giovedì, Maggio 13

Putin and Brexit: new opportunities for Russia field_506ffbaa4a8d4

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With Britain and the EU busy with negotiating their painful separation, Putin could expect a respite from Western pressure on Russia. While the EU a few days ago extended its sanctions against Moscow until February 2017, many EU nations, including Italy, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Greece are pushing for their quick removal. Since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, the United States has been a key architect of the sanctions, forcing the reluctant EU to comply. Without Britain in the EU, it would be much harder for Washington to maintain its pressure.

The Russian ban on imports of Western food imposed in retaliation to Western sanctions has hurt many EU nations. The U.S. and the EU have made lifting the anti-Russian sanctions contingent on the progress of the Minsk peace agreement for eastern Ukraine. The 2015 deal, which Germany and France helped negotiate, obliged Ukraine to give significant autonomy to pro-Russia rebel-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine, amnesty the militants and hold elections in the east. Only after that could Ukraine fully reclaim control of the border with Russia, which the West said backed the insurgents with troops and weapons.

The deal was a clear political victory for Putin, and it angered Ukrainian nationalists who saw it as treason. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been reluctant to fulfill the agreements out of fear of being toppled, and he has tried to blame Russia for the lack of progress on the deal, the view backed by the United States.

Putin has argued that it’s unfair to hold Russia responsible for Ukraine’s failure to meet its obligations under the Minsk agreement, the point that has met increasing understanding in the EU. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who was a special guest at Russia’s economic forum in St.Petersburg, openly backed Putin’s argument, saying that Ukraine indeed needs to honor its part of the deal. As the chaos unleashed by Brexit widens, the EU is likely to become more receptive to Russian arguments and lose interest in Ukraine.



While the EU plunges into acrimony and sees its authority eroded by Brexit, Putin will likely seek to cultivate closer ties with major EU countries, primarily Germany, France and Italy. That has been his policy all along, but in the past the EU had jealously guarded its turf to prevent Moscow from negotiating separately with individual members.

The weakening of the EU could now offer Putin a chance to pursue his strategy of building bilateral alliances with European nations to undercut the American influence on the continent. While that goal could be hard to achieve, because the U.S.-EU economic ties far outweigh Russia-EU trade, European governments could be willing to improve relations with Moscow as the U.S. is busy with election. Brexit could potentially mark a turning point in the spiraling Russia-West crisis, opening new avenues for normalizing ties and easing fears of a new Cold War.


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