`The policy and practice of the Russian Government has always been to push forward its encroachments as fast and as far as the apathy or want of firmness of other Governments would allow it to go, but always to stop and retire when it met with decided resistance and then to wait for the next favorable opportunity.` – Lord Palmerston
Few Westerns who aren’t students of history know that the Soviet Union invaded Japanese-held Manchuria on August 8, 1948, two days after Hiroshima. Though many historians argue that it would have happened anyway, as Stalin had agreed to open a front against Japan at the Yalta conference in February and had been building up forces for some time. However it parallel’s an earlier opportunistic offensive.
Russia had been building up a military presence near Vladivostock (which was still a Chinese city named Yongmingcheng) for over a decade, but waited until China was losing the Secon Opium War in 1858 to Britian and France to threaten the Chinese into ceding 600,000 square kilometers, including the prized warm water port.
It was recently reported that in June 2015, the U.S. Congress directed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to investigate possible funding of European political parties and non-governmental organizations by the Kremlin. The directive alleges that Russia seeks to weaken European unity, with the goal of ending sanctions levied for its involvement in eastern Ukraine and undermining NATO’s missile defense plans.
This is only the latest chapter in an ongoing effort to expose Russia’s meddling in European politics. Allegations of Russian infiltration have been made by leading publications, politicians, and think tanks. They warn that bankrolling like-minded parties is only one component of Russia’s operations meant to manipulate public opinion in its favor. The Kremlin has also worked to shape attitudes through the slick and compelling — and conspiracy-filled — programming on its global news channel. Some analysts have even consider Russia’s propaganda and lobbying campaign to be an aspect of “hybrid warfare” alongside its more muscular actions in Ukraine. The new wrinkle is that, for the first time, the U.S. government is conducting its own investigation.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it confuses cause with effect. If Russia is, in fact, assisting sympathetic groups in Europe (and it should be noted that these are still mostly rumors), it is not because Putin is a puppet master, manipulating unsuspecting politicians with crafty subterfuge. It is because he has been invited in.
Europe’s underlying problems — economic stagnation, massive refugee inflows, dissension among EU members, and the perceived indifference of mainstream politicians to ordinary people’s concerns — have driven some voters to the extremes of the political system. As crazy as it seems, these voters, and the parties they turn to, find aspects of today’s Russia attractive. It is unsurprising that quasi-fascist parties like Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik would admire a strongman like Vladimir Putin, who exudes the kind of masculine authority their voters crave. As a bonus, Putin’s current incarnation as a defender of “traditional values” resonates with these right-wing parties’ core beliefs.
If Russia is stirring the pot, it is because the ingredients have been prepared.