The victory of François Fillon in France’s center-right presidential primary is the latest sign that a tectonic shift is coming to the European order: toward accommodating, rather than countering, a resurgent Russia. Since the end of World War II, European leaders have maintained their ever-growing alliance as a bulwark against Russian power. Through decades of ups and downs in Russian-European relations, in periods of estrangement or reconciliation, their balance of power has kept the continent stable. But a growing movement within Europe that includes Mr. Fillon, along with others of a more populist bent, is pushing a new policy: instead of standing up to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, stand with him.
Mr. Fillon has called for lifting sanctions on Russia and for partnering with Moscow in an effort to curtail immigration and terrorism. He is friendly with Mr. Putin. If pollsters are right and Mr. Fillon wins the French presidency in the spring, he could join several rising European politicians and newly elected leaders who are like-minded.
Their movement, scholars stress, is driven by forces far more formidable than any elected leader: the populist upsurge that is remaking the Continent and, simultaneously, the impersonal but overwhelming pressures of international power balancing.
These changes, along with the impending British withdrawal from the European Union and the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, foretell a “dramatic shift” in the half-century of Western unity against Russia, said James Goldgeier, a political scientist and the dean of American University’s School of International Service in Washington. “All the trend lines right now point away from a tough approach to Russian aggression and point toward more accommodation of the Russian notion that they have a privileged sphere of influence,” he said.