Putin Meddling in Eastern Europe and the Middle East

Will President-elect Trump confront the Russian psychological operations in Europe and Moscow’s meddling in the Middle East? Will the new administration be capable of strengthening the NATO alliance, thus keeping the Germans in and the Russians out?

By Nicholas Dima l December 5, 2016


This past November, Bulgaria, a European Union and NATO member located strategically on the Black Sea near Greece and Turkey elected a pro-Russian president. Also in November, Moldova, a country that was aspiring to join the two organizations, elected a pro-Russian president that advocates membership in the Eurasian community of nations. Hungary, on the other hand, is increasingly vocal against EU decisions and is flirting with Russia. After the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia, Serbia is also upset with America and is now courting Russia. More importantly, Turkey, a powerful NATO member and a strategic ally of the United States, is warming up to Russia, thus threatening the frail balance of power in the Middle East. To complicate the situation, several Western European countries, such as Germany and France, are cozying up to Moscow, losing sight in the process of Russia’s geopolitical goals. In fact, for a number of years, now Russia under Vladimir Putin, has been conducting psychological warfare against American interests. In Europe, only Great Britain identified the danger and denounced Moscow’s insidious actions, while the United States was overwhelmingly preoccupied with the presidential elections.

Will President-elect Trump confront the Russian psychological operations in Europe and Moscow’s meddling in the Middle East? Will the new administration be capable of strengthening the NATO alliance thus keeping the Germans in and the Russians out? Apparently, there is hope.

On December 1st, Associated Press reported that the U.S. Congress has become aware of the new danger posed by Russia: The House “Passed a 93-page intelligence policy bill that calls for a high-level panel to counter Russian political interference around the globe.” The AP wire mentions, however, that “it is a measure that might run counter to President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to improve U.S. relations with Russia.” The bill, voted 390 to 30, addresses national security threats and has a classified annex. The Senate is expected to take up the issue and most likely pass the bill before the end of the year. The bill provides for “an interagency panel to stifle Russian attempts to exert covert influence over peoples and governments.” It refers specifically to . . . “exposing falsehoods, agents of influence, corruption, human rights abuses, terrorism and assassinations carried out by the security services or political elites or the Russian Federation or their proxies . . .” The question is: Why did Congress not react years ago and instead the Obama administration tried to reset relations with the same aggressive Russia?

At this point Russia’s intentions appear to be fourfold: 1) organize an anti-American pole at a global level; 2) neutralize Western Europe; 3) regain control over Eastern Europe; and, 4) make impossible an American-sponsored peace settlement in the Middle East. And, so far, Moscow seems to be winning. While Russia is acting, Obama’s America has barely reacted.

In light of recent events in Europe and elsewhere, Washington will have a hard time countering Moscow’s operations because the West does not stand on clear moral ground anymore. Take, for example, the process of globalization, which is strongly promoted by America. It has led to the ruining of the Eastern European economies without much to show for a better life except for a small group of former communists who robbed the national economies of their countries and managed to ingratiate themselves to Western corporations. At the same time, in the name of democracy the EU is pushing Eastern European countries to adopt allegedly democratic rights that impinge on their moral values. As a result, certain minority groups are getting more attention and enjoy more rights than the majority of the population. A number of corrupt Romanians, for example, were sentenced to prison. In the new prisons regulated by EU standards, prisoners live by hotel standards, are allowed to order food from outside, are permitted to go to see their doctors, if they claim to be sick, and are freed ahead of time, if they write books. It is ridiculous, but according to the Romanian press some of the prisoners authored several books in one single year. (As a visiting professor in Bucharest this past November, I was asked about life in prison during the communist years. My students were shocked by my own experience in communist prisons. And I referred them to my book, Journey to Freedom, published by the Selous Foundation in 1989.)

While in Bucharest in my native country, I watched with keen interest the presidential elections in Moldova. The Russian maneuverings and pressures were felt everywhere. The pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon was openly helped by Moscow and by the Russian oligarchs. And, because the vote was close, Moscow’s agents brought busloads of voters from the Russian-controlled Transnistrian Republic to vote for Dodon. At the same time, numerous Moldovans residing abroad were prevented from voting by the limited number of bulletins each voting center had received from Chisinau. Despite the huge Russian efforts and inflow of financial support, the pro-European candidate Maia Sandu received over 40 percent of the votes. Some analysts considered this to be a great success. Moldova is a very touchy issue for Romania and remains of continuous interest to Bucharest.

A few days before the Moldovan elections, I had a personal meeting with the former President of Romania, Traian Basescu. He served as president from 1994 to 2004 and was a strong pro-American and pro-NATO advocate. He was the only Romanian president who spoke of Moldova as a lost Romanian land and who asked for Moldovan citizenship. The citizenship was granted to him at a public ceremony held at Moldova’s Bucharest Embassy, and he was one of the first to vote for Ms. Sandu. However, I noticed certain sadness when we spoke of America’s policy in the region. He mentioned that initially, after the fall of communism, America was willing to support the reunification of Moldova with Romania. Why did Washington change its policy and was so soft on Russia during the last several years?

Nicholas Dima, Ph.D, is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. He currently lectures and is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the online-conservative-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.