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Putting Putin in his Place

BRUSSELS – At least six crises are testing Europe’s stability: regional chaos caused primarily by the war in Syria, a potential British exit from the European Union, an influx of refugees on a scale not seen since World War II, unresolved financial challenges, Russian expansionism, and the return of nationalism to mainstream politics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has intentionally exacerbated at least four of these crises. In addition to his adventurism in Ukraine, he has injected obstructionism into European politics through his support of populist and euroskeptic parties, escalated the conflict in the Middle East by his military intervention in Syria and, as a consequence, aggravated the refugee crisis. The EU must wake up to the threat Putin poses and begin to counter his aggression.

The nationalism sweeping Europe, indeed, has been partly fueled by Russian funding of far-right political parties, the rise of which has prevented Europe from crafting a collective response to the refugee crisis. In the United Kingdom, the pro-Putin UK Independence Party is nipping at Prime Minister David Cameron’s heels, so the government refuses to commit to taking Britain’s fair share of refugees. Similarly, Sweden has closed its borders, in response to the far-right Sweden Democrats’ rapidly rising poll numbers. This sorry calculus is being carried out across the continent.

Meanwhile, Putin has derailed the international community’s efforts to negotiate a political solution to the conflict in Syria, the root cause of the refugee crisis. Russia’s support of the Syrian government’s assault on Aleppo has stymied the peace process, which depends on the cooperation of global players, regional powers, and the moderate opposition forces that Putin is bombing.