A Trump victory could lead to a “redrawing” of the European map, strengthening Putin and enabling him to weaken the NATO alliance. How do you assess these concerns of Eastern European politicians?

Over the past 30 years, Eastern Europe has not become accustomed to a seemingly perfect world or a magical belief in the political power of peacefulness, which has spread in Western Europe in recent decades. The memory of Tsarist and Soviet oppression and Western betrayal of European values is hardly a living memory today. Nevertheless, the collective perception of national security in Central Eastern Europe is still shaped by knowledge of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, the division of Europe at Yalta in 1945, and the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. Today, Eastern Europeans have confidence in NATO, as the alliance is feared in Moscow as strong and determined. However, if Russian respect for NATO were to diminish after Trump’s victory, the Central Eastern European nations would be very worried. They fear that they would then become fair game for Russia again – just as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are today.

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What would a Trump victory mean for Eastern Europe and what consequences would it have?

It is difficult to make a clear prediction as Trump has no clear foreign policy profile and is mentally unstable. He is considered pro-Russian, and possibly controlled by Putin through compromising information. Nevertheless, Trump is also a problem for the Kremlin due to his unpredictability. For example, Trump is said to have recently stated that – if he had been president in 2022 – he would have bombed the city of Moscow in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Many Eastern Europeans are unhappy with Biden and his indecisiveness towards Russia. However, Biden and the Democratic Party are predictable. Trump and his supporters, on the other hand, are seen as a risk. The functional logic of NATO as a defense alliance is based on trust, clarity and predictability. This will no longer be the case with Trump as US president. It is also possible that Trump’s defeat in the presidential election will have a negative impact on the functioning of NATO. The US could sink into internal conflicts and become incapable of acting in foreign policy.

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Moscow Says It Won’t Participate in the Second Peace Summit
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Moscow Says It Won’t Participate in the Second Peace Summit

Russia’s deputy foreign minister said that Ukraine’s “peace formula” is a “dead-end” and complained about the deliberate “ignoring of other initiatives” to end the war in Ukraine.

“A Trump victory in 2024 would undoubtedly lead to the end of American support for Ukraine,” warns Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Do you agree with this statement and what would a Ukrainian defeat mean for Eastern Europe?

I am not quite as pessimistic as Vindman, although we should of course prepare for the worst-case scenario. Europe must prepare for an end to American aid to Ukraine and a watering down of US security guarantees within NATO. However, Trump’s foreign policy behavior as president would continue to be determined by more than just his unstable personality and the quirky ideas of his political camp. The Trumpists, even if they regain the White House, cannot simply ignore American institutions and traditions. Therefore, while we should prepare for the worst, we should still look to the future with hope.

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To what extent could Trump as US president play into Putin’s hands so that he can assert Russia’s interests in Eastern Europe?

If – in the worst-case scenario – Ukraine no longer receives US aid and the United States’ commitment to stand by NATO under Trump comes into question, Europe will have to change quickly and fundamentally. A kind of European rump NATO would then have to reposition itself. Should NATO even disappear completely in the worst-case scenario, the EU would have to transform itself from a mere economic and political community into a security and defense alliance. By granting EU candidate status to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in 2022-2023, the EU and its 27 member states also became indirect participants in three European territorial conflicts with Russia that are already more or less bloody. More and more European states are also currently concluding security agreements with Ukraine, and the EU has just signed a separate security agreement with Moldova. The scope and risks of the EU’s ever deeper involvement in the post-Soviet space would grow if the US were to withdraw from Europe. This would be a moment of truth for the continent and a test bed for the much-vaunted European idea.

Over the past 70 years, the question has always been whether European integration and common security only exist because and as long as Washington holds its protective hand over Europe. If the American protective umbrella is removed, it could turn out that the idea of a united and solidaric Europe is only a mirage. The European states would have to practice a form and degree of security, foreign and defense policy cooperation among themselves in NATO and/or the EU, as well as in relation to the so-called Association Trio (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia), with which they have no experience to date.

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After 70 years, whether Moscow can assert its hegemonic claims in Europe would no longer be primarily a question for Washington but would depend on the extent to which the people here see themselves as Europeans, with all the consequences that entails.

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