There’s An Unintended Foreign Policy Problem With Brexit, And Kerry Is Now In The Hot Seat

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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The United Kingdom voted Thursday to irrevocably leave the European Union — leaving the United States devoid of its strongest E.U. ally against Russia.

“Britain’s influence in the world will be diminished,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond told CNN Friday. Hammond admitted the loss of the coveted American proxy role saying, “We will just be that bit lower down the priority list of any U.S. President.”

The U.S. along with the E.U. have imposed sanctions on Russia since its annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine. While Russia has agreed to a ceasefire and treaty in the Ukrainian conflict, officials have since refused to comply with any of the treaty’s requirements. The E.U.’s energy sanctions against Russia have been particularly crippling, plunging Russia’s currency value and contracting its economy by two percent in 2015.

The U.S. has committed to extended sanctions against Russia as long as it is in violation of the Minsk II treaty. John Kerry has also consistently urged the European Union to extend sanctions. The future of the more effective E.U. sanctions against Russia are now in question with the British referendum to leave the E.U.

France and Germany, the remaining economic powers within the European Union, want to ease sanctions on Russia to urge its compliance with its Ukrainian treaty obligations. France and Germany rely heavily on Russia for its energy supplies and are eager to turn the spigots back on, despite Russia’s aggressive behavior throughout Eastern Europe and Syria.

The next E.U. conference on extending sanctions against Russia will happen in six months. The U.K. was a key bulwark against the French and German position. “The Russians are playing a game, frankly a game of divide and rule, targeting those who are temperamentally inclined to talk about relaxation, pressuring them. It is a big mistake,” British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, told reporters Monday. Now, the U.K. will no longer have a say in E.U. sanctions on Russia.

“The Kremlin’s influence in Central and Eastern Europe has flourished thanks to clever energy policy,” writes Dalibor Rohac in his book Towards an Imperfect Union: The Conservative Case for the EURohac elaborates that individual European nations have not been “particularly effective in responding” to Russia’s swaggering in Europe.

Conservative editor of The Economist Edward Lucas told The Daily Beast Britain’s membership in the E.U. enabled it to take pro-American positions against Russian energy manipulation in Europe. Lucas further noted that Britain’s full throated assaults on the Kremlin’s behavior have “done more than any NATO contingency plans.”

NATO has been the bedrock of American power in Europe since its formation in 1949. “To fight the terrorist threat we need both the EU and Nato and we need stronger cooperation between Nato and the European Union,” NATO Secretary General Jan Stoltenberg told the Guardian the day before the UK referendum. After the United Kingdom’s vote, John Kerry and President Barack Obama will have to find another American advocate in the European Union.

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