The decade in review: Europe, and the reawakening of the Russian bear


Let’s say you had nodded off for a long, if chilly, nap on the banks of the Moscow River 10 years ago.  How different a world would you wake up to now?

Within the Kremlin walls, not very different at all, notes correspondent Mark Phillips: Vladimir Putin was re-elected twice in this past decade, and will be in office until 2024, at least. But the world outside those walls is a different place because of him.

It’s certainly different in the Crimea, the Ukrainian province he invaded and annexed in 2014.

And it’s tragic for the 298 people who died on the Malaysia Airlines plane shot down over Ukraine by a Russian missile.

And Putin’s influence is felt well beyond Eastern Europe, particularly in the last U.S. presidential election, where he’s accused of sanctioning an internet troll campaign against Hillary Clinton – accused by just about everybody but the U.S. president.

“They said they think it’s Russia,” Mr. Trump said in Helsinki in July 2018. “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a joint news conference in Helsinki, July 16, 2018. GRIGORY DUKOR/REUTERS

The American president’s relationship with the Russian leader has seemed better than with old allies, says Pulitzer Prize-winning writer on European affairs, Anne Applebaum.

“Putin set out on a strategy that seems on the face of it incredible,” said Applebaum. “He decided that what he wanted to do was break up the European Union, break up NATO, and get the United States to leave Europe. It’s pretty clear that the U.S. president admires Putin in a way that he does not admire American allies.”

If there was one picture that summed up the misery of the decade, it was this one: The body of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Kurdish-Syrian refugee, washed up on a Mediterranean beach. 

Turkey Boy On Beach Trial
A paramilitary police officer stands over the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, near the beach resort of Bodrum, Turkey, September 2, 2015. A year later, his father, Abdullah Kurdi, who also lost his wife and another son, said, “Politicians said after the death of my family: ‘Never again!’ Everyone allegedly wanted to do something after the photos that had so moved them. But what is happening now? The dying goes on and nobody’s doing anything.” Nilufer Demir/AP

Hundreds of thousands fled endless wars in the Middle East and poverty in Africa. And when they made their way through Europe, they triggered an anti-immigrant backlash, and the rise of populist leaders, including Viktor Orban in Hungary and Matteo Salvini in Italy.

Protection of borders was part of what drove the Brexit vote in Britain that is taking the U.K. out of the European Union.

And if it was a hot decade in politics, real temperatures rose as well. The consequences of global warming – heatwaves, droughts, flooding caused by melting in the polar regions – will occur more often.

“There are several spots around here, around Antarctica, that are believed to be in this irreversible situation,” said scientist Ken Taylor.

All this, no matter what the pleas of a schoolgirl who has become the unlikely face of a new international movement.

FILE PHOTO: Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg attends a debate with French parliament members at the National Assembly in Paris
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg attends a debate with French parliament members at the National Assembly in Paris, France, July 23, 2019. REUTERS

“My name is Greta Thunberg, I am 16 years old, I come from Sweden, and I want you to panic.”

The last decade has had its diversions: An American actress, Megan Markle, married into the British royal family, and discovered there is no preparation for the kind of scrutiny that involves.

But that napper by the Moscow River might be relieved to see that the Queen is still on the throne.  In a world of change, some things stay the same.

Story produced by Mikaela Bufano. 


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