With the British Parliament's lopsided rejection of Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan and the US partial government shutdown dragging on, the two oldest and most important Western democracies are simultaneously mired in utter political chaos with no obvious way out.

Against the backdrop of the American withdrawal from Syria and US President Donald Trump's musings about pulling out of Nato, it adds up to a strategic bonanza for President Vladimir Putin and his vision of a revanchist Russia.

We don't know exactly how much Moscow spent supporting influence operations to impact the UK and US elections in 2016, but it seems hard to overstate how good the Kremlin's return has been on what Western intelligence agencies believe was a relatively modest investment.

Russian efforts to manipulate American voters during the last presidential campaign have been aggressively covered, but the Kremlin's bid to boost Brexit was perhaps even more brazen.


The Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a meaty report last week about Russian influence operations overseas, but it was entirely overshadowed by the latest bombshells stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

The 206-page report outlines Russian disinformation campaigns across 19 countries. It highlights loopholes in UK campaign finance laws that might have allowed an influx of Russian money to boost the referendum. That's not to mention the propaganda from Russian-run Twitter and Facebook accounts, plus state-funded media.

"The allegations that have emerged of Russian interference prior to the Brexit referendum are all the more stunning given the innate resilience within British society to the Kremlin's anti-democratic agenda," the senators conclude in their report. "Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a US president."

The latest Brexit breakdown followed a New York Times report that Trump has been more serious than previously understood about wanting to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

"Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set," Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper report.

"There are few things that [Putin] desires more than the weakening of Nato . . . American national security officials believe that Russia has largely focused on undermining solidarity between the United States and Europe after it annexed Crimea in 2014. Its goal was to upend Nato. . . . An American withdrawal from the alliance would accomplish all that Mr Putin has been trying to put into motion, the officials said - essentially, doing the Russian leader's hardest and most critical work for him."

The two most important beacons of freedom in the world are dimming.

And just as the seas become more dangerous when lighthouses go dark, the same is true on the increasingly stormy world stage.


Will January 2019 be remembered as the month that the West came unmoored?

Previous generations had Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Harold Macmillan and John Kennedy. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. In 2019, there is Theresa May and Donald Trump.