How big will Russia’s political footprint be in Europe?
OnMay 25, the same day that most of the European Union member states voted for the European Parliament, presidential elections took place in Ukraine. In both elections, Russia had an obvious strategy to influence the results.
In the case of Ukraine, Russian-supported separatists did everything they could to delegitimize the process in the eastern territories, keeping voters away from the ballot boxes by threatening to shoot people who planned to vote.
In the European Parliament elections, the influence was less direct. Russia supports increasingly popular anti-EU parties on the far left and far right, hoping to have pro-Russian caucuses in the next Parliament to help articulate Russian views, and to have an impact on decision-making processes.
The tools were different, but the goal was the same: destabilization.
The recent crisis in Ukraine has especially revealed the close bonding of European far-right parties with Russia. Many far-right parties (such as the Freedom Party of Austria, the Bulgarian Ataka party, the Italian Northern League, and the Hungarian Jobbik party) have sent “independent observers” to the Crimean referendum, and their representatives in the European Parliament have openly joined forces with some of the far-left parties (including the German Die Linke) to reject a resolution condemning the Crimean annexation and the “destabilization of eastern Ukraine.”
Russian influence on the affairs of radical fringe groups is seen all over Europe as a key risk for Euro-Atlantic integration at both the national and the EU level. The recent European Parliament elections resulted in an influx of far-right and far-left euroskeptic and euroreject parties, which now form as much as 27 percent of the assembly.
Russian interests will be represented at the highest level of the European Parliament. Spearheaded by the French National Front, far-right parties may join a pro-Russian faction called the European Alliance for Freedom. While some call these forces the “Trojan horse” of Russian interests, they are not hiding their commitment. As one member, the Belgian Vlaams Belang party, has put it, “I think we can be a good partner for Russia in the European Parliament. And Russia sees us as a potential partner.”
Such a cooperation between the European far right and Russia dates back many years, and is built upon the policy of “eastern opening,” which emphasizes the economic interests of Europe; an ideological admiration for Russia’s conservative, nationalist, and strong-hand policies; pushing Russia’s agenda on international forums; and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new foreign policy of Eurasianism as a geopolitical framework.
In a 2011 article, Putin promised post-Soviet states national development and “genuine sovereignty,” without the European Union’s “gratuitous restrictions.”
Putin’s reformulated ideology, which is built on conservatism, Christianity, authoritarianism, law-and-order policies, nationalism, and state control over strategic sectors, coincides with the far right’s anti-establishment ideological platform and policy interests.
Far-right parties thus appear as natural allies for Russia against the European Union, even though their stated interest in renewed national sovereignty inherently contradicts the Russian interests of expansion and European influence.
Through what Putin calls the “active means” of his “Eurasian Doctrine,” Russia provides political and organizational support to “friendly” organizations.
In a summary report, researcher Sinikukka Saari describes three major types of Russian support:
Contacting and establishing foreign political actors (e.g., in Latvia, where the formerly insignificant Harmony Centre party won the 2011 elections with strong Russian backing).
- Establishing non-governmental organizations such as youth, minority, or separatist civil organizations (as it did in Estonia, Transnistria, and South Ossetia). The Institute of Democracy and Cooperation think-tank, which is based in Paris and funded by Russian donors, is designed to fight off Western human-rights criticism of Russia, and has hosted many right-wing figures (such as Alain Bournazel, Dominique Venner, and Béatrice Bourges) at its events.
- Supporting friendly media enterprises to influence domestic and international public opinion. A sound example of the latter is the French ProRussia.tv, which features the logo of the United Russia party and employs at least five journalists with close ties to the National Front and the French far-right scene.
The European far right is divided along many lines because parties belong to different international alliances. In what appears to be an attempt to build party families in Europe, Russia has been encouraging and hosting international meetings for the parties.
For example, in November 2013, the head of the British National Party (BNP), the head of Italy’s New Force party, and the spokesperson for Greece’s Golden Dawn party held a joint news conference while visiting Moscow. New Force and Golden Dawn are part of the European National Front alliance, while BNP is part of the Jobbik-led Alliance of European National Movements.
Jobbik and Golden Dawn have both been invited to the Russian National Forum – to be held in St. Petersburg in October 2014 – to develop a new national doctrine for Russia and Europe with the far-right parties.
Fifteen out of 25 major European far-right parties are vocal and open supporters of Russia and Russian interests, while seven can be classified as “open” and only three as hostile towards Russia.
The Hungarian Jobbik party has supported Russia since it was elected to the European Parliament in 2009. The party’s 2010 election program described the establishment and maintenance of good relations with “an increasingly influential Russia” as vitally important.
In the May 25 elections, the party maintained its success, and the “Euro-Asian foreign policy paradigm” and the renegotiation of Hungary’s EU and NATO membership are at the top of the party’s agenda.
If the radical left and the radical right have some fortune and skill in negotiations, three caucuses (a radical left, a populist right, and a far right) with open Russian sympathies could be formed.
Even if far-left and far-right players are not expected to form a politically homogeneous block, the one-fourth of the Members of the European Parliament that show open, ideological admiration for Putin’s Russia could really cause a shift in the EU’s policies.
– written by Péter Krekó, Attila Juhász and Lóránt Győri, provided to BBJ by The Mark News
Attila Juhász, MA in Political Sciences and PhD candidate at Eötvös Loránd University, currently is chief analyst at Political Capital Policy Research and Consulting Institute in Budapest, Hungary.
Loránt Győri is a sociologist and political analyst at Political Capital Institute.
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