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24 April, 2014  ▪  Olha Vorozhbyt

Putin’s Regiment in the EU

The “referendum” in Crimea revealed Vladimir Putin’s partners in the EU. Most are minority radical parties which, according to his design, have to undermine the EU’s already quite unwieldy system from the inside with Moscow’s support

Putin’s annexation of the Crimea has again drawn attention to the political fifth column in the EU – the oftentimes marginal radical parties that voiced their support for the Kremlin’s actions. They are a political motley crew, ranging from the far right to the far left, but are not afraid of finding themselves in one company with each other and Moscow.

The easiest way to see who in the EU supports Putin’s annexation of the Crimea is to browse through the list of “international observers” at the “referendum” Moscow staged on the peninsula. They include MPs representing the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in the National Council. The FPÖ is a far-right radical party, which did not prevent it from becoming the third biggest party in Austria. It dispatched its “observers” to the Crimea and they, of course, saw no violations there. One of them, Johannes Hübner, said that everything went well during the vote. At a press conference following the pseudo-referendum, FPÖ Chief Heinz-Christian Strache lambasted the Austrian government for not sending any official observers. Strache only forgot to mention who paid the travel and accommodation expenses for his Parteigenossen who went to the Russia-occupied territory. According to profil.at, an Austrian media outlet, the sponsor was the Eurasian Observatory for Democracy and Elections led by Belgian far-right radical activist Luc Michel, a long-time supporter of Putin.

The first place on the list of Europe’s best-known right-wing radicals is shared by the Hungarian party Jobbik and France’s National Front (FN) led by Marine Le Pen. Both parties dispatched their representatives to the Crimea. There is some background to this decision. The Russians tried to actively cooperate with these political forces throughout 2013. In May, Jobbik’s leader Gábor Vona was in Russia where he had an open discussion with the Kremlin’s ideologist Aleksandr Dugin. Thus, the reaction of his party’s representatives, who called the Crimean vote “exemplary” and “a triumph of a community’s self-determination”, came as no surprise. The Hungarian radicals would like to transfer this “triumph” to Zakarpattia (Transcarpathia), a Ukrainian region bordering on Hungary, and have already publicly declared this intention.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Right Model for the Right Europeans: How Vladimir Putin has become an example to European right-wing radicals 

Marine Le Pen visited Moscow in June 2013 at the invitation of Chairman of the State Duma Sergey Naryshkin, who is also a close friend of Putin. She also went to the Crimea at the time. Her spokesman Ludovic De Danne said that the “referendum” was legitimate and that “the Crimea is historically part of Russia”. Le Pen and her party arewidely rumoured to receive financing for their projects from Moscow.

Mateusz Piskorski, a representative of the Self-Defence of the Republic of Poland, a marginal eurosceptic party, also agreed to be an “observer” at the “referendum”. Piskorski headed the group of “international observers” in the Crimea and recognized the vote as legitimate. The Bulgarian Ataka party declared the same position. Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University in Boston (USA) Mitchell A. Orenstein wrote in his article for The Foreign Affairs that WikiLeaks data shows that Ataka had close contacts with the Russian embassy. The parliamentary group of this political force demands that official Sofia recognize the results of the “referendum”. On 1 April, the party went even further, threatening to overthrow the government if Bulgaria supported a new round of Western sanctions against Russia over the Crimea.

However, right-wing radical parties are not the only forces in the EUthat supported the Kremlin’s aggression. They were joined by minority left-wing forces, such as the Communist Party of Greece and the German Left Party. Interestingly, the Greek communists said that the “referendum” did not either “effectively solve the issue of intervention or take care of real problems”, because “most people in Russia and Ukraine are suffering in conditions of capitalist barbarianism”. However, they called the position of the EU, USA and NATO on the situation in Ukraine and the “referendum” in the Crimea “a moment of hypocrisy”, because these are “the same forces that played a key role in tearing Yugoslavia apart”.

RELATED ARTICLE: Edward Lucas on the Old New Cold War

The German Left Party (Die Linke) surprised everyone by voicing its support for Putin. Deputy Chairperson Sahra Wagenknecht said that the annexation of the Crimea had to be accepted, adding that she understood Russia’s fears over Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO. In her opinion, even though the Russian invasion of the Crimea was a violation of international law, it was “a reaction to an undesirable development of events”, i.e., the creation an interim government in Kyiv.

The EU’s powder keg

“The Putin government’s cordial relations with Europe’s far right sit oddly, to say the least, with his opposition to ‘Nazis’ in the Ukrainian government. … Putin’s dislike for Ukrainians ‘fascists’ … has to do with the fact that they are Ukrainian nationalists [and] stand for independence in a country that Putin does not believe should exist separate from Russia,” writes Orenstein.  Even more bizarre is the fact that radical representatives of the opposite ends of the political spectrum, the far right and the far left, are willing to be part of Putin’s regiment in the EU. There is one common feature that catches the eye upon closer inspection: nearly all of these parties are eurosceptic and want to either reformat the EU one way or another or dissolve it altogether. Orenstein believes that this may be the main reason why the Kremlin favours these parties and helps them grow in every way. In this manner, Putin wants to destabilize the situation in the EU and safeguard himself against its further expansion.

Some analysts are afraid that the far right may claim unheard-of 20 per cent in the elections to the European Parliament in May, which may, in the long-term perspective, lead to a serious political crisis in the EU.

The Kremlin’s active cooperation with the Europeans following the rationale that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is already bringing nice dividends to Putin but may backfire on his collaborators in the EU.


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