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Is It The End Of The World Order As We Know It?

  • Brian Whitmore

"We didn't influence the U.S. election." (Cartoon by Sergey Elkin)

"We didn't influence the U.S. election." (Cartoon by Sergey Elkin)

Has Vladimir Putin just taken a big step toward his goal of upending the post-Cold War order? (The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin wasted no time in congratulating Donald Trump.

When the results of the U.S. elections were announced in the State Duma, lawmakers there burst into a round of applause.

And Russian state television could barely contain their glee as a Trump victory became evident.

For most of his rule, Putin has been seeking to overturn the post-Cold War international order, gain a free hand in the former Soviet space, and weaken -- if not dismantle -- the NATO alliance.

And with the United States electing the first president since World War II who could reverse the internationalism that has been at the heart of U.S. foreign policy for more than seven decades, the Kremlin leader now appears to have taken a giant leap toward that goal.

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of the book The New Cold War, writes that "a Trump presidency will shake to its foundations a U.S. commitment to European security that dates back to 1941."

The Kremlin has been picking away at the post-Cold War international order for years, exploiting the malaise and antiestablishment mood currently sweeping the West.

It has given moral support to the successful Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom.

It has provided loans to Marine Le Pen's National Front in France and has backed extremists across Europe.

It has launched a massive disinformation campaign aimed at undermining the European Union, NATO, and transatlantic unity.

And according to U.S. intelligence officials, it used a series of cyberattacks to disrupt the U.S. presidential election.

As Peter Pomerantsev, author of the book Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible, noted in a recent article, Putin has turned himself into the Che Guevara of the xenophobic right in the United States and Europe.

"Imagine, for a moment, you are the leader of an 'antiestablishment' political movement. You thrill your followers by sticking it to the 'liberal elites' and the 'global order.' There’s nothing more 'antiestablishment' than showing two fingers to such elite, aloof projects as NATO or the EU, and giving props to the man who wants to undermine them -- Vladimir Putin," Pomerantsev writes.

"For the 'antiestablishment' right, giving Putin the thumbs-up has become the equivalent of what pulling on a Che T-shirt has long meant for the left."

Putin didn't create the insurgency making its way across Europe and the United States, but he sure is skillfully exploiting it.

And now, as a result, the Kremlin leader will be dealing with a U.S. president who has questioned the need for NATO, suggested he might not defend European allies in the event of Russian aggression, and suggested he would consider recognizing Russia's annexation of Crimea.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Thomas Wright, an expert on U.S. foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, said Trump had "a core set of visceral beliefs that he's had for many years and that he's not deviated from," including opposition to alliances, opposition to free trade, and a fondness for authoritarian rulers.

Will he act on those beliefs?

Will Trump upend the post-Cold War security architecture? Will he weaken the NATO alliance? Will he recognize the annexation of Crimea, abandon Ukraine and Georgia, and give Russia a free hand in the former Soviet space?

"Russia has long sought a game changer. It has tested Western resolve with its cyberattack on Estonia in 2007, with the war in Georgia in 2008, and with the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. It stoked division and mistrust in the Atlantic alliance," Lucas wrote.

"It met little penalty for breaking those rules. And now it faces a U.S. president who does not believe in them either. Game and set to Putin. The match is in his grasp, too."

Unless, of course, Trump chooses to focus on the domestic issues that his supporters care most about, and leave foreign policy to the establishment.

In comments posted on his Facebook page, Adrian Karatnycky noted that Trump's foreign-policy team included pro-Russia figures like General Michael Flynn and national security hawks like Senator Jeff Sessions.

"Although he supports a significant arms buildup for the U.S., Trump's inexperience in foreign affairs, and his mercurial views on national security are likely to create initial uncertainty before stabilizing," Karatnycky wrote.

"At first, Trump is likely to pursue accommodation with Russia. At the same time, he is likely to lay down firm markers on Putin's international adventurism. If Putin transgresses these, Trump is likely to respond as a hawk, not as a dove."

Perhaps. At this point we just don't know.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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