European Far Right and Putin

15. 3. 2017

Russian influence in the affairs of the radical fringes is a phenomenon seen all over Europe as a key risk to European stability, security and Euro-Atlantic integration. These forces not only oppose deeper integration in the EU, but also impede stronger ties with the United States, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

In the autumn of 2014, a spy story like James Bond novel was published in the Hungarian news website , written by András Dezső. Very interesting new information put Béla Kovács in the spotlight, a Hungarian MEP for the ultranationalist Jobbik party in Hungary, who was charged by the Hungarian prosecutor’s office with espionage for Moscow earlier this year.

We cannot say that his life is extraordinary in any way. His foster parents have grown him up in Japan, and his foster father was working at the embassy for Moscow. He attended the American University in Japan and then continued his university studies in Moscow. Then he was allegedly running businesses in Moscow and Tokyo, and then moved back with his wife to Hungary in 2003. His wife’s life seems to be much more atypical—especially if we look at it through the lens of the conservative family model that Jobbik is advocating for. She has at least two other husbands beside Béla Kovács, one in Japan, and another one in Austria. She seems to live the life of the KGB spies, with a lot of travels and several identities. The seriousness of such claims is reiterated by the fact that even Jobbik leaders are just half-heartedly defending him anymore and are talking about the needs for investigations as well.

Béla Kovács has joined Jobbik in 2005, a year when it was still only a small party of marginal importance. He donated a considerable sum to the party in a period when it was seriously lacking resources—this fact was proven even by the leader of the party, Gábor Vona. According to Index’s article, “his rapid rise in the party hierarchy was due in part to this and his generosity.” Due to his extensive ties with Moscow, even his party members called him “KGBéla” behind his back.

He was an important party member who shaped the foreign policy of Jobbik and was the key player in building the Russian-Hungarian relations. For example, he organized several trips of Gábor Vona to Moscow to meet with politicians and important ideologues such as “Putin’s brain”—Alexander Dugin. He managed to become a member of the European Parliament in 2009 (and was re-elected in 2014), where he was mainly responsible for contacts with Russia and for energy policy. And he was quite successful, for example he was a rapporteur three times as an independent MEP (all of them about energy policy) which is not so easy even for members of the biggest groups in the European Parliament. It suggests that Kovács might have several supporters in the European Union as well. Béla Kovács was also very helpful when it came to legitimizing Russian leaders and their goals: he participated as an election observer at the 2012 presidential election, and then at the Crimean referendum for independence as well—finding both processes, of course, free and fair.

Is Béla Kovács’s (not totally revealed) story only an isolated one or does it point to a more general pattern? What seems to be completely obvious is that Russia has a lot of great admirers among far-right players in Europe, and this is more than just a platonic love.

We can find some important contradictions here. First of all, Russian propaganda, which is always blaming the government in Kyiv with far-right sympathies, appears to be quite sympathetic to these forces. Geert Wilders, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and others are frequent interviewees in pro-Kremlin media outlets such as Russia Today. Furthermore, there have been several meetings in Moscow, Turin, and elsewhere, between far-right players (including leaders of Jobbik, Lega Nord, FPÖ, Front National) and high-level Russian stakeholders, which obviously shows a commitment from Moscow to help these far-right parties. Vladimir Putin even went as far as to call FN leader as one of the most promising future leaders of Europe in an interview with RIA Novosti.

A second contradiction is that these far right parties want to dissolve the EU because they see it as a threat to national sovereignty. Yet at the same time they either want to side with Russia to enter into the Eurasian Union (Jobbik) or create a“Pan-European Union” (Front National). Golden Dawn leader went so far as to say that Greece and Russia are natural allies, and in return for its security, Greece must provide Russia with access to the Mediterranean sea. It seems that while these countries are concerned about national sovereignty when the West poses a “threat” to it (EU, NATO), they are happy to sacrifice national sovereignty to Russia. And here lies the third contradiction: while these political parties are claiming that they are defenders of national interest, they act more like defenders of Russian interests. But of course, we can see similar contradictions on the pro-Russian far-left as well, since they (e.g. Syriza, Die Linke) act like the mouthpieces of Kremlin. They are supporting a nationalist, authoritarian regime of huge social inequalities that openly goes against the core value of left-wing ideologies: equality.

There are eight EU countries where we can find relevant, obviously pro-Russian radical forces: France (Front National), Italy (Lega Nord), Belgium (Vlaams Belang), Austria (FPÖ), Hungary (Jobbik), Bulgaria (Ataka, Patriotic Front), Slovakia (Slovakian National Party, Marián Kotleba’s LSNS), Greece (Golden Dawn). In two countries (UK—UKIP and the Netherlands— PVV), these parties are in the process of shifting towards a more pro-Russian position. All of these parties (except the ones in Slovakia) have delegates in their respective national parliaments and/or in the EU parliament.

After the EU Parliamentary elections there are fourteen far right parties with seats. They have an ethnocentric ideology and aim to destabilize the EU. They range from the neo-fascist organization Golden Dawn in Greece to the very dissimilar Freedom Party in the Netherlands. Eight of these parties are obviously committed to Russia (such as the Front National, which received 25% of the votes and sent 23 candidates to the European Parliament at the end of May alone). Two of these fourteen parties are openly hostile to Russia, an example being the far right True Finns Party in Finland. The country’s history with Russia explains its stance. The remaining four parties are “open” to Russia—such as GeertWilders’ Freedom Party that also voted against the resolutions criticizing Russia in the EP and it has spectacularly more positive coverage in the pro-Kremlin media than before.

These parties can be a royal route for Russia to influence political decisions on the national and the EU level. But even more importantly, they may use this influence to stall or derail many political discussions or decisions, to promote Russia’s standpoint in diplomacy, and thus spread the pro-Russian views regarding for example the Ukrainian and the Syrian conflict.

Furthermore, these parties seem to support Russia not only with statements, but also with votes, both on the national and the EU level. Far-right parties (along with some far-left parties such as the Die Linke in Germany) voted against the resolutions criticizing Russia for the annexation of Crimea in the European Parliament, as well as against the Association Agreement with Ukraine. When explaining this latter decision, Nigel Farage claimed for example: “Amongst the long list of foreign policy failures and contradictions of the last few years (…) has been the unnecessary provocation of Vladimir Putin. This EU empire (…) stated its territorial claim on the Ukraine some years ago. Some NATO members said they too would like Ukraine to join NATO. We directly encouraged the uprising in the Ukraine that led to the toppling of the President Yanukovich, and that led of course in turn to Vladimir Putin reacting. (…) In the war against Islamic extremism Vladimir Putin—whatever we may think of him as a human being—is actually on our side. (…) I suggest we recognize the real threat facing all of our countries (…), we stop playing war games in Ukraine, we start to prepare a plan to help countries like Syria, like Iraq, like Kenya… to try to help them deal with the real threat that faces us.”

These forces obviously aim to undermine stability in Europe. Russian influence in the affairs of the radical fringes is a phenomenon seen all over Europe as a key risk to European stability, security and Euro-Atlantic integration; especially in view of the Ukrainian crisis. These forces not only oppose deeper integration in the EU, but also stronger ties with the United States, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. All this is important for Putin, given that he is interested in a weak, divided, chaotic Europe, and these parties, most of whom are rather on the rise and doing their best to undermine the legitimacy of their respective governments and the European project. But they also pose a threat to the United States because most far-right and far-left groups are anti-American and can undermine U.S. policy interests. They could destabilize NATO by halting its expansion and setting off a “chain of mass quitting.” These parties are also against importing American shale gas and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Radical parties are stronger than before: they now sit in the EU institutions and have a considerable impact on the political environment and even on the political decisions.

While there is a growing interest in this topic, most of the links between the far-right players and the Russian stakeholders remain unrevealed. An important task of analysts, investigative journalists, intelligence services and national and European stakeholders in the future is to explore the political, diplomatic, personal and ideological links between Russia and these far-right forces in order to destroy their credibility and reveal their true agenda. Europe and the West should be able to defend themselves against the threats that are coming from the inside—but encouraged and amplified from the outside.

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