The new US president has nothing but nice things to say about Vladimir Putin. He believes he will get along with Putin swimmingly, and admires him as a strong leader in a dangerous world. Populist politicians in Europe, including UKIP’s Nigel Farage and the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, have been similarly effusive in their praise. But where does that leave Europe?
We had a comment from Ironworker, who said it was time for Europe to press the ‘reset’ button on several issues, including its relationship with Russia. Now that Donald Trump is President of the United States (and looks ready to cosy up to the Kremlin), could this be the opportunity Europe needs to improve its relationship with Moscow?
To get a response, we spoke to Dr. Mark Galeotti, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague. What did he have to say?
The trouble is that, although, quite frankly I think that Europe would love to improve its relationship with Russia, it’s very hard to see what common ground we have. There are Russian troops in Ukraine and they seem to be in no hurry to withdraw. Putin himself has made it clear that what he’s looking for is essentially a reshaping of the international order which would undermine all the progress we’ve made since 1945 in trying to move away from an era in which strong countries prey on weak ones.
So, although I don’t think anyone is looking for a confrontation in Europe, I’m not particularly convinced we could do anything. The last ‘reset’, after all, essentially encouraged Putin to think that he could press on with his aggressive policies, and I regret that if we tried it again we would just simply be looking weak.
To get another reaction, we spoke to Dr. Arkady Moshes from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. What would he say?
First of all, it’s not clear if Mr. Trump is going to actually push the reset button… There are lots of issues on which Moscow is very unlikely to make any concessions: be it nuclear arms reduction, be it Crimea, be it the situation in the East of Ukraine. So, basically the field for compromise and cooperation between Russia and the United States might be very narrow. So, it’s too early to say.
Secondly, it’s possible that if Washington attempts to make a deal and compromise with Moscow, it’s going to come at Europe’s expense. Less NATO, and less US commitment to the defence and security of Europe… So, the US-Russian reset may actually complicate the strategic situation between Europe and Russia…
Finally, one of the underlying problems between Russia and Europe is that both the Russian elites and the Russian people are no longer impressed with Europe. It is no longer viewed as a success story [and] Russians like success stories. Russians like impressive foreign policy actors. Russians respect power. The way Europe looks to Russia is very far from that image… If Europe decides to lift sanctions without making sure that the previously stated preconditions have been met, it would only deepen and strengthen the image of Europe in Russia as a weak actor. That would likely be destabilising, and would not be a sustainable basis for improving relations with Moscow.
We also had a comment from Laker, who argued that the West seems divided and unsure of itself in the face of aggression from Putin’s Russia. So, what exactly is Putin’s game plan here? Is he trying to split the Western alliance? And is he succeeding? We asked Dr. Mark Galeotti to respond.
What is it Putin really wants? It is essentially to be left alone. He wants to be able to rule Russia without worrying about such trivial matters as international law and human rights, and he wants to have a sphere of influence, which includes Ukraine. Now, because we are not comfortable with that, in effect, he’s trying to keep the West so distracted, divided, and demoralised that we can’t do anything about it. So, to that end, he is absolutely trying to split the West in Europe, and also split Europe away from the United States.
The reason [Putin] seems to be being so successful, though, is because we’ve essentially got a current crisis of legitimacy in the West generally. There is uncertainty over quite what kind of a European Union there ought to be – should it be a closer political one or not? We’ve obviously got Brexit triggering thoughts of exit in some other countries; and we have a United States that, under Trump, is likely to be much, much less interested in the kind of entangling alliances that have been so central to US foreign policy in the past. So, I think the thing about Putin is that he’s taking advantage of a wider situation, rather than creating it. But, yes, at the moment I’m sure he feels that things are largely going his way.
What would it take to ‘reset’ relations with Russia? Would Europe look ‘weak’ if it lifted sanctions on Russia without any preconditions being met? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!