Rus­sia gam­bles on pop­ulist par­ties in anti-EU drive

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY CHRISTOPHE SCH­MIDT

From the far right to the rad­i­cal left, pop­ulist par­ties across Europe are be­ing courted by Rus­sia's Vladimir Putin who aims to turn them into al­lies in his anti-EU cam­paign.

The Front Na­tional ( FN) in France, Syriza in Greece and Job­bik in Hun­gary may be the most fa­mous ones but they are far from be­ing alone. Some, like Bri­tain's UKIP, have adopted a "benev­o­lent neu­tral­ity" to­ward Putin.

They are united in their ob­jec­tive to "chal­lenge the EU," and this in turn aligns them with Rus­sia's wish for a "weak and di­vided Europe," ex­plains Hungarian po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Peter Kreko.

In the longer term, the Krem­lin banks on th­ese par­ties' ac­ces­sion to power to change Europe and sep­a­rate it from NATO and the United States.

"Moscow wants to es­tab­lish long-term al­liances with all those loyal to Rus­sia," says Rus­sian an­a­lyst Kon­stantin Kalatchev of the Po­lit­i­cal Ex­pert Group.

Th­ese par­ties also help to pro­mote the Krem­lin's in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions. When Rus­sia an­nexed Crimea in 2014, self-pro­claimed "mon­i­tors" from the FN and Aus­tria's Free­dom Party (FPO) told Rus­sian TV that due process had been fol­lowed.

FN's Rus­sian Money

A whiff of the Cold War per­vades "this out­dated Com­mu­nis­tera style of spread­ing pro­pa­ganda and find­ing al­lies," said Jean-Yves Ca­mus, a spe­cial­ist of the French ex­treme-right.

But there ex­ists, nev­er­the­less, "a com­mu­nity of shared val­ues," he ar­gued, in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion to gay mar­riage, an is­sue that fu­els the idea of a deca­dent Europe — "a hot topic in Moscow."

Rus­sia's se­duc­tion strat­egy is also aimed at fac­tions of the Euro­pean left. "In Ger­many, the left is the big­gest critic of Merkel's Rus­sia poli­cies," notes Kalatchev.

One of the benefits of closer ties with Moscow could be fi­nan­cial sup­port. The FN re­cently re­ceived a loan worth nine mil­lion eu­ros (US$9.8 mil­lion) from the Czech Rus­sian Bank.

French news web­site Me­di­a­part re­ported this week that hacked text mes­sages ex­changed be­tween Rus­sian of­fi­cials proved there was a link be­tween Rus­sian fi­nanc­ing and party sup­port for Putin.

FN pres­i­dent Marine Le Pen has re­jected the al­le­ga­tions as "deliri­ous."

De­spite lin­ger­ing sus­pi­cions, there is no fur­ther proof of di­rect party fund­ing, even if the Wik­iLeaks af­fair re­vealed that the U.S. am­bas­sador in Sofia had ex­pressed worry about pos­si­ble Rus­sian trans­fers to Bul­garia's ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist Ataka (Attack) party.

With Moscow, against Kiev

Ataka leader Volen Siderov launched his 2014 Euro­pean elec­tion cam­paign in Moscow, just as the Ukrainian cri­sis erupted.

A ma­jor­ity of Euro­pean pop­ulist par­ties have sided with Rus­sia over Ukraine.

The FN, for in­stance, has re­peat­edly de­scribed the coun­try's east and Crimea as Rus­sia's his­tor­i­cal cra­dle.

New Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras flew to Moscow in May 2014 while he was still op­po­si­tion leader. The visit came two months af­ter Crimea's an­nex­a­tion.

His far- left Syriza party il­lus­trates the blur­ring of po­lit­i­cal eti­quette when­ever Moscow is in­volved.

Greece's For­eign Min­is­ter Nikos Kotzias, a for­mer com­mu­nist, was pho­tographed in 2013 with Rus­sian ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist Alexan­dre Douguine, an in­flu­en­tial pro­moter of a Rus­sian-led Eurasian al­liance be­tween Europe and Rus­sia.

Yet, now that Tsipras and Kotzias are in power, their party no longer ad­vo­cates Greece's exit from NATO.

But Greece could still "paral­yse" Nato by ve­to­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion against Moscow, warns for­mer U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Zbig­niew Brzezin­ski.

How­ever, for now the Krem­lin and its pop­ulist al­lies have been un­able to break Europe's uni­fied pro-sanc­tions stance against Rus­sia.

The pop­ulist par­ties also failed to form a co­he­sive po­lit­i­cal group in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in 2014.

But the Krem­lin's right-wing strate­gists have long-term am­bi­tions, ac­cord­ing to Kalatchev.

In their eyes, "now is the time to cre­ate links with those who could be­come use­ful in the fu­ture. It's the dawn of a new Europe."

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