Europe: In and beyond the Pandemic
This blog is a short round up of some of the political issues within Europe at the present time.
Russia still dominates European politics. It hovers like a Sword of Damocles still, despite the fall of the USSR, over Europe's eastern borders from the north to the south. Its huge military build-up is as threatening now as it was during The Cold War.
Yet, Russia is currently in the headlines not as an external threat but because it is facing an internal one. Alexei Navalny has successfully dented Putin's authoritarian regime by his words and actions, which have only been enhanced by the heavy handed authoritarian response from Putin.
There would appear to be three outcomes from the present impasse, viz
A victory for the people on the streets, leading to Putin's overthrow. This would follow the same trajectory as happened in Eastern Europe three decades ago when Marxism collapsed. However, for these protests to succeed they would almost certainly require a substantial portion of the security, police, and military services to defect from Putin.
A successful suppression of dissent by Putin and either exile or internal exile for Navalny on his release from prison.
A weakened Putin (he already has an all time low rating in the polls) toppled from power from within - possibly by a senior military official.
Of the three scenarios painted, it still seems as though (2) is the most likely outcome. But if Putin can hold on to power now, the question remains as to how much longer he can do so. As our mothers used to tell us 'it will end in tears before bedtime'.
Russia also faces external pressures, besides those of internal opposition and a deteriorating economic situation. One bright spot for Putin is that the Russian developed Sputnik vaccine appears to be extremely effective.
The new Administration in Washington has deployed, under the NATO banner, a naval force in The Black Sea in order to deter Putin from encroaching further in Ukraine of intervening with force on behalf of Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has Turkish backing and Putin would be fearful of any clash between Russian and Turkish troops, particularly given that Turkey is a member of NATO. Putin's attempts to broker a peace in this issue have met with only partial success.
The Russian bear may appear at this moment to be a wounded animal, but as we know wounded animals can be the most dangerous. Never underestimate Putin. However, the deployment of American forces by President Biden is a resounding vote both for NATO and European security.
Elsewhere, in the political story of the continent, is rising concern within the EU. Brussels has fared badly over vaccine rollout, with Hungary going its own way, not only sanctioning the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine on its own account, but ordering supplies of the Russian and Chinese vaccines as well. Brussels is not amused. Of course, both Hungary and Poland, represent major problems for The Commission as both have lurched startlingly to the right, threatening the very idea of European democracy. At present in Poland there are mass protests against changes to the Abortion Laws, which themselves could turn into something far more serious.
Even nearer to home Marine Le Pen's poll ratings are sufficiently close to President Macron's that the outcome of the French Presidential Election in 2022 must be in doubt. Le Pen favours a Frexit, in addition to her decidedly general anti-democratic stance. And, if that is not enough to frighten the Brussels horses, then there is the prospect of a post Merkel Germany also veering rightwards.
In Britain we cannot view any of these issues as not concerning us. We may have left the EU but as the Prime Minister has continuously said 'we have not left Europe'. Even for us there are problems nearer to home with the prospect of an SNP victory in the Scottish Elections, in which the Party will promise a second independence referendum. The post Brexit situation in Northern Ireland is already showing signs of fracturing and although the final logical solution is union with the south, and the demographics would support such an argument, with the Catholic minority shortly to become the majority in the Province and the young, of whatever political background, pro union with the Republic, it could still take years to reach fruition. Dublin has said there would be five years minimum before a Border Poll could be held.
Not even the Romans, at the height of their power, could keep Europe on an even keel for very long. The signs are that Europe is about to enter another turbulent time, not least with the rise of new and challenging economies such as that of China. We have had thirty years of stability, with the exception of a war in The Balkans, but even that region was eventually restored to something resembling balance. We may be moving to something very different across the continent over the next thirty years.
As I get older the thing that worries me most is I won't necessarily be around to see what the outcome of some of these issues will be!