and-a-wink

Note 5: On Trump’s use of the Presidency for his own financial gains, see: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/14/trump-ushering-kleptocracy-why-being-sued

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