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.