OCT. 26, 2017 — The British are now looking into whether President Vladimir Putin’sRussia intervened in the United Kingdom’sJune 2016 referendum on continued membership in the European Union. The “Brexit” won by about 52 percent, but it’s unclear whether Russian interference in the affair, through social media buys or other means, made a difference. Many people in Britain long have had reservations about integration and complaints about the EU, so the outcome did not come as a shot from the dark.
At the same time, Russia was in favor of Britain’s leaving the EU as a means of putting the cat among the pigeons among the EU members, which include former satellites of the former Soviet Union.
Russia has also interfered in recent elections in France, Germany and the United States. It has showed itself capable of weighing in both through media and through technological capacities in the field of communications, hacking into inner-party communications and, less clearly, voting mechanisms. This is troubling to the affected nations, but it must be kept in mind that governments the world over, including various U.S. administrations, often had tried to meddle in others’ internal affairs.
In the United States there are still underway investigations into the role of Russia in the 2016 elections. The most vigorous of these is led by special counsel and former FBI head Robert S. Mueller III, but there are less reliable, more politicized inquiries being carried out by the Senate and House of Representatives Intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee. These risk being slow-rolled in spite of their importance due to possible links they are exploring between Trump campaign personnel and Russians.
Negotiations between British and EU representatives over Brexit, which still has the support of the British public, is giving the U.K.’s political leadership, including Prime Minister Theresa May, fits. One painful issue is how much the British will have to pay the EU, based on commitments it undertook during its membership, to get out. Another is the new situation in terms of rights of British citizens in remaining EU members and other EU member countries’ citizens in Britain.
Another knotty question is what the new, post-Brexit situation will be at the border between Ireland, which will remain an EU member, and Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom but a part whose population voted against Brexit. That border is now wide open. Its changed status, to the border between an EU member and a nonmember U.K., risks blowing up the famous 1998 Good Friday agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.
Another major problem in the evolving EU-British negotiations is that, given the shaky political situation inside and among the British political parties since the Conservatives lost May’s hastily called elections in June, EU countries and negotiators are not certain that the British government can deliver home approval on any agreement reached with them.
If nothing else, Putin has to be wringing his hands with glee at both the intra-British quarreling over Brexit and the tension occasioned by the negotiations over Brexit between the British and the rest of the Europeans — just as he must be smiling at the energy Americans continue to expend battling each other over Donald Trump’s election.
All of this plays into Russia’s hands and points up for Americans the necessity to get to the bottom of the mischief that Russia has been able so far to wreak in American politics, and the need to block it off before Americans go to the polls again.