Russia’s drive to create dissent among Western democracies just hit an unexpected speed bump.
On Friday, the European Union agreed that Russia was “highly likely” to be responsible for the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in Britain earlier this month. And not only that, but most EU states say they plan to take action against the Kremlin. The bloc stands against the attempted murder of civilians with a military-grade nerve agent on EU soil.
Europe, in other words, will not allow itself to become like Syria’s chemical battleground.
Britain has already expelled 23 Russian diplomats, while EU leaders announced they will recall the bloc’s ambassador to Moscow because of the “grave challenge to our shared security.” Next week, other EU members plan similar steps on their own.
“I think it is clear that Russia is challenging the values we share as Europeans, and it is right that we are standing together in defense of those values,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May.
The EU’s “unqualified” support is especially noteworthy because of its ongoing differences with Britain over the terms of that country’s exit from the Union, or Brexit. It is also surprising given that a few EU members, such as Greece and Hungary, tend to side with Russia on many issues.
As more countries like Russia favor authoritarian rule, Europe may be waking up to the need to better embrace a rules-based international order and the democratic values that undergird it.
Leaders such as President Vladimir Putin who fear dissent at home often need to create enemies abroad. Since 2014, Russia has hacked apart Ukraine and hacked into the computer centers of several European countries. It also has a recent record of military intimidation and state-sponsored assassinations.
Such actions are more a sign of weakness than strength. Thus the response by the EU, as a club of democracies, points to the strength of its values rather than any threat of physical retaliation. It also signals a further containment of Russia, as during the cold war, while leaving a door open for the Kremlin to change its stripes.
The EU was founded to end wars on the Continent. And its solidarity around core peacemaking values has long been its best defense. Even with one foot out of the door, Britain may have seen what the EU is all about.