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Is Putin out to destroy the EU?

Gérard Roland, E. Morris Cox professor of economics and professor of political science | December 15, 2014

By Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Associate Professor of Economics; Gerard Roland, Professor of Economics; and Edward W. Walker, Associate Adjunct Professor of Political Science

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, tensions between Russia and the West have not abated. Nonetheless, it has been striking how much support Putin still enjoys in Europe, from intellectuals and politicians, from the extreme left and extreme right, from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Marine Le Pen in France, and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and from the “Putinversteher” of Germany that includes not only former East German communists but many prominent German politicians and businessmen as well.

The Kremlin’s narrative that the Euromaidan was a fascist coup, and that the annexation of Crimea and support for the Donbas separatists were defensive moves to protect Russia’s strategic interests, has been repeated through a dense network of Putin supporters and Russian media outlets in Europe. While reminiscent of former Comintern propaganda, that narrative has been embraced by many Europeans at a time when European governments, and the European project, are already under great stress from Europe’s growth crisis.

One thing we should have learned from recent months is not to underestimate Putin’s strategic skills and ambitions. Regardless of whether Putin believes that the Euromaidan was the direct result of EU and U.S. influence, he understands the attraction that “Europe” and membership in the European Union represent for Ukrainians who aspire to democratic and transparent government.

The aspiration to join Europe’s community of democratic states was a key force behind the collapse of right-wing dictatorships in Greece, Spain and Portugal in the 1970s. It was likewise a critical factor in the collapse of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It certainly contributed to the collapse of the Yanukovych regime in Ukraine. This attraction will continue to be a powerful driver of responsible and transparent governance in many post-communist countries in the region.

What would happen if the European Union ceased to exist? The attraction of “Europe” and of European democracy as a model of governance would be greatly weakened, not only in countries that aspire today to become member-states but also in current EU member-states where Euroskeptic and illiberal sentiments are already widespread, such as Hungary. Other countries would be more exposed to Russian pressure and tempted to turn to Moscow for patronage.

Does this mean that Putin is out to destroy the European Union? At the least, it is clear that Moscow has been reaching out to Euroskeptic parties and groups from across the political spectrum, both the far left and especially far right. There is also evidence, much of which is circumstantial but not all, that the Kremlin is providing financial assistance to Euroskeptic parties. Marine Le Pen, for example, acknowledged last week that her far right party, The National Front, received a nine million Euro loan from a Russian bank. There are also rumors of Russian financing of Jobbik in Hungary and UKIP in the UK.

Meanwhile, Russian oligarchs have been purchasing European newspapers, including The Independent, The Evening Standard, and France-Soir. The French newspaper Liberation recently highlighted the extent of pro-Putin connections in French academia, think tanks of both the left and the right, and media and business networks.

A battle of values is therefore looming. The European Union stands for democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and institutionalized international cooperation. While this is not true of all Putin admirers, certainly many oppose those values and instead embrace authoritarianism, intolerance, and the use of force and intimidation as instruments of foreign policy.

Unfortunately, the European establishment is not doing enough to counter Moscow’s anti-European, divide-and-rule offensive. That is particularly true for Berlin. The German government continues to promote economic austerity in the Eurozone, despite weak demand and very high unemployment. If Putin wants to destroy the European Union, there is no better way to help him. Europe needs growth, and it needs bold leadership from its most important member-state, Germany, and its most important leader, Angela Merkel. The German Chancellor needs to make clear to the German public what is at stake, and why a collapse of the European project would be a disaster for Germany and for the continent as a whole.

Comments to “Is Putin out to destroy the EU?

  1. The fact is, it is not Russia, but the United States, through their cruel, covert, geo-strategic, cynical invasion of Ukraine, involving the rape, murder and torture of Ukraine citizens, that has set out (and so far these US efforts have been successful) to destroy the EU.

    Instead of responding to the US “f–k the EU” illegal subversion-invasion of Ukraine, the EU has been a complacent lapdog, impervious to the damage it is doing to it’s people, the EU economy, the people’s economic self-interest, in addition to morally reprehensible inaction. Everybody now knows, if they did not before, that the EU is an inert, compliant, pitiful slave colony of US imperialism. Hard for me to see how people of Germany, France, Belgium can do other than hang their heads in shame.

  2. Rich Russians are bringing tons of money to the U.S. New York, Miami and some other cities are getting all the capital benefits. I can see Russians are mostly investing in real estate.

  3. The government of Ukraine is a puppet government, controlled officially by the CIA and all three Poroshenko, Yatzenyuk and Klichko approved by the US. The IMF stated that funds will be given to Ukraine, provided the insurgence in the east would be eliminated . The EU fueled the war by giving no other option but either the EU or Russia. So far, Ukraine has lost 100 billion USD on trade with Russia as economic association is destroyed. So, whom we should blame for all of this?

      • Prof. Gorodnichenko misunderstood Nellie’s comment: Nellie refers to Alexey Kudrin’s report (Kudrin is the former Minister of Finance in Putin’s government) from his non-government and non-profit organization “Committee of Civic Initiatives”,, with expert estimates on loss of profit from Ukrainian side after the coup d’état in Kiev while Dr. Gorodnichenko’s $15 billion is about Ukrainian export to Russia in 2013.

  4. I like the closing comment Dave Pacific made. In this heated political debate nobody really cares about the Ukrainians themselves. The country is so underdeveloped economically that it doesn’t matter who is in power until some drastic systematic changes are made.

    Both Europe and the US like talking about billions of US dollars “donated” or credited to the country. BUT where did/does the money go? To build new public schools, equip hospitals, improve transportation or open up new factories/companies to provide local people with jobs? Good question. According to my relatives living in Kiev’s suburbs (one side of the family) and in rural villages in the Odessa region (the other side of the family), their quality of life didn’t change at all. They are still as poor as they were 10 years ago while having full-time jobs in education, medicine and agriculture. May be somebody IS having a better life now, but it doesn’t seem to be the case for employed educated professionals who are not a part of the ruling political elite. So, why not to create a concrete reasonable economic development plan and work on its stepwise implementation instead of mindlessly pouring EU and American taxpayers’ money into corrupt Ukrainian government and home-grown Ukrainian oligarchs? (According to, Ukraine is one of 25 most corrupted countries in the world. I’d rather see that money going back to the US and invested, for example, into public education (how about our struggling UC system?) than feeding the elite of foreign political regimes.

    Overall, I’m pretty disappointed with Berkeley professors taking sides and posting such a one-sided opinionated article. An article that demonizes one side and makes saints out of the other cannot be objective by definition. “Democratic liberal and lawful” Europe has a lot of their own issues with discrimination, immigration, unemployment and internal sanctions for smaller EU members who disagree with political/economic policies of the ruling ones. Ordinary Europeans are not too happy with a prospect of feeding another poor 45-million nation with their tax money. They are already struggling with millions of immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

    One more point. “USAID supports civil society organizations whose number and influence has grown from 40 registered organizations in 1987 to approximately 300,000 today [2012], not including state-funded public organizations”. (See

    The number seems inflated to me but it supports the point. If other countries create or/and support various organizations, including political ones, within Russia, why can’t Russia do the same in Europe/US? Or does this practice work only one way? Why the same action coming from one side is called “promoting liberties and democracy” but from the other side “divide-and-rule offensive”?

    The Russian-Western conflict is a huge grey area where each side has its point. If one doesn’t understand the point of the other side (or/and lacks adequate information to do that), it doesn’t mean the point is wrong. This situations looks like a political game of saving faces to me and has nothing to do with ordinary citizens on either side. I wish the politicians were smarter than just throwing threats and sanctions into each other.

    P.S. Since you are, probably, wondering, I’m a Ukrainian by nationality, Russian by citizenship, have family currently living in Ukraine, Russia and EU. As to myself, I’ve been living in the US for 7+ years (previously, in Ukraine, Russia and Poland).

  5. EU, is a great concept and bellwether for what needs to happened with the rest of the world. One planet one people one nation. Every thing else is atavistic and ice age tribalistic. Alas, what we see in the EU is another , ever so pernicious (and stupid) outpost of American Capitalism, the “idealogical” twin of the Law of the Jungle. What ever else is said about Putin , millions if not hundreds and thousands of millions see in him the last bulwark against unrestrained , incessant,rapacious,metastatic force. A bulwark against the relentless blackmailing of American materialistic, militaristic imperialistic Capitalists. Even the most ardent, better “dead than red” crowd, itching to fight Capitalists, know in their stomach, they have no hearts, that Russia is no Granada, Panama, Libya or Dominican Republic,…These most fervent and most capitalistic zealots, know very well that in an ultimate confrontation ,Russia is more than a formidable foe. They too have their fusion-bomb-tipped missiles and they know how, second to none, how to use them.

    Want to know why the Capitalists never ever leave Russia (The Soviet Union before..) alone? and forever ever will find excuses to harass and diminish this great country? THINK 13….THINK 13…Yes 13 time zones…versus 6 of the U.S Russia is huge. It is most likely and natural that her mineral riches commensurate with her size! No capitalist or imperialist is blind to this land of untold immeasurable riches. Riches the Capitalists must have now and in the future. Riches they need and must have to satisfy their unlimited ravenous, cancerous, ever more ever larger expansion schemes…It would be so much easier to exploit the small countries that will emerge from broken up Russia.

    The Ukrainian were sold a bill of goods….By choosing Europe they chose a very poor in resources kin. As part of Russia they would have enjoyed sooner or later the riches of this immense continent size country. Russia, a country that by the way, was frequently under Ukrainian governance.…a country that they are bound to by blood and history. A country that they could have helped move toward ultimate unification with all inclusive Europe toward one world… An inevitable destiny if we to survive as a species or as whatever organic form…

  6. Ukrainian junta is a result of coup d’etat guided by EU and USA. The junta is quazi-nazi by her methods of ethnic cleansing: it kills her civilians in the Eastern regions (Lugansk and Donetsk) with rocket launchers, howitzers, cassette and phosphorus bombs.

    The civic war has started from peaceful requests from the citizens for federalization and using Russian language at schools and other official places as the second state one in the region. Is it a reason to kill the citizens? Why should we practice double standards, spending our tax-payer money for the bloody junta? Is the junta good enough for the US goverment just because it is anti-Russian?

    The current informational war against Russia looks like a chapter from Orwell’s “1984”. Fortunately here, in the USA, there are such brilliant citizens like Oliver Stone with his “Untold History of the United States” and Paul Craig Roberts.

    • Alex, actually, made a really good point that American news never mentioned. Those Eastern Ukrainians/ethnic Russians did ask for federalization and using Russian as another official language. The initial conversation though was about having Donetsk and Lugansk as relatively autonomous regions while still being a part of Ukraine. What’s wrong with that? Why are these people called “terrorists” and “separatists” now? Weren’t they just exercising their civil rights?

    • Well, this comment illustrates the point that Putin’s propaganda poisons minds of people not only in Russia but also in the West

      • The argumentation referring to “Putin’s propaganda” works possibly for many of Western peoples (Americans etc.) who do not speak Russian and are not able e.g. to watch both Russian and Ukrainian/American TV to compare. What I see in political talks on Russian TV and what I do not see in Ukrainian/American TV is a variety of different points of views, e.g. one can see both Putin’s supporters and their opponents (Ukrainian nationalists, Western journalists etc) being face-to-face in the talks.

        All the talks are available on YouTube. For example, Roman Babayan’s “Right of Voice” (“Pravo golosa”) on TVC channel, Solovyev’s talk on “Russia” channel, Tolstoy’s and Gordon’s “Politika” on the 1st channel, Norkin’s talk (“Norkin’s list”) on NTV etc.. Specifically, by random sampling, let’s look at Babayan’s “Right of Voice” on Wed Dec. 10, 2014 at 18:20. Its topic was resolution #758 in Congress and role of NATO in the conflict between Russia and EU/US. “Pro Putin” team: Sergei Jeleznyak (vice CEO in Russian Parliament, “Duma”), Semyon Bagdasarov (Research Center of Countries in the Central Asia), Igor Korotchenko (chief editor in “National Defense” journal). “Con Putin” team: Robert Pshel (chief of NATO information Bureau in Moscow), Michael Bohm (independent US journalist), Tayana Parkhalina (Institute of scientific information, Russ.Ac.Sci.), and Alexander Gushin (Dept. of post-Soviet countries, Russian State University for the Humanities).

        Conclusions: political talks on Russian TV, in comparison with ones in Ukrainian and US TV, are much more informative, because people with different political points of view are present. It does not look like propaganda; it looks like information, because propaganda is indoctrination of people. Propaganda it is what one could see in American TV, and, especially, in Ukrainian TV.

        Also, I believe that Prof. Gorodnichinko should feel free to participate in the talks. Does “Pro-Putin” team have a chance to participate in similar talk (if any) in EU/US/Ukrainian TV?

  7. Ukraine needs visionary leaders and planners and executives both inside and outside the Ukraine to make the big strides needed to develop its economy to a much higher level that befits its huge human and natural resource base.

    Is the EU too stingy to step in with a “Marshall Plan” that is so badly needed by Ukraine?

    As for higher growth rates within the EU, the core nations may be too mature for any higher growth rates than they currently have, and any real growth will occur at the periphery or internationally.

    But no, the EU will not collapse, and Euroskeptics, intellectuals, et al will always float their theories and talk their talk and honestly shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

    What would really be most helpful would be a development plan for Ukraine from Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Associate Professor of Economics; Gerard Roland, Professor of Economics; and Edward W. Walker, Associate Adjunct Professor of Political Science!

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