Anne Applebaum, The Financial Times, June 26, 2015

ast November, Germany threw itself a party commemorating the fall of the Berlin wall. At the time, the nation couldn’t have seemed more unified: “The ‘ancient states of central and eastern Europe,’ as Churchill once called them, now belong to the EU and Nato too, and are much more prosperous and more free than ever before”. A year ago, these states’ place in the western world seemed unquestioned. But could Russia mastermind a reversal of these nations’ western roles? With Putin strategically dividing the EU to undermine European transitions, one might reasonably expect cold war sentiment to make a comeback. And, so far, Russia has been winning the public relations war. Its support for anti-European, anti-American, and anti-establishment political movements and media of all ideologies has had its greatest success in the former Soviet bloc. The prior attraction to the dazzling West clearly seems to be dimming in central and eastern nations. For this, we shouldn’t necessarily place the whole blame on Russia, for “Russia does not create the regional malaise: it just seeks to encourage it where possible”.

Even political parties across Western Europe are maintaining friendly ties with Russia. Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, Austria’s Freedom party, and Italy’s Lega Nord party are among those which do. In Greece, a myriad of parties from the far-right to the far-left support the Kremlin as well. If Russia is merely attempting to destabilize Europe by gaining the favor of malleable, impoverished central and eastern nations and their populist parties, it has certainly had success. But spreading anti-European sentiment does not equate to actually toppling an establishment and creating a pro-Russian government in its place –if we are to believe this is Putin’s final goal. In reality, the end goal may be far simpler: persuade Germany that its former special relationship with Russia is more important than hassling with increasingly uncooperative EU colleagues.

Get in deeper:

Artisan Cheese Makers in Russia Seek Gain From Import Ban by VOA

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Even the agriculture minister called the idea of adding a European wine ban ‘radical’, given that domestic production is nowhere near enough to meet demand, not to mention the quality. But… the bullish tone of the reporting is typical of the defiant mood in Russia after a year under Western sanctions.Sarah Rainsford, BBC News, June 25, 2015
We do know that economic sanctions do not work especially when they are applied on a large country such as Russia. Not only they are not going to be effective, i.e. force Russia to change its position, but they are not going to be efficient either…Vladimir Sergeev, Sputnik News, June 23, 2015
Every time I take a bag full of eight wedges of parmesan, four blocks of cheddar and an assortment of goat’s cheese through Heathrow I’m pulled aside for security check. ‘I live in Russia,’ I tell them. ‘Sanctions. You can’t get real cheese.Fiona Clark, Deutsche Welle, May 31, 2015
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