Vladimir Putin may or may not have blinked on Ukraine. His promise, thrice made, to withdraw Russian troops along the border has yet to be carried out, it appears—but the Russians seems resigned to the idea that Ukraine will hold its presidential election this Sunday, May 25. And the pro-Russian separatists who’ve declared various “people’s republics” here and there in Ukraine’s east are losing steam, thanks in part to the work of a local billionaire who’s apparently decided that his coal and steel empire prefers Western outlets and credit lines, rather than Russian ones. In any case, if Russia is serious about wanting a negotiated, diplomatic solution in Ukraine, then the election of a president and the creation of a government that has some more legitimacy will give Moscow someone with authority to talk to.
But, please, Mr. Putin, stop with the talk about Ukraine being run by “Nazis” and “fascists”—at least as long as you’re in league with actual pro-fascist parties in Europe.
This isn’t exactly new, and of course Russia’s alliance with Europe’s Nazi-like far right takes second place to Moscow’s enormous business ties with Europe’s oil and gas consumers and Germany’s corporate elite. Still, it’s getting new attention lately, and it’s more than troubling that Moscow is in bed with Hungary’s Jobbik party, Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and other anti-European Union extremists.
Part of it is pragmatic. That is, Russia wants to exploit the anti-EU sentiment of Europe’s anti-immigrant, fascist-leaning right wing. And the rightists in Europe, who include traditional, pro-family, pro-religion types and would-be strongmen and mini-Mussolinis, are attracted to Putin’s penchant for putting down dissent, suppressing the Internet, building up the Orthodox Church and its rightist priesthood and inflaming Russia’s own “exceptionalist,” nationalist constituents.
Writing last month in Foreign Affairs, Mitchell Orenstein detailed much of Russia’s support for Europe’s far right, in a piece called “Putin’s Western Allies.” In it, he says:
In Hungary, for example, Putin has taken the Jobbik party under his wing. The third-largest party in the country, Jobbik has supporters who dress in Nazi-type uniforms, spout anti-Semitic rhetoric, and express concern about Israeli “colonization” of Hungary. The party has capitalized on rising support for nationalist economic policies, which are seen as an antidote for unpopular austerity policies and for Hungary’s economic liberalization in recent years. Russia is bent on tapping into that sentiment. In May 2013, Kremlin-connected right-wing Russian nationalists at the prestigious Moscow State University invited Jobbik party president Gabor Vona to speak. Vona also met with Russia Duma leaders including Ivan Grachev, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Energy and Vasily Tarasyuk, deputy chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources and Utilization, among others. On the Jobbik website, the visit is characterized as “a major breakthrough” which made “clear that Russian leaders consider Jobbik as a partner.” In fact, there have been persistent rumors that Jobbik’s enthusiasm is paid for with Russian rubles.
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And he adds:
The Kremlin’s ties to France’s extreme-right National Front have also been growing stronger. Marine Le Pen, the party leader, visited Moscow in June 2013 at the invitation of State Duma leader Sergei Naryshkin, a close associate of Putin’s. She also met with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and discussed issues of common concern, such as Syria, EU enlargement, and gay marriage. France’s ProRussia TV, which is funded by the Kremlin, is staffed by editors with close ties to the National Front who use the station to espouse views close to National Front’s own perspective on domestic and international politics.
One doesn’t have to go to the establishment American press and pundit class to learn about Russia’s showering of favors on Europe’s far right. In a recent interview on RT, the Russian media outlet, there’s a long interview by a fawning RT reporter with Geert Wilders of the fascist, anti-immigrant Dutch party. Among the softball questions to Wilders, whose Euroskepticism (i.e., his anti-EU diatribes) is well known, the RT interviewer “asks”:
I want to talk about the rising Euroscepticism. Prominent US politician and author Pat Buchanan, I’m sure you know who he is, he recently said that nationalism is on the rise, while globalization is a the thing of the past. Do you share his point of view?
Of course, Wilders agrees. Later on the RT interviewer favorably cites Wilders anti-EU, anti-immigrant allies in the UK, Switzerland and France, in another “question”:
But you’re not the only one actually voicing this concern—there is France that is being actually very worried about the immigration problems. Switzerland is tightening its borders, also Britain is sounding alarm. Do you think it’s something that’s going to pass, or is it something that is going to escalate into something bigger?
Or Pravda. In a recent, shocking editorial, Pravda pretty much openly acknowledged Russia’s support for the fascists in the European Parliament, which holds continent-wide elections this month. The editorial, entitled “European Parliament May Stop Acting Like USA’s Lap Dog,” says:
The extreme right have the largest influence in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Great Britain, Finland, Greece and Denmark. They have two main slogans—to refuse from the European Union [sic] as a supranational body that enslaved national sovereignty, and revise migration policy towards its extreme tightening. The only countries, where deputies of extreme right parties are not represented in the election, are Portugal, Spain and Germany. To Russia, this trend is interesting from the point of view of the fact that these forces support Russia in its position on the Crimea and Ukraine. Thus, the leader of the French National Front, Marine Le Pen, said that she shared “common values” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Marine Le Pen believes that good relations with Russia make the minimum necessary for peace in Europe. In her opinion, the EU actions against Russia come contrary to the interests of the Europeans. “I want to stand at the head of a non-aligned state, which does not subordinate to either the U.S. or Russia, and conduct equitable negotiations with both powers,” AFP quoted Le Pen as saying.
The New York Times, in a European survey piece, reports extensively on Russia’s ties to Europe’s far right. Reports the Times:
Some of Russia’s European fans, particularly those with a religious bent, are attracted by Mr. Putin’s image as a muscular foe of homosexuality and decadent Western ways. Others, like Aymeric Chauprade, a foreign policy adviser to the National Front’s leader, Marine Le Pen, are motivated more by geopolitical calculations that emphasize Russia’s role as a counterweight to American power.
Russia has added to its allure through the financing, mostly with corporate money, of media, research groups and other European organizations that promote Moscow’s take on the world. The United States also supports foreign groups that agree with it, but Russia’s boosters in Europe, unlike its leftist fans during the Cold War, now mostly veer to the far right and sometimes even fascism, the cause Moscow claims to be fighting in Ukraine.
Naturally, the neoconservatives, The New Republic, and other outlets for American nationalism are having fun with Russia’s support for the far right in Europe. But US conservatives had better be careful—after all, it wasn’t too long ago that various right-wing American politicians (such as Ted Cruz) were contrasting Obama to Putin, and unfavorably—as satirized by John Stewart in a segment called “Big Vladdy.”