For Vladimir Putin, the wins just keep on coming. For those who believe in the idea of “the West” – a bloc of countries that has stood opposed to Mr. Putin for the past two years – it’s shock after shock.
Less than a week after Donald Trump’s stunning triumph in the United States – a victory the president-elect’s opponents claim was half-made in Moscow – two European countries looked set on Sunday to vote in their own pro-Kremlin presidents.
Bulgaria has been a member of NATO since 2004 and the European Union since 2007, but on Sunday it elected a leader who used to fly a fighter jet for his country when it was a member of the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact (he later also flew for NATO), and who believes the EU should drop its sanctions targeting Russia over the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, tiny Moldova, once the smallest republic in the Soviet empire, threw its hands up after nearly a quarter century of conflict with its former masters in Moscow. The country elected a pro-Kremlin candidate who campaigned on ending a long war against Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country and applying for membership in a Moscow-led trading bloc.
Both results were bad news for Ukraine, which is locked in its own conflict with Moscow-backed militias. Unable to challenge Russia militarily, Kiev had hoped Western sanctions would eventually force Moscow to end its meddling, and to return Crimea. That ending seems far less likely today than it did a week ago.
And there were more signs over the weekend that “the West” – as it has existed since the end of the Second World War – is fragmenting fast.
Leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s François Hollande have made clear their consternation over the rise of the bombastic Mr. Trump, who has been criticized for his open admiration of Mr. Putin and other autocrats abroad.
EU leaders have spoken about the need for the 28-member bloc to take a more independent foreign policy line, and even long-dormant talk about the need for some kind of EU army has resurfaced.
But British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson broke step and called Friday for an end to the “collective whinge-o-rama” over the U.S. election result. On Sunday, he declined to attend a snap EU summit called to discuss the implications of Mr. Trump’s win.
Mr. Johnson and Prime Minister Theresa May are trying to carry out the jarring mandate given to them by their own voters last June, who shocked the establishment by voting in favour of quitting the EU. Ms. May, who has had only a brief phone call with the U.S. president-elect since the vote, was given another jolt when Mr. Trump hosted Nigel Farage, the ex-leader of the radical UKIP party, for a private dinner on Saturday at which the future of the U.S.-United Kingdom relationship was discussed.
There’s a sense in Europe, after the the Brexit vote and Mr. Trump’s win, that there’s more turbulence ahead. Far-right presidential candidates and parties are expected to do well in upcoming elections in Austria, the Netherlands and France.
The results of Sunday’s elections in Bulgaria and Moldova will only feed the impression of a status quo that is crumbling fast.
Bulgaria’s president-elect, General Rumen Radev, joins a growing club of EU leaders who have questioned whether two-plus years of economic sanctions against Russia have done anything but make both sides poorer. The argument helped Gen. Radev – a political outsider who ran as an independent – win the support of 58 per cent of voters, according to unofficial results, versus 36 per cent who backed his opponent, Tsetska Tsacheva.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, who like Ms. Tsacheva is a member of the Citizens for European Development party, conceded defeat and resigned his post Sunday night. The move will allow Gen. Radev an opportunity to form a government led by his socialist allies.
“We should not look on Russia as an enemy,” Gen. Radev said during the campaign. While he said he has no intention of taking Bulgaria out of either NATO or the EU, he has referred to Crimea as a “de facto” part of Russia.
Hearing those words from an incoming EU leader will be music to Mr. Putin’s ears. Just as welcome to the Russian President will be the early signs that Moldovans also voted in a pro-Moscow leader.
Socialist leader Igor Dodon, who used photographs of himself meeting with Mr. Putin as campaign billboards, looked to be well ahead with 54 per cent of the vote – versus 45 per cent for his pro-EU rival – with about 98 per cent of the ballots counted.
There were signs of potential unrest ahead. Radio Free Europe reported that crowds of protesters gathered Sunday night in the capital of Chisinau over complaints that not enough ballot papers were sent to the Moldova’s embassies abroad and that long lines of registered voters had been turned away in foreign capitals.
Mr. Dodon’s key election promise was to end the 25-year-old conflict over the eastern region of Trans-Dniester, which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists and patrolled by Russian peacekeepers. Mr. Dodov has also said he plans to end Moldova’s long effort to join the EU, and to focus instead on joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Union.
“We don’t need destabilization and we don’t need confrontation, which somebody is trying to make,” Mr. Dodon said Sunday night as the votes were being counted. Though Romanian is by far the most widely spoken language in Moldova, Mr. Dodon made his remarks in Russian.
A desire for change played a large role in both the Bulgarian and Moldovan elections, as it did in the U.S. vote for Mr. Trump.
Nearly a decade after joining, Bulgaria remains the EU’s poorest member, with a per capita income about one-sixth that of Germany’s. Moldova, meanwhile, has long been the poorest state on the continent.Report Typo/Error