In Europe - West, Russia

Commentary by Finian Cunningham, published on, June 29, 2016

‘Today, the 28-member EU bloc is barely distinguishable from the 28-member NATO military alliance in terms of adopting U.S.-led policies, and in particular its anti-Russia policy.’

Britain’s stunning referendum vote to leave the European Union has thrown a cat among the pigeons, not least in Washington, where it is feared that the “Brexit” could scupper its anti-Russian policy.

Anti-Russia demonstrators outside the White House during Petro Poroshenko's visti to U.S. in September 2015 (Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

Anti-Russia demonstrators outside the White House during Petro Poroshenko’s visti to U.S. in September 2015 (Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

That tacit policy is a foundation of the postwar international order whereby Washington – thanks to its trusty British acolyte – has been able to exert hegemony over Europe. Nearly seven decades of American transatlantic domination are at risk of crumbling.

The unscheduled, hasty visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Brussels followed by London on Monday is a sure sign that Washington is alarmed at the historic decision by the British electorate to quit the EU – after 43-year membership of the bloc.

“Kerry urges Britain, EU to manage their divorce responsibly,” was how American news outlet ABC reported the diplomat’s detour. The outlet went on to say with a pretense of chivalry that Kerry’s concern was “for the sake of global markets and citizens”.

More to the point, Washington’s perplexity is specific and self-serving. In particular, the loss of British influence inside the EU will impact on Washington’s carefully constructed policy of trying to isolate Russia. American objectives to isolate Russia go much further back than the past two years over Ukraine. Indeed, one can trace the anti-Russia policy to immediately after the Second World War, a policy that was intimately shared by the British establishment, as expressed by Winston Churchill in his famous 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech, marking the onset of the Cold War against the West’s erstwhile wartime Soviet ally.

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, gave full expression to these fears in an opinion piece in the Washington Post at the weekend. The headline read: “How Brexit is a win for Putin”.

The tone is almost panic-stricken. McFaul alludes to Russia’s growing economic and political influence with China and Eurasian integration: “Europe is now weakening as Russia, its allies and its multilateral organizations are consolidating, even adding new members. Putin, of course, did not cause the Brexit vote, but he and his foreign policy objectives stand to gain enormously from it.”

The former U.S. envoy, who also served as national security adviser to the Obama administration, laments how Britain as Washington’s “closest ally” will have less leverage for American interests over the rest of Europe.

With regard to Russia, this means that the EU’s economic sanctions against Moscow and the build-up of NATO military forces are put into serious doubt. Both aspects have been led by Washington, with Britain as a strident advocate of sanctions and NATO militarism. Now that London does not have a vote in Brussels, America’s policy of hostility towards Russia is blunted.

Britain’s exiting of the EU puts Washington’s in a geopolitical dilemma. As the New York Times headlined: “With ‘Brexit,’ Washington’s direct line to the continent suddenly frays”.

The NY Times reports: “American officials struggling to reimagine their strategy after Britain’s decision to divorce the European Union say the most urgent challenge will be to find a way to replace their most reliable, sympathetic partner in the hallways of European capitals. It will not be easy.”

When Britain first joined the early European Economic Community in 1973, it was following a policy directed by Washington. With its “special relationship”, as coined by Churchill, Britain would ensure that Washington’s geopolitical interests prevailed on the continental Europeans, in particular the Germans and French, who were always suspected of being inclined towards socialism and rapprochement with Russia.

It is arguable that the EU was a political project engineered by the American Central Intelligence Agency, for which Britain served a crucial steering role. Britain would thus bring a strong NATO perspective to the emerging EU. The U.S.-led military alliance’s unofficial objective from its postwar inception in 1949 was, according to British Lord Ismay, the first secretary-general, to “keep the Americans in, the Germans down and the Russians out”. And Britain’s presence within the EU – as the second biggest economy after Germany – ensured that this anti-Russian ideology always remained a potent force, even 25 years after the Cold War supposedly ended.

Today, the 28-member EU bloc is barely distinguishable from the 28-member NATO military alliance in terms of adopting U.S.-led policies, and in particular its anti-Russia policy. The renewal of European economic sanctions against Moscow has only served to inflict huge damage on EU nations. It is self-defeating and absurdly based on scant evidence of “Russian aggression”. But the policy prevails in large part due to Washington’s and Britain’s “NATO-ization” of the EU.

This is why the loss of Britain from the EU is so disconcerting to Washington and its Atlanticist advocate in London. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has been most vocal since the referendum, warning that “the Kremlin will be happy with the result”.

Unlike Washington’s admonitions against a Brexit in the run up to the referendum, Moscow refrained from making any such pronouncements, saying that it was an internal British political matter. Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed comments by British and American politicians who inferred “Kremlin rejoicing” over the Brexit as “a manifestation of low political culture”.

The snide, anti-Russian invective is really a reflection of the malign purpose with which Washington and London have been working for decades in order to impale a wedge between Europe and Russia.

Washington has much to lose as a hegemonic world power if Europe and Russia were to move closer together politically, economically and in terms of mutual security. The U.S. and its transatlantic British cipher – being closely aligned in global finance capital – must do all in their power to make sure that Europe and Russia do not converge as natural partners.

With Britain now reverting to “Little England” as American media are mocking, there are moves ahead for Washington to recruit a new surrogate within the EU for its hegemonic ambitions. Germany is top of the list as the replacement for Britain. France is seen as too unreliable, while Poland and the Baltic states are too lightweight, from Washington’s viewpoint.

However, the Brexit has unleashed a Europe-wide public revolt of anti-EU sentiment. Part of that antipathy stems from the kind of oligarchic politics, financial oppression and NATO militarism that people associate with Washington’s influence on Europe.

Washington will not find an automatic, easy substitute for its British surrogate. No European state could ever replace Britain as the most loyal and fervent servant of American interests.

Russia is entitled to feel relief, if not rejoicing, over the Brexit result. And not just Russia, but many other countries and people who long for more peaceful international relations, free from Washington’s and NATO’s warmongering machinations.

Britain’s diminished influence over European policies means Washington is also curbed. Nothing can be taken for granted, but there is a fair chance that Europe might be freer henceforth to develop normal, more harmonious relations with Russia.

Germany, whose postwar reconciliation with Russia was once a source of immense hope during the 1960s, 70s and 80s under its “Ostpolitik”, might now be able to resume that trajectory.

No wonder Washington is panicked.

Finian Cunningham has written extensively on international affairs. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in agricultural chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry in Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. He is now a freelance journalist based in East Africa.

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