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Putin and the European Right: A Love Story

Apologists for the Russian leader are poised to make big gains in the EU elections next month.

by Katerina Safarikova 16 April 2014

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right party National Front, made headlines last week with a visit to Moscow. She blamed the EU for declaring a new Cold War on Russia and sided with Vladimir Putin on the future of Ukraine. Like the Russian leader, but unlike every Western European government, she supports “federalization” of Ukraine, widely seen as a device via which the Russians could divide and rule eastern regions of the country.

 

It was the second time in only 10 months that Le Pen made an official trip to the Russian capital. She went to Moscow in June on an invite from Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of the lower chamber of parliament. Then, too, Le Pen said the EU is waging a new Cold War, and she was accorded the ceremonial niceties – a red carpet and a state banquet – of a state visit.

 

The relationship between the Kremlin and the National Front go way beyond a handshake photo op. Madame Le Pen’s entourage is filled with Russophiles who cultivate friendship with Moscow. Among them is geopolitical strategist Aymeric Chauprade – a personal adviser to Le Pen, a National Front candidate for the May EU elections, and recently one of the Kremlin-invited international “observers” of the Crimean referendum.

 

Chauprade runs an opinionated website called Realpolitik TV that serves as an outlet for the National Front’s anti-Western propaganda. An active contributor there is Xavier Moreau, who has had a private security agency in Moscow since 2000 and runs his personal blog, “The Banana Republic of Ukraine,” on Chauprade’s website.

 

According to French media and a report by the French League of Human Rights, Moreau is a key contact for Le Pen in Moscow and manages a network of extreme-right supporters in the Russian capital. Not much is known about the content of contacts between Le Pen and Russia’s rulers, nor about whether Moscow finances National Front activities in any way. But some party members acknowledge the importance of Russia’s agenda within Le Pen’s group.

 

“Our interests and those of Russia coincide and we have a certain network of expats in Moscow with whom we work,” National Front lawmaker Bruno Gollnisch told the French press. Of Moreau, he said, “He has friends in Moscow and especially among Putin’s entourage. He has served as an intermediary at various opportunities.”

 

Le Pen shares many of the Russian president’s views. No liberal, she dreams of state-owned industry champions a la Gazprom. She would re-establish border controls among EU members and restrict marriages between French citizens and resident non-citizens.

 

The Russian state machinery is betting that public opinion in the West will embrace the nationalistic, socially conservative paradigm already installed in Russia, and having friends among the would-be architects of that shift comes in handy.

 

Kremlin officials “see in Marine Le Pen a promising figure who will profit from increasing racism. And even if she doesn’t achieve her ends, it will have cost them nothing to forge ties with her,” Russian political analyst Dmitri Oreshkin told the French daily Le Figaro.

 

Le Pen doesn’t walk alone in this. Nationalistic, socially conservative parties have emerged in almost every European state over the last decade or so and are set to gain an unprecedented number of seats in the forthcoming EU vote.

 

They’re not all alike. The Dutch Freedom party of Geert Wilders, an ally of Le Pen for the European elections, despises Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands precisely because they’re socially more conservative than the Dutch, and Wilders sees them as a threat to his country. The Danish People’s Party steers clear of Russia’s homophobic agenda, which likely would be a loser with Danes.

 

Still, their points of agreement are many. The European far right echoes Putin’s criticism that the West, especially the EU, is rotten and corrupt, and hence should be brought down. Both the Western far-right leaders and the Russian president aim to wrest more power for their governments and look askance at international cooperation.

 

In this context, it isn’t surprising that the vast majority of the main right-wingers largely share Putin’s view on Ukraine. Wilders, the Danes, Austrian Heinz-Christian Strache, and Hungary’s Jobbik party blame the EU for causing the crisis, claiming Putin was merely reacting to the West’s vendetta against him. In the Dutch parliament, Wilders spoke of Brussels’ “expansionist and militaristic agenda.”

 

This would all be merely interesting if it had no real implications. But if the opinion polls prove correct, various far-right parties could get as much as a fifth of the 751 seats in the EU parliament in May.

 

This means potentially 150 Putin apologists, or at least 150 allies ready to hook up with Moscow at the West’s expense. Russia’s West-baiting president could soon find himself with a ready and very vocal base of support in Strasbourg and Brussels.

Katerina Safarikova is a journalist with Czech daily Lidove noviny and online news and opinion site Ceska pozice.

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