The future of European security has not been this uncertain since the end of the Cold War. The continent faces fragile or vulnerable states on its borders, internal discontent, massive immigration and economic stagnation. The more divisions there are in Europe, the more Russia has to gain. The Kremlin’s goal is to fragment NATO, permanently diminish the role of its old adversaries in Europe—the United States and Britain—and bring the continent under its political and economic influence.
As elsewhere, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has shaken European elites. Although the Russian leadership has been restrained in its comments on Brexit, there is little doubt the withdrawal advances Moscow’s objectives. In Central and Eastern Europe—the front lines of the information war—the pro-Kremlin propaganda machine is already at work, as our briefs this week demonstrate. On 26 June, a Russian-language, pro-Kremlin website in Narva, the center of the ethnic Russian community in Estonia, described the British vote as “undemocratic” because it was not binding. It cited the 2014 referendum in Russian-occupied Crimea in 2014 as an example of the way referendum results should be handled—even though the international community considered that referendum illegal because it took place under foreign occupation and without credible international monitoring.
In Lithuania, pro-Kremlin media promoted the narrative that the Brexit results marked the beginning of EU disintegration and that “old Europe” might expel the Baltic states for fear of a predicted influx of guest workers, the financial cost of supporting those states, and the “destructive and absurd” politics that often undermines the EU itself.
This week CEPA also begins its coverage of Russian information warfare in Romania. As our brief shows, a Romanian version of RT (formerly Russia Today) offers the spurious argument that the unexpected recent détente between Turkey and Russia thwarted a possible NATO invasion of Russia. The article illustrates Moscow’s efforts to split Turkey and the US, on the one hand, and Bulgaria and Romania on the other. It also shows how the Kremlin hopes to use the promise of economic benefits to woo Black Sea countries away from the United States.
“There is no more important question than national security, especially when Putin’s Russia is resurgent in the region,” CEPA Senior Fellow Janusz Bugajski argued recently at a CEPA event hosting Bogdan Aurescu, foreign policy advisor to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Aurescu noted that “NATO is not just a military alliance. It is a community of values. If NATO is strong, then our values are better protected.”
The NATO Summit in Warsaw, set for 8-9 July, is likely to take significant steps toward enhancing the alliance’s regional military profile, including a tailored presence in Southeastern Europe based on a multinational brigade in Romania. But we would do well to remember Aurescu’s observation that we also are supposed to share common values. The Kremlin’s information war strategy suggests Putin may view this as one of our most vulnerable points.