Many in both Moscow and the West believe, happily or unhappily, that Britain’s vote to leave the EU will spark similar referenda in other member states and result in the EU’s demise. Some in both, again happily or unhappily, believe it will lead to an end of sanctions on Russia, given that their chief advocate won’t be in the EU any longer.
But a close Putin ally, Boris Titov who is Vladimir Putin’s ombudsman for businesses and entrepreneurs has pointed to an even more serious consequence of the vote, one he and his boss clearly welcome but many in the West should fear: the severing of the European-American link that is most clearly institutionalized in NATO.
On his Facebook page immediately after the British vote, Titov wrote the following: “It seems that it has happened – the UK is out!!! In my view, the most important long-term consequence of all this is this: the exit will tear Europe away from the Anglo-Saxons, that is, from the United States”.
And that in turn means, he says in words that reflect his most obvious hope and the fears of many in the Western alliance that this UK decision “is not the independence of Britain from Europe but the independence of Europe from the US. And from this to a united Eurasia is not very far only about ten years.”
Destroying NATO has been a Moscow goal since Soviet times because Soviet and now Russian leaders recognize that it is the chief integument between Europe and the United States. Without that link and without that organization, individual European countries will have to deal with an increasingly assertive Russia on their own, exactly what Moscow wants.
But the danger to NATO is even more immediate than that, as the Kremlin clearly intends. An alliance in which no one has any confidence is like a religion no one any longer believes, and the Brexit vote will lead ever more NATO members to have doubts about the alliance’s longterm integrity and viability, doubts that have existed since Prishtina.
As diplomats and political analysts have pointed out in many contexts, the most difficult step is often the first one; and once it is made, others will follow. So far, most commentators have been talking about the future of the EU. They should be focusing on the future of NATO as well because the spirit of isolationism is abroad, and it will spread from the economy to security.
If that happens – and no one should ever forget that this is Moscow’s most cherished goal – the countries of Europe will lose the security that the alliance has guaranteed for more than half a century and have to confront a resurgent Russia on their own without any confidence that the West will help them.
The new members in the eastern part of the continent will feel this threat first, but those older ones in the western part and also those in North America will not escape this danger if the forces that gave Brexit forces a victory are not addressed and countered. Despite what many think, it is not just “the economy stupid.” It is something much more than that.