Time was when Russia’s objections to the expansion of the European Union were seen as a reactionary response from a country stuck in political and diplomatic modes more suited to the twentieth century, and which had struggled in the club of nations even then.
Now, though, the Russian perspective starts to look a little different.
Not that anyone would accuse Russia of altruism or the offering of disinterested advice – not since Leon Trotsky met the wrong end of a Soviet agent’s ice-pick has any major Russian politician attempted to do anything other than put Russia first.
But the idea that an ever-expanding European Union was, or is, a natural culmination to an inevitable Whiggish progress never made sense inside the Kremlin.
In the context of Europe’s move into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence that’s perhaps not surprising. But Europe’s own internal boundaries aren’t necessarily what they seem.
Referendums abound. One initiated the likely exit of Britain from the European Union altogether. Another now has political analysts talking almost instinctively of Catalonia as being distinct from Spain.
A third, less well-reported referendum has also taken place recently, this one outside of the borders of the European Union, but nonetheless on the borders of an aspirant member, Turkey.
Yes, Kurdistan has declared independence from Iraq via a referendum, and no doubt the Kurds on the other side of the border, inside Turkey, would dearly love to do the same, if it wasn’t for the Turkish army.
If Turkey did end up joining the European Union, Kurdistan would no doubt put itself up for consideration, the application perhaps even being supported by a referendum. And there would be elements in the European Union who would probably entertain the idea, at least in principle, as another victory in the onward march of liberalism.
But the world has been wrong-footed by Brexit – and just how much of a liberal utopia the Europeans will be able to build is now openly doubted. The Swiss, famously derided by Orson Welles as one of the most sensible nations on earth [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyuJQ_UO7OE], have never wanted in. Neither have the Norwegians. Ah, say the critics, but the Norwegians have their oil. But the British have oil too, if slightly less of it, and just how strategic oil will be in future years, with the rise of the lithium market and electric vehicles remains to be seen.
No, Britain’s involvement and its current attempts to leave will have a big long-term impact on the EU, in spite of the current European insouciance in the face of some pretty inept British negotiating.
Because it’s all very well expanding east in the name of liberal progress even if one probably predictable by-product is the precipitation of civil war in the Ukraine.
But if the overall cost is that in the west ancient democracies choose to secede then surely the substance and implementation of the dream have to be called into question.
After all, what is the European Union ultimately for? Trade and the exchange of ideas? – well, yes.
But what no-one ever actually says is that it’s real purpose is to allow German dominance of Europe to occur gradually and without the unprecedented mass murder that occurred in the twentieth century.
To that extent, it’s succeeding. Since the days when Mrs Thatcher opposed and Helmut Kohl drove through unification, German influence has crept across continental Europe in the form of an ever-greater financial grip on institutions and markets.
For historical reasons, Britain, until now, has been immune to that grip. But Britain is not the power it once was.
The time duly arrived last year when it had to make a choice: would it knuckle under like the French, the Italians, the Greeks and the Catholic Ukrainians and accept German economic hegemony, albeit with its modesty masked by toothless democratic institutions?
Or would it choose to go it alone?
This was not as binary a choice as seems first apparent. There are strong arguments on both sides, not the least of which is that the Germans are no longer the nation they were in the 1930s. These arguments still continue.
But as the world gets smaller, so too will power structures.
The coffee houses of 17th Century London are now the computer terminals of 21st century traders the world over, but the need for the political structures that arch over these computer-driven trading relationships is becoming less clear.