The Corner

Putin, Ukraine, Europe, and the Right

We’ve seen some indications here in the U.S. of some degree of sympathy among some on the right for Vladimir Putin. That sympathy (misplaced in my view), I suspect, stems from taking several seemingly logical steps too far, and ending up in a very strange place indeed. A certain sympathy in some quarters for Putin’s variety of social conservatism, say, or his distaste (much of which I share) for supranationalism, should not lead conservatives to delude themselves about the nature of the state that Mr. Putin is building. Equally those on the right who are understandably leery of yet another U.S. entanglement overseas (and unpersuaded that it would serve American interests – quite rightly, the only test) should avoid the temptation to sugarcoat the international implications to the U.S. of what Putin is now doing (to start with, Putin’s dismissal of the Budapest Memorandum has probably killed further hopes of nuclear non-proliferation).

And then there’s Europe.

Here’s Anne Applebaum, writing in the Washington Post:

During his Brussels speech this week, Obama also declared that Russia leads “no bloc of nations, no global ideology.” This is true, up to a point: Russia’s “ideology” isn’t well-defined or clear. But the U.S. president was wrong to imply that the Russian president’s rhetoric, and his annexation of Crimea, has no wider echo. Of course there were the predictable supporters of Russia in the United Nations: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, North Korea. More interesting are his new European friends. Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) — an anti-European and anti-immigrant party that is gaining momentum in Britain — declared last week that the European Union has “blood on its hands” for negotiating a free-trade agreement in Ukraine. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front, has also said she prefers France to “lean toward Russia” rather than “submit to the United States.” Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right party, sent a representative to the Crimean referendum and declared it “exemplary.” These are all minority parties, but they are all poised to make gains in European elections this spring.

Let’s leave aside the description of UKIP as “anti-immigrant” (it’s not — it’s in favor of controlled immigration, which is far from the same thing) and take a look at this whole “blood on the EU’s hands” thing.

In the course of a debate with the Britain’s (appalling) Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, Nigel Farage claimed (the Daily Mail reports) that the U.K. had to “hang its head in shame” after the uprising in Ukraine, because the EU’s “imperialist, expansionist” attitude had given people in Kiev false hope.

Farage expanded on this later:

’I do not support what Putin has done, of course I don’t,’ he said. ‘But the approach of David Cameron, William Hague, Nick Clegg and other EU leaders has been disastrous . . . If you poke the Russian bear with a stick he will respond. And if you have neither the means nor the political will to face him down that is very obviously not a good idea. . . . We are seeing vanity take the place of reason in foreign policy and the result is to destabilise a whole series of countries to no positive effect that I can discern. It is not just the Ukraine. . . . The civil war in Syria was made worse by EU leaders stoking the expectation of western forces helping to topple the Assad dictatorship despite the increasing dominance of militant Islamists in the rebellion.’

And no, that is not all wrong, certainly so far as Syria was concerned, but it represents something of an over-simplification, particularly so far as it concerns what the EU – generally a force for good in Eastern Europe – has been up to in Ukraine. It should not be forgotten that the now-deposed Yanukovych was himself prepared to sign the association agreement with the EU (actual membership of the EU would still, I reckon, have been decades off) before Putin intervened with an offer of a bailout and whatever else it took to change Yanukovych’s mind.

When it comes to Russia’s great-power sensitivities, which I understand, it wasn’t the prospect of the EU’s armed might (two cappuccino machines and a tennis racket) on the country’s border that alarmed Putin, but its example. The EU’s post-democracy is quite a bit freer than Russia’s pre-democracy, and it is that, rather than any military threat, that would have been the real concern to the man in the Kremlin, a fear that relates to personal rather than national interest.

I dislike the EU almost as much (I imagine) as Nigel Farage (and, for that matter, the increasing number of Euroskeptic Tories also restless about the British response to Ukraine) and would not wish it to survive in its current form (get rid of “ever closer union” and then we can talk) but that does not mean that, here and there, the EU has not been a force for good. Eastern Europe has been one of those theres.

Looking further afield than Blighty, Mitchell Orenstein writes in Foreign Affairs about Putin’s involvement with some elements of the EU’s nationalist Right. Here’s a brief extract, again focussed on Jobbik:

In Hungary, for example, Putin has taken the Jobbik party under his wing. The third-largest party in the country, Jobbik has supporters who dress in Nazi-type uniforms, spout anti-Semitic rhetoric, and express concern about Israeli “colonization” of Hungary. The party has capitalized on rising support for nationalist economic policies, which are seen as an antidote for unpopular austerity policies and for Hungary’s economic liberalization in recent years. Russia is bent on tapping into that sentiment.

This, remember, is the same Russian regime that is allegedly so concerned about “Nazis” in Ukraine . . .

Orenstein’s article is detailed, intriguing, and well worth reading. He, of course, would want it to be understood as a call to rally round the EU’s tattered flag. More carefully thought through, it is the opposite. It is the EU, at least in its current form, a malign, greedy, and overreaching incarnation that has made a mockery of democracy and the laws of the market place and given Europe’s Jobbiks, Golden Dawns, and all the rest their opportunity. The answer to that problem is thus less Europe, not more.

To reject Euroskepticism just because it is a view shared by some unsavory people is as foolish as refusing to recognize the good that the EU has done just because it was done by the EU. 

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