The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s not just Trump: With Brexit and France votes, Russia is cultivating the global right

Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on Feb. 23. (Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press)

“The Russian regime has made a very concerted effort at cultivating the global political right.”

This is one of the signs that undergird the thesis of James Kirchick’s new book, “The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age.” And in the latest episode of “Cape Up,” the veteran foreign policy reporter argues that the rise of that global right (hello, Brexit? The French elections?) can be laid at Russia’s doorstep.


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“What they’re doing is … they’re basically setting themselves up as the last defenders of sovereignty,” Kirchick said, “national sovereignty and traditional values in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized for super-national institutions.” Kind of ironic for a nation that annexed Crimea and threatens the sovereignty of neighbors such as Ukraine and the Baltic states.

As I learned from President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia, having a strong faith in NATO is a job requirement for the leader of a Baltic nation. But Kirchick worries whether the North Atlantic alliance can survive a Russia that is destabilizing Europe “on every front” and a U.S. president that is to the liking of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. “We’ve never had an American president who, at least by his rhetoric, is anti-European,” Kirchick told me. “We have a president who seems, at best, apathetic, if not actively hostile, to the two most critical institutions that have kept Europe together and free since 1945, which is NATO and the E.U.”

And that got us to a bigger discussion about Trump’s foreign policy. “It’s still a little unnerving that so much of our foreign policy is gonna be dependent on the whims of a man who has no core whatsoever,” Kirchick said bluntly.

Another harbinger of the coming dark age of Europe is the rise of anti-Semitism, which he calls “Europe’s deadliest tradition.” He notes that in Hungary, the “right-wing nationalist government is basically rewriting the history of the Holocaust and trying to write out Hungary’s complicity.” Is Kirchick concerned that the problems with anti-Semitism out the Trump White House mean anything more sinister? “I don’t think he has the intellectual patience or interest to be a fascist,” Kirchick told me. “It’s not that he’s an anti-Semite. He doesn’t care enough about other people to be an anti-Semite.”

Listen: “No, I’m not afraid….I trust NATO.”

So, can Europe and democracy in particular survive the aggressiveness of Putin and the Trump presidency? Kirchick seems to think so.

“I’m much less concerned about democracy dying in darkness in the United States,” he said. “If we’re gonna find sort of a rebirth of the European spirit, it’ll be in places like Ukraine or Estonia, in Central and Eastern Europe, where they cherish these things much more deeply than I think we do here.”

“Cape Up” is Jonathan’s weekly podcast talking to key figures behind the news and our culture. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever else you listen to podcasts.

Could French elections rock the European Union? (Video: Reuters)