After Russia allegedly poisoned former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK., 27 countries expelled Russian diplomats. Among the countries are 18 EU member states and several pro-Russian governments (Hungary, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova).
What does this mean?
While the expulsions are largely symbolical measures, they reveal a deepening of the unity of the West against Russia. The attempted assassination of Skripal is part of a larger series of hostile Russian measures (e.g. the invasion of Crimea, election meddling) that has united the Western world in its attitude towards Russia. Because a divided West is in Putin’s interest, it may seem that Russia is now in a weak position, especially since in the last few years NATO and particularly Eastern Europe have slowly reached consensus to boost defense spending and deploy troops on the Eastern borders. However, there are multiple factors that shape relations between Russia and the West, which means unity on the European continent against Russia is fragile.
Several factors cause lasting division within the West towards Russia, which means Russia stands stronger than we might think. Fundamentally, there is the split between the U.S. and Europe. For the U.S., Russia is a distant threat, and American analysts often believe that Russia is on the brink of collapse (e.g. Ian Bremmer, George Friedman). But Europeans, connected to Russia on the Eurasian continent, experience Russia’s lasting regional power. Hence, in Europe, there are those like the German Social Democrats, much of Southern Europe (currently Italian populist parties in particular), and most anti-establishment parties with a softer attitude towards Russia. Their rise could exacerbate division within the West. In addition, in the long term, the rise of China could bring Russia and Europe closer together as the interests of China and the rest of the Eurasian continent could clash.