Russian interference in European politics

Project Name: Mark
Client: Publication
Publication Date: September 20, 2017

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN EUROPEAN POLITICS, IF LEFT UNCHECKED, MAY LEAD TO POLITICAL UPHEAVAL, UNREST AND POSSIBLY EVEN CONFLICT

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is alleged to be using his friendship with the former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, to ‘guarantee heightened Russian influence within the European Union at a time when Putin is losing faith with the Trump administration.’[1] The courting of Mr Schröder began by President Putin giving him a job running the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project shortly after he had lost his position to the current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. He is now about to join the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft, which the US put sanctions on during the summer. Germany’s shift towards allowing itself to be more influenced by Moscow is believed to be because of the failure of Washington to relax its sanctions against it. President Putin clearly believed that when President Trump assumed office that there would be a new dawn in terms of the relationship between the two countries. He had hoped that there would be a thawing of the previous frosty relationship which existed between him and President Obama, however it has not come to pass. Some of President Trump’s aides’ alleged links to Russia have made any sort of relationship almost impossible at the present time.

Russia has always exerted pressure on Europe and the Balkans through its supply of natural gas, however the recent arrival of US gas in Europe may mean that its large chunk of the EU market of 34% is going to be reduced and prices will have to fall as a result. However, President Putin wishes to reassure his European clients that Russia can give them a reliable and affordable supply thereby ensuring that they have energy security without being subject to Russian political influence. For Western European nations this is likely to be more palatable, however, Poland and other Balkan states which rely on the provision of gas from Russia are not likely to be convinced, as they have routinely been influenced by The Kremlin which, according to western intelligence analysts, is said to have affected decision making at a local level in these countries for more than a decade.

Executive Summary

In response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the US has suggested that it may arm Ukrainian forces, however this has apparently been received with equal amounts of alarm in Berlin as well as Moscow. The German government believes that such a move could destabilize the whole of Eastern Europe and has appeared to side with Moscow on the issue. The provision of liquefied gas and the ‘entente’ on the proposed reduction of Russian involvement in Ukraine has brought Russia and Germany into a position of understanding in terms of what is best for the stability of Europe and their own personal interests. Germany apparently may push for a relaxation of sanctions on Russia as a result and with the likely re-election of Chancellor Merkel and President Putin there may also be a whole relationship reset. The author of the UK Times article, Roger Boyes, believes that such a deal or deals with President Putin may be an ‘elephant trap,’ however there are others who would suggest that if there is any nation who knows how to deal with the Russians, after some very bitter experience, it is Germany.

The political aspirations of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party do not seem to be going according to plan in the run up to the German elections as it has been reported that Chancellor Merkel has lost the backing of Germany’s two million Russian voters.

The Far-Right party, Alternative for Germany (AFD), has manipulated Moscow’s claim to the Crimea and turned it into part of its election manifesto which has resonated with the majority of the Russian-Germans. For the first time this substantial element of the voting population may turn away from its usual backing of the main stream CDU Party in favour of this populist party. In addition to the Crimea the AFD has called for an end to the EU sanctions on Moscow. For many of the Russian-Germans another major factor for their proposed defection to the nationalist AFD party is their opposition to Chancellor Merkel’s controversial decision to allow over one million immigrants into the country.

As if President Putin’s involvement in European politics were not causing enough concerns, the  launching of what was described as Russia’s ‘biggest show of strength since the Cold War,’ has raised awareness in regard to the vulnerability of the smaller Baltic states.[1] The exercise called ‘Zapad’ is located in western Russia and the scenario is centred around the defence of Belarus which has been ‘attacked’ by three rogue states. In essence it is a show of force on the one hand but on the other it is to exercise the logistics required to move large quantities of men and equipment over long distances keeping them resupplied and able to fight. The force is believed to involve up to 100,000 troops including supporting elements and although Moscow has repeatedly said that the operation is ‘of an entirely defensive nature and is not aimed at any other states,’ the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact once used similar drills to prepare for a potential war with the United States and its NATO allies.

The exercise is practicing what is a variation of the old concept of what is known as ‘manoeuvre warfare’ which was used in World War II for the invasion of France in 1940 by German General, Heinz Guderian, and was called ‘Blitzkreig,’ however it was adopted and some say perfected by the Russian Marshal, Georgy Zhukov, who later led his forces into Germany and captured Berlin itself using the same concept.

Despite the display of military might by the Russians, it is pointed out that the combination of the NATO and EU forces which would be called on to protect Europe should any act of aggression be experienced are simply too strong for Russia. The threat remains real, however Russia also has other issues to contend with such as China and its Islamist threat in the south and the extremely expensive maintenance of its nuclear weapons and space programme.

Russia is highly unlikely to invade any European country in the region, however, NATO troop deployments were increased as a precautionary measure in response to the Russian activities. The reality of an act of armed aggression against a European country and/or NATO member has been largely dismissed, however President Putin has proven on many occasions that he can be unpredictable and belligerent. The fact that western unity appears to be quite far from being ‘unified,’ there is still a threat albeit a remote one. History has shown on many occasions that even small incidents can smoulder into fires which can then erupt into fully blown conflicts.