It has been a tough decade for Europe. The euro crisis, migrant crisis, terrorist attacks and a resurgence of the nationalist right have pushed its politics to breaking point. Now a new crisis looms as Russian aggression finally splits the unity of the Gorbachev era, and, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, a new darkness descends.
It was thirty years ago that President Gorbachev laid out a vision of a “common European house,” a vast home to the rule of law that was Europe’s great gift to the world. This is not a vision that Vladimir Putin shares.
When he returned to the presidency in 2012, Putin quickly set out the theory to match the fury he offered the world in earlier years. He attacked the “Post-Christian” west of “genderless and infertile liberalism,” accused Europeans of embracing an “equality of good and evil,” and lampooned the west as trapped in moral relativism. Europeans, claimed Putin, had begun “renouncing their roots, including Christian values, which underlie western civilisation.”
Putin’s philosophy at home has been partnered with dangerous policies abroad. “Russia is clearly expansionist” said one Baltic ambassador to me in London recently, “But do we dare provoke the bear?” “Russia does not play by the rules,” a former Baltic prime minister told me, “it’s like bringing a machine gun to a cricket match.”
In Russia’s “near-abroad,” the Ukraine crisis shows no sign of abating. More than 10,000 people have been killed and 1.6m displaced. In the Crimea, the pro-Ukrainian population is being forced to leave while inward Russian migration accelerates. Further afield, Europeans and Americans alike face a new playbook of “active measures”—methods of political warfare which aim to polarise and divide. Russian hacking of the US election is the most egregious example of this, yet the problem is not just sophisticated cyber-interference but a new army of “robotrolls” on Twitter, built by the Kremlin to influence world politics.
Offline, too, the links with the far right are growing. In fact, of the 45 or so new parties created in Europe in recent years, the majority including Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland, Austria’s Freedom Party, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik, France’s Front National, Italy’s Northern League, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and indeed the UK Independence Party have all taken pro-Russian positions on matters of…