Whatever the truth of the allegations about Donald Trump’s relationship to Vladimir Putin, we know that the US president-elect is sceptical about NATO and too friendly to the Russian president. This has geopolitical risks for the whole of Europe – and makes it all the more important that Britain and the rest of the EU find ways of working closely together on foreign and security policy.
The latest unconfirmed allegations are that Russia has compromising personal and financial information about Trump – including enough to blackmail him if it wishes to. Both Trump and Russia have denied the claims.
The allegations are contained in a dossier prepared by a former MI6 agent for Trump’s political rivals in the US and published yesterday by Buzzfeed. CNN reports that senior US intelligence chiefs presented a synopsis of the dossier to Trump last week and that US intelligence officials considered past work by the former MI6 agent credible, though they have not verified the latest claims.
These allegations follow on from a separate report on Putin’s attempt to influence the recent American presidential election, produced by the US intelligence community, an unclassified version of which was published last week.
The report concluded that “Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
This report also said it thought Moscow would apply lessons learned from its involvement in the US election “to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.”
This report has also been denied by Russia – while Trump took until today to say he thought the Kremlin was behind hacking ahead of the election.
Even if the latest allegations are the “fake news” that Trump claims, the US president-elect is clearly friendly to Putin. This matters to Europe because the Russian president is a danger to our neighbourhood. He has annexed Crimea, destabilised Ukraine and helped Syria’s Bashar al-Assad win his civil war.
The Kremlin gives every impression of being pro-Brexit and wishing to play divide and rule with Europe’s nations. It seems to want to re-establish a zone of influence on its Western border.
The transatlantic alliance has been the bedrock of our security since World War Two. The combination of a Trump presidency and an aggressive Russia may make this less solid.
In the circumstances, Britain and the EU need to work closely together in foreign and security policy, as a recent paper from RUSI, the defence thinktank argues.The problem is that Brexit will make this harder.
However, as Germany’s Angela Merkel is fond of saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Forging such a special relationship should be one of our top priorities at the outset of the Brexit talks. If we can all see how much we need each other geopolitically, we may even find the thorny trade issues easier to resolve.
This column was updated after Trump said on Jan. 11 that he thought Russia was behind hacking ahead of the election