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Putin the real winner from Trump-Brexit axis

Posted by Nick Prag at 20 December 2016, 00:15 CET |
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This year has been a dispiriting one for the EU. The implications of the votes on Brexit and the American presidency for Europe's economy and its security are still being evaluated.

But one can see little that is positive for a eurozone crawling its way out of recession, or for the UK's own prospects of growth in 2017.

Prospects for the global economy have not been helped by the impending start of Donald Trump's presidency.

Yet one man will start the New Year with satisfaction, and that is Russia's president Vladimir Putin.

Destabilising the European Union is a foreign policy priority for the Russian president.

The EU has been an obstinate thorn in Russia's expansionist aspirations, with its strong support for the Baltic countries, its refusal to recognise the annexation of Crimea and its continuing commitment to political association and economic integration with Ukraine.

The Russian president would have more than welcomed the Brexit vote.

Britain's departure from the EU would make it more likely that EU sanctions against Russia would be eased or even dropped. Britain has also been a strong supporter of Europe's independent energy strategy.

Back in January 2016, well before the referendum, Guy Verhofstadt MEP wrote in The Guardian that British ought to reflect on the fact that "the only leader who would stand to gain from a British withdrawal from the European Union is Vladimir Putin".

A US withdrawal from the EU-US transatlantic trade deal, and from EU sanctions against Russia, would be just as beneficial to Russian ambitions.

Mr Trump has also said he might not honour Nato commitments should Russia invade the Baltic nations.

Add to this Mr Trump's clear sympathy with the anti-immigrant policies of the likes of Nigel Farage's UKIP, and it would be a surprise if Mr Putin did not have an interest in trying to interfere in the West's elections.

British Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said recently, following the CIA's pointing the finger at Russian hackers for interference in the US election, that it was 'highly probable' that Russian hackers also interfered over the Brexit vote.

"I don’t think we have even begun to wake up to what Russia is doing when it comes to cyber warfare," he said. "Russia's strategy is to weaken and divide the free world and driving the biggest refugee flows into Europe since World War Two is a deliberate, a deliberate, part of that plan."

The elections are over. 'Brexit means Brexit'. The Kremlin has its preferred man in the White House. And the principle of democracy is sacrosanct.

But if the facts really are as they increasingly appear, then this principle becomes less clear-cut.

Both elections have been marred by the distortion of the truth by ruthless social media campaigning, factual inaccuracies and made-up news, and accompanied by unprecedented cyber-bullying, online harassment and trolling.

The electorate on both sides of the electorate has been deliberately denied reliable facts.

How much of this has been pushed by Russian involvement has yet to be proved. But the cyber-bullying and denial of truth is continuing long after the votes, with anybody holding a contrary view on Brexit being systematically ridiculed, harassed, and often threatened.

Unless you are one of the many disadvantaged voters hit hard by the politics of austerity and forgotten by the privileged elite, it is hard to accept the results of the Trump-Brexit votes without acknowledging the real forces behind the vitriolic hate campaigns without any recourse to objectivity.

It is not just Russia that stands to gain from both these elections. Dictators around the world, such as Syrian president Assad, see president-elect Trump as a natural ally.

And Europe's far-right has taken huge encouragement, not just from the results of the votes, but also from the manner in which it has been demonstrated it is possible to win elections.

Should we sit back and allow these forces to take over? Or should the dangers in doing so begin to make us sit up and start in 2017 a much-needed fight-back against the politics of hate, dishonesty and intimidation?

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Nick Prag

Nick Prag

Nick Prag is founder and managing editor of Prior to EUbusiness, he was senior editor at Europe Online SA in Luxembourg, where he played a major part in the launch of Europe Online International.