15:55 Jun. 1, 2016
RA reports on Baltic leader's stern warning
In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet empire, most Western nations basked in the illusion that liberal democracy had triumphed. Many thought NATO had become an anachronism in an era of permanent European peace.
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Some countries freed from Kremlin control, including tiny Estonia, knew better. Only two and a half decades later, the European Union teeters and populism thrives — on both sides of the Atlantic. A revanchist Russia bent on restoring past glory makes nuclear threats against members of the NATO alliance.
So this is an opportune moment to listen to Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was in Philadelphia last month to address a Baltic studies conference at the University of Pennsylvania.
"Twenty-five years of Western history are over," he said bluntly. "The optimism of the 1990s has been shattered by Russia. Russia is back with 19th-century goals and 21st-century means." He cautioned, however, "We are clueless amid transformational change to which we do not know how to respond, because we don't know what we want to achieve."
Of course, the threats to the Europe of 1990s dreams are internal as well as external. The populist parties that are gaining strength across Europe and the appeal of Trumpism (and Bernie Sanders) in the United States are outgrowths of the economic pain wreaked on citizens by globalization and the failure of traditional parties to respond. But, as Ilves noted, the economic travails of Western democracies present openings for a reckless Russia to meddle.
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Populist leaders in Europe, some openly encouraged by Russian President Vladimir Putin, are pressing for the breakup of the European Union. June 23, the British will vote on whether to leave the EU, and the vote is likely to be close. Meanwhile, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump talks of possibly leaving NATO, while constantly complimenting Putin. Although Ilves never mentioned Trump by name, he clearly is concerned.
"East Europeans were told to get over their fears of Russia, but today, Western Europe recognizes there is an ongoing war in Europe," he said. Full story