Russia’s support of the European far-Right dates back to the early years of the Soviet Union says Anton Shekhovtsov, visiting fellow at Vienna’s Institute for Human Sciences.
He says that already in the 1920s the Soviet Union tried to infiltrate the Nazi movement by developing relations with “the so-called left-wing Nazis and national Bolsheviks.” The reason for this, says Shekhovtsov, is that “the Soviets really couldn’t understand which regimes were their main enemies” but sought to undermine the influence of capitalist Britain and France by supporting the German far-Right.
The feeling was mutual. “There was also a feeling on the part of the far-Right in Germany, especially the national Bolsheviks, that they could cooperate with Soviet Russia, being a brotherly proletarian nation that was also against the capitalist West,” says the visiting fellow, adding that Russia’s support of far-Right groups today is less covert than it was in the 1920s or even the 1950s, having “developed from Russian domestic interests into a way to influence European politics.”
Two institutions intended to undermine the West
He says that two institutions have been set up under Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin to undermine the unity and legitimacy of the European Union: alternative mechanisms for electoral observation and alternative media.
The former involved arranging for far-Right European activists to serve as observers in elections “the OESC would not consider legitimate or fair.” According to him, the Crimean referendum of March 2014 involved “observers” from far-Right political groups Russia had been cooperating with since 2006. He cites Poland’s Center for Geopolitical Analysis in Belgium’s Eurasian Observatory for Elections as examples of western organizations which provide Russian state media with western points of view that differ from those of other liberal western institutions.
Although alternative electoral observation institutions exert little, if any, influence on western public opinion, the same cannot be said of the alternative media. However, here, too, the primary goal is to enlist the aid of European far-Right activists “to show to the Russian audience that Putin’s Russia is fine.”
“For the Putin regime it was very important to show to the Russian population that not everybody in the West is so critical about human rights and rule of law in Russia” and that “there are other points of view,” says Shekhovtsov.
While not all far-Right parties are pro-Kremlin, he says a number of pro-Russian ones can be found in EU member states, including France’s National Front, Italy’s Northern League, Bulgaria’s Attack (Атака), Austria’s Freedom Party and Hungary’s Jobbik.
Shekhovtsov says there are many parallels between how the Russian media described the Ukrainian revolution of 2014 and the Hungarian uprising of 1956, and that both events were described by Russian state media as fascists trained by the West to stage coups against the legitimate government.
In 1956 Russian state media reported that there were real grievances and that some Hungarian leaders had made mistakes, which the fascists exploited to stage a counter-revolution.