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Home / news / Judy Asks: Is Russia Europe’s Biggest Threat?

Judy Asks: Is Russia Europe’s Biggest Threat?

Federiga BindiSenior fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, Jean Monnet chair at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and D. German distinguished visiting chair at Appalachian State University

No, it is not. Times have changed since the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was indeed Europe’s biggest threat.

Today, Europe’s main threats come from elsewhere: primarily, the fear of immigration and the lack of economic recovery, especially in southern and eastern European counties. Together, these fuel citizens’ anxieties to the benefit of populist parties, who offer no effective solutions but very powerful rhetoric.

Russia’s support of far-right movements has not produced results in European voting booths, differing from the situation in the United States (which has led to recent indictments), and is a sign that European democracies are in better health than America’s (which says a lot.) It is worth remembering that the first covert CIA operation aimed at influencing a foreign country’s election was led in Italy during the 1948 general election.

Squeezed between U.S. disengagement and Russian activism, Europe has the opportunity to respond by integrating further. PESCO was a step forward, but more needs to be done. Only by becoming stronger will Europe be able to successfully deal with both its many endogenous and exogenous threats.

Ian Bond Director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform

Russia poses a serious threat to Europe, both in the military arena and in cyberspace. Vladimir Putin is no friend of Western democracy or the liberal international order, and works to undermine them. His annexation of Crimea in 2014 was one of the most serious breaches of international law since World War II. But the biggest threats facing Europe are internal. Reluctance to invest in defense, unwillingness to tackle violent extremists of all sorts, failure to invest in civic education, failure to tackle inequalities in society—all of these are bigger long-term threats than a sparsely-populated country with terrible infrastructure and an economy smaller than South Korea’s.

Russia is a threat to Europe only because Europe allows it to be. Vladimir Putin has been very adept at maximizing the effectiveness of the tools he has, keeping the West off-balance and leaving its leaders with a feeling of impotence. As the truth of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election emerges, however, Europeans should take the chance to increase their resilience, in all fields. Threats are a function of relative power, in which Europe is far superior to Russia, and relative will, in which it is lacking. That has to change.

Fraser Cameron Director of the EU-Asia Centre

Russia is certainly one of Europe’s biggest threats. The chance of a military attack on any EU country, even those not in NATO, is extremely small. The risks would simply be too high for Putin.

But Russia has systematically sought to undermine European values and sow distrust in the EU and NATO. This has gone way beyond a focus on the Russlandverstehers in Germany and now covers all member states.

The Kremlin is constantly probing for weak links and is skilled at using bribery, corruption, energy, ex-KGB links, propaganda, and cyber tactics to increase its influence. It is also extremely adroit at exploiting opportunities (such as the Brexit referendum and other elections) to whip up populist fears over refugees and migrants.

Only slowly has the EU woken up to this threat, and its response to date has been totally inadequate. Normally one would expect the U.S. administration to cajole the EU into taking action, but with Trump in the White House there is an additional problem.

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