Political scientist Aleksandr Vedrussov on who really influences European public opinion
The United States of America is still a remarkable country. With loans totaling $22 trillion, it is the world’s No. 1 debtor. And yet, somehow, Washington continually manages to find enormous sums of money to fund more and more of its “Star Wars,” or, in other words, projects to combat mythical problems and threats. In this respect, the U.S. budget for fiscal year 2020, in which there may emerge notable objects of expenditure for countering “Russian malign influence” in Europe, is very telling.
In comparison to the record military spending of $700 trillion, the supplementary sum of $500 million that is being allocated to campaigns to deter Russia perhaps doesn’t seem that impressive. However, that this expenditure is being put out into the public domain at all is highly symptomatic. Previously, they would, as a rule, pass through closed channels and not be put on display.
The choice of Europe as the battlefield for the fight against Russian influence is justified in many ways. In European politics we are currently seeing two almost opposing tendencies. On one hand, with regard to Russia, the pan-European establishment continues to keep in line with Euro-Atlanticism and is effectively governed by the principles of the Cold War. This is reflected in the position of the majority of the members of the European Parliament, who this week voted to reject a strategic partnership with Russia and for a revision of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that was signed in 1994.
On the other hand, the leaders of many euroskeptic EU states that are opposed to the dictatorship of Brussels are calling for the re-establishment of a full-fledged relationship with Moscow. For example, speaking against a background of intensified discussions regarding the feasibility of the anti-Russian sanctions, the prime minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, stated that his country is continuing to carry out work on their cancellation.
An even greater factor contributing to the pro-Russian mood in Europe is the public opinion of even those countries that’s leaders support the continuation of sanction pressure. For example, according to a recent survey, 69 percent of Germans would like to increase ties with Russia, while only 41 percent would like to increase ties with the U.S. If we consider the more concrete aspects of mutually beneficial cooperation, then the scale tips all the more toward Moscow and not Washington: 56 percent of Germans agree with the realization of the Russian Nordstream 2 project while only 16 percent of German citizens share the American point of view regarding its geo-economic risk.
Consequently, the U.S. leadership on the European continent has a lot of work to do in terms of making appropriate corrections to public opinion and, more importantly, retaining leverage over the Brussels bureaucracy and national governments. It’s important to remember that the American intelligence agencies, the Department of State and NATO all have designated expenditures for countering Russian media and political influence around the world. Therefore, the new anti-Russian project proposed by Donald Trump will simply be the distinctive cherry on top of the chronically deficient American budget pie.
It has previously become known that the U.S. is planning to cast a net of national “centers for digital investigations” across the world and launch specific “monitoring missions” aimed at identifying “the facts of Moscow’s interference in electoral processes.” Pilot projects are scheduled to start as early as this spring in Georgia, the Baltic countries and the Balkans. Hence, under the guise of the fight against Russian influence, the Americans will essentially get a perceived license to directly influence information and electoral processes all over the world.
Why the Americans need such intensification on the European continent can be clearly seen in the example of a country like Montenegro: despite the prevailing pro-Russian public sentiment, the U.S. has been able to pull the country into NATO and force its leadership to undertake, in general, relatively unfriendly policies in relation to Moscow. That is, the main task of the Americans is to prevent the conversion of obvious Russian sympathies into the victory of pro-Russian powers in European elections.
You’ve got to hand it to the U.S.: it has managed to shift the focus of attention from its own interference in the internal affairs of European countries to Russia. It turns out that if a thief is relatively loudly and confidently shouting, “Stop! Thief!” then they will actually drive suspicion away from themselves. Who remembers the American intelligence agencies’ program of mass surveillance of their European allies? It was a huge scandal that, among other things, clearly highlighted the subordinate position of many European leaders in relation to Washington.
In recent years, the situation in Europe has started to explicitly change, and not in the favor of the United States: many nationally oriented European leaders have started to speak about the necessity of separating from the obtrusive and, in many ways, destructive guardianship of the U.S. In this sense, the thesis about the all-pervasive influence of Russia, which has been promptly thrown in and skillfully promoted by the Americans and their satellites is, admittedly, quite successfully fulfilling its function – if the relationship between the U.S. and the European countries worsens further, in the foreseeable future it will not be much help in bringing Europe and Russia closer. In any case, Washington will not skimp on funds even for the costliest of projects when it comes to combatting Moscow and the preservation of its own informational and political presence in Europe …
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