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Joseph MicallefBack on June 9, 2012, the Russian tabloid Express Gazeta published a series of ]maps that depicted how Europe might look in the year 2035. So far, in light of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the recent “Brexit” vote in the United Kingdom, its projections are proving to be remarkably prescient.

In the article, the Crimea was shown as Russian territory, two years before its seizure by Russian forces. The Donbas basin in eastern Ukraine, much of it currently controlled by pro-Russian separatists, was also shown as part of Russia. So too, was the entire Black Sea coast of Ukraine from the Don River to present day Moldova.

Scotland was shown as being a separate, independent nation. Northern Ireland had joined Ireland and Great Britain had been reduced to just England and Wales. All very plausible scenarios in light of the UK’s recent vote to leave the European Union (EU).

What about the rest of Europe? According to the Express Gazeta, Europe in 2035 is a continent in disarray. Powerful separatist currents, driven by ethnic and nationalist sentiment, have significantly disassembled centuries of European nation-building. The tabloid makes no reference to the state of the EU, but it is hard to see how the EU would have survived such powerful nationalist forces of disintegration and ethnic conflict.

In 2035 Europe, Italy has divided into four separate nations; the rich industrialized north has finally cut loose the indolent south. The new border now runs between Tuscany and Lazio. Sardinia and Sicily have both gone their own way. Spain, too, is a fragmented version of its former self, with Catalonia and the Basque country both having achieved independence.

In what must be the ultimate Polish nightmare, Germany has expanded eastward, reclaiming its former regions of Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia, while Russia has seized additional Polish territory in the east, in what must have been the third German-Russian dismemberment of Poland.

For its part, Russia has reclaimed a broad region of ethnically Russian territory from the Baltic states to Romania. The Gazeta makes no references to what kind of diplomatic and political influence the Kremlin can now extend over Europe, and especially over its former satellites, but it’s safe to assume that Russian influence would cast a long shadow over European affairs.

France has lost Corsica, now independent, and the former regions of Alsace and Lorraine, which are now part of Germany. French Savoy has become a separate “Islamic Piedmont” where Paris has resettled its Muslim citizens in their own independent state.

Elsewhere the forces of disintegration reign supreme. Belgium has split into ethnic halves, with the Flemish portion joining its Dutch cousins. The Balkans have returned to their 19th century chaos. Bosnia-Herzegovina has disappeared – divided between Croatia and Serbia. Turkey has seized the predominantly Turkish ethnic areas of Bulgaria, while Hungary has regained some of its historic, pre-First Word War lands.

While the maps are hardly an official statement of Russian foreign policy aims, their underlying implications are in fact consistent with the broad themes of Russian policy in Europe.

First, that a powerful Russia is a force of stability in Europe and is the only power able to contain German ambitions. Significantly, in 2035 Europe, Germany is the only European country that actually enlarges its borders, and it does so by reclaiming territories from Poland and France that have historically been at the centre of long-standing and bitter conflict.

Secondly, those countries in the “Near Abroad,” both former Soviet states and satellites, who turned their backs on Russian and tried to cozy up to the West, are punished by the loss of significant territory. Those countries that remained loyal to Mother Russia, like Serbia, see their territories expand.

Here again, the message is unmistakable: neither the EU nor NATO will ultimately protect Eastern Europe from either German revanchism or Russian retribution. Better to accept your place in the Russian world order now or accept the inevitable consequences later.

There is no mention of what role the United States would play in Europe in 2035. With NATO and the EU in tatters, how would the U.S. project its power and influence on the continent? Would the U.S. maintain a military presence there or would it have withdrawn altogether?

Perhaps this is the ultimate Putinesque fantasy, as it was for Stalin in 1946: that Washington would withdraw from Europe and that a fragmented, disintegrating, chaotic Europe would fall under Russian influence, if not direct control.

Is this a Kremlin fantasy? A Putinesque daydream? In light of the Brexit vote and the steady rise of Euro-skeptic parties on the continent, it is a fantasy that is at least based on powerful forces of nationalism and ethnicity that are real and substantial, and that are pushing Europe in the direction of fragmentation and chaos.

Budapest’s announcement on July 5 that it had set October 2, 2016, for a referendum on whether it should accept Syrian refugees further underscores that the fallout from Brexit will be far reaching and has only begun to be felt.

Even if they ultimately fall short of creating the Europe 2035 that Express Gazeta envisioned, these powerful ethnic and nationalist forces will work in the Kremlin’s interest. Moscow can be expected to encourage them, both surreptitiously and diplomatically, in the years ahead.

Joseph Micallef is a historian, best-selling author and, at times, sardonic commentator on world politics. 

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