European officials, in utter disbelief over the chaos surrounding the United States presidential election, have been trying desperately to stay out of it in recent months.
“We don’t want anything to do with your fucked-up election,” one official in Kyiv said to BuzzFeed News last week, summing up the feelings of an anxious continent that has seen its alliance with the US erode under President Donald Trump.
But after the president prematurely declared victory mere hours after polls closed, pushing false allegations of mass fraud, several of the US’s closest allies could stay silent no longer.
With several states still to be formally decided on Wednesday morning, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer called the US election “a very explosive situation” and warned of the possibility of a “constitutional crisis.”
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was slightly more optimistic, urging patience and saying the United Kingdom has full confidence in the checks and balances of the US election process.
“We need to be patient and wait and see who wins the US election,” he tweeted, cautioning that it’s “important the process is given sufficient time to reach a conclusion.”
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Not everyone was so restrained. Alexander Stubb, former prime minister of Finland, called the election “a stress test” for American democracy. “I still want to believe in [the] resilience of its democratic institutions, but am worried about the speech that we just heard from @realDonaldTrump,” he tweeted.
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, also tweeted her concern and pointedly took a jab at Trump’s party. “Crucial hours and days ahead for the integrity of US democracy,” she said. “Let’s hope we start to hear the voices of Republicans who understand the importance of that.”
Slovenia’s right-wing prime minister, Janez Jansa, appeared to be the only European Union leader or senior official to openly back Trump, whose wife was born in the Central European nation.
“It’s pretty clear that American people have elected @realDonaldTrump @Mike_Pence for #4moreyears,” he wrote on Twitter, prompting the social network to label it as misinformation.
In addition to Trump’s attempt to undermine the outcome of the election, there was also concern about what the instability meant for Europe’s own stability.
The “deep polarization” of the US, tweeted Manfred Weber, a German politician who leads the European People’s Party, the largest political group in the European Parliament, should be a “warning” for the EU. “If we lose the ability to compromise, our democracies are in danger,” he wrote.
And some European officials were worried that the uncertainty surrounding the election could play into the hands of the US’s adversaries, particularly Russia, who longs to see a fractured EU.
“The champagne corks are popping in Moscow and Beijing,” tweeted Jörg Wojahn, the European Commission’s top official in Germany, perhaps referencing the champagne-soaked party that was hosted by a Russian ultranationalist lawmaker after Trump’s surprise 2016 victory.
Russia did appear to enjoy a strong early performance by Trump, with a leading state-run TV news program essentially calling the race for him overnight. “Biden is ahead for now, but he has practically no chance,” the news anchor falsely told viewers before breaking into a Trump-inspired dance on air.
However, as results in key battleground states began to paint a picture that looked as if Biden’s chances were improving, the tone in Moscow shifted.
Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-controlled TV channel RT, vented her frustration.
“Neither free nor fair,” she tweeted, following a string of tweets filled with false information about the election.
The Kremlin’s preference for Trump is clear, according to US intelligence, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has even admitted publicly that Trump was his preferred candidate in 2016.
However, as polls ahead of the election pointed toward a Biden victory, the Russian leader appeared to hedge his bets, rejecting Trump’s accusations that the Biden family had engaged in criminal behavior in Eastern Europe.
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Reached by BuzzFeed News on the eve of the election, Konstantin Kilimnik — the enigmatic Ukrainian Russian political operative who was indicted by former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office for conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice, and whom the FBI said had “ties to Russian intelligence” — tried to play up a Biden presidency as something the Kremlin would actually welcome.
The reason? Top officials in Moscow, like first deputy chief of staff of the Kremlin Sergey Kiriyenko “know top people in the Dem[ocratic] party quite well, and they think they will be able to find inroads into the Biden administration,” Kilimnik told BuzzFeed News via WhatsApp.
Moreover, he claimed, Russia’s political elite is “eager to go [back] to business as usual” and “they believe Biden is the guy who will be fine with it,” he said.
Biden, however, has characterized Russia as the biggest threat to US national security and has suggested he would take a much tougher approach toward Moscow than Trump has.