Russia’s current rulers successfully present themselves as protectors against a new rise of fascism in Europe. Accommodated by parts of the European Left, they gather allies of a different stamp: European right wing extremists.
Separatists from Crimea to Donetsk see themselves as heirs of the “Great Patriotic War”, as they compare the Kyjv government to Nazi Germany in World War II – a vision shared by Europe’s Far Left who denounces the EU as supporting a “Nazi state” and justifies Russian agitation. They seem to ignore that Putin’s concurrent backing for right wing parties sets European Unity at risk.
The European Left Seeking Acceptable Explanations
In the wake of the Maidan protests, left-wing Eurosceptics observed with astonishment that people were literally dying to join the European Union. Given the relative impoverishment that austerity politics imposed on EU citizens, especially in the southern member states, it was hard to believe that the European Union would still be seen as part of a “better world“ from the outside. The only acceptable conclusion that remains is therefore the foreign agitation steered from the US and EU member states, which caused the instability and led to the crisis in Ukraine.
Parties of the far Left do not share the consensus of most centrist and liberal parties that Russia is to blame in the first place, triggering aggression and violating the sovereignty of Ukraine , but instead blame the EU for supporting the interim government in Kyiv.
Issuing a statement on the deathly clashes in Odessa on 2 May 2014, the Party of the European Left [EL, a pan-European association including parties of the GUE-NGL group in the European Parliament], had no doubts that after the ousting of President Yanukovych, a much worse regime was about to be installed:
“We are witnessing the emergence of a Nazi State fostered by the USA and the EU in Ukraine. Yesterday conflict in Odessa and other east Ukraine cities with nearly 50 victims shows the protagonist behavior of Nazi group under the guidance of Kiev”.
The chairman of the German Left Party, Die Linke, Gregor Gysi used similar words, quoted later benevolently by the English-language channel of Russian state media:
“They formed a new government… Immediately recognized by president Obama by the EU and German government as well. Ms Merkel! The vice- prime minister, the defense minister, minister of agriculture, environment minister, the attorney general… They are fascists!”
Following leftist traditions, pacifist and antifascist arguments are at the core of justifying the course towards Russia that Die Linke follows since presenting their policy statement on Ukraine on the pre-election summit in March. The biggest opposition party, commonly referring to themselves as the “only peace party in the German Bundestag”, not only opposes sanctions against Russia but defends the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty as part of a righteous agenda to protect Russian minorities.
In love With The Power Vertical – The Eurasian Model Attracts Eurosceptics
Eurosceptics who see the external actions of the EU as destabilizing while simultaneously trivialize how Russian state politics led to an erosion of international law standards need to be asked whether their main goal is to maintain peace or to indulge in anti-establishment party rhetoric.
Furthermore, critics from the leftist angle need to take into account that there are other political actors who not only benefit from widespread discontentment with the “rule of technocrats” in Brussels, but see the current Russian leadership as a desirable model for their own political agenda.
A type of political order that relies on a steep hierarchy of decision-making and a strong nation state is welcomed by the electorate of right-wing populists and far right parties, and makes Russia a desirable ally as opposed to the tradition of Anglo-American liberalism that failed in the eyes of many.
Although Eurosceptic parties still struggle to form functioning coalitions in the European Parliament, they change the debate in the national arena. Their promise to reclaim national sovereignty and bring politics “back to the people” enjoys high popularity. Leaving aside populist claims to be the “only trustworthy representatives of the people” it is essential to investigate what alliances right wing parties are searching for and what other leaders they listen to.
“Peoples of Eurasia! Unite!” Far-Right Eurosceptics’ Alliance
In its newest report, the Hungary based think tank Political Capital pointed out how European far right parties maintain and enhance their relations with the Russian government. The authors described a major shift in political discourse in Central Eastern European countries turning Russia – the former “state-enemy number one” – into a model for marginal, anti-EU and nationalist parties.
For Hungary’s Jobbik the Russian model of statehood is apparently a path to follow. Good relations with Russia – characterized by the party official Gábor Vona as a “guardian of the European heritage” – were highlighted in the 2010 program of this strongly anti-European party.
Looking further west, the report sees the French National Front as the leading party of a “pro-Russian block” in the European Parliament. The National Front’s successful leader, Marine Le Pen, who outperformed all other French parties in European elections every , expressed her commitment to the Russian government earlier in her speech for the presidential elections in 2011.
Similar tendencies can be perceived in other regions of Europe. Not only right wing populist parties like the Italian Lega Nord (LN) and the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), but also clearly extremist parties like the British National Party (BNP) and the Greek Golden Dawn (XA) show ideological overlap with the “Eurasian doctrine” as an alternative to the Euro-Atlantic partnership. Closeness that is sustained by regular meetings with high rank Russian state officials.
The most exclusive encounter behind closed doors took place in Vienna’s Liechtenstein Palace in May, in commemoration of the Congress of Vienna, restoring the “old order” in Europe back in the 19th century. In this truly imperial ambiance, Konstantin Malofeev, billionaire and creator of the pro-Kremlin foundation St. Basil the Great, organized a get-together for Russian and European ultraconservatives and right wing populists. The Schweizer Tagesanzeiger reported the attendance of leaders of the Austrian FPÖ, the French National Front – both parties with strong racist and anti-Semitic tendencies – as well as the Bulgarian right wing extremists Ataka, met by their Russian colleagues. Among the latter there was Alexander Dugin, former National Bolshevik and a most colourful personality, who wrote affirmatively about the rise of a “authentic, real, radical, revolutionary and consequent fascist fascism”. As a professor in sociology and well known publicist, he has close connections to the establishment of United Russia, propagates conservative and nationalistic views on “Eurasianism”, and proclaims the “collapse of the Western World”.
The pseudo-historic and enigmatic quality of the “Eurasian idea” tries to attract politically unsettled minds of both the right and left sector.
Beyond The Veil Of Ideology: Machiavellian State Politics
The double game of Putin’s “United Russia” – its support for right-wing groups in the EU while justifying its approach towards Ukraine in the eyes of the European Far Left through denouncing the Ukrainian government as a bunch of fascists – clearly reveals that ideological orientation is subordinated to the logic of foreign policy power play.
The search for allies among the European Eurosceptics follows overpowering principles of Machiavellian state politics. This approach – effective but less striking than military manoeuvres – shows soft power instruments in use. Several “active measures” in Russia’s foreign policy towards its Western neighbour countries have been formulated earlier, including “pro-active political involvement: e.g. creating links to a variety of political actors, assisting reorganisation and coordination of pro-Russian parties, export of political technologies and consultation around elections”. [See: Sinikukka Saari 2011]
This pragmatic approach proves that the European far right is not knocking on closed doors at the Kremlin. Often enough the initiative is on the side of Putin’s “United Russia” regardless of party preferences, as the example of Bulgaria shows. In the poorest member state of the European Union, the governing socialist party has been reportedly enjoying strong ties to the Russian state administration. How far the entanglement between Sofia and Moscow has really grown was revealed when the European Commission recently confirmed opening treaty violation proceedings with Bulgaria. The government was allegedly favouring the Russian gas company Stroytransgaz in negotiations concerning the consortium of the South Stream pipeline.
Pro-Russian Internationalism Or Back To The Nation State?
From a leftist view, pacifist ideals go along with the notion of internationalism. Borders are believed “to run along classes and not along countries” – as it is put in the policy statement on Ukraine by the German Left Party.
With all due respect to the noble ideals of pacifism, Europeans need to be aware that in relation to their European Neighbours the current Russian government doesn’t act in the sense of internationalism but remains clearly state-centred. According to this logic – the logic behind current foreign policy – respecting borders “along countries” would in the end serve the goal of pacifism better. The principle of invulnerability of borders cannot be neglected for the sake of generalised visions of overcoming the realm of the nation state. European diplomats are able to reach out to the Russian side without giving in to imperial demands, which has been recently proved again during the meeting of the Kaliningrad Triangle – foreign ministers of Russia, Poland and Germany – and this ability is best expressed by the position of Minister Sikorski:
“We are ready to cooperate with Russia. But with a Russia that abides international obligations.”
Political decision-making has since long left the narrow space of the nation state behind. Cooperation across borders between political groups who share common values and ideological orientation could lead to a greater exchange and help to relocate Russia on the mental map of Europe – a process of rapprochement that goes both ways. The presence of EU-based institutions and NGOs in Russia is a result of such logic and has been perceived rather positively as bridging over the divides left by the Cold War period.
European Unity In A Globalised World – A Value In Itself
However, internationalism needs to be treated with caution as long as Russian leaders’ definition of the term follows principles of Soviet expansion. Moreover, equating European traditions of liberal democracy – a search for compromises between multiple stakeholders – with the relatively new concept of “sovereign democracy” – obviously forged by the single sovereign leading Russia during last 15 years – need to come under careful scrutiny. Temptation of leaning towards the far right and left alike, boosted by mistrust towards and misinformation about European institutions, is rising. But rather than blaming the Eurosceptic parties for the landslide success of their populist propaganda, major political groups should ask themselves why they fail to be seen as representatives of EU citizens.
If Europeans do not manage to form and communicate a clear cut vision of what defines the European model of democratic rule, they shouldn’t be surprised if other powers offer simple and pleasing ideas. The emerging “Eurasian connection” under guidance of Russia’s conservative elites is not likely to lead into greater international solidarity but will throw Europeans back to the idea of concurring nation states.
In this context, the endless negotiations and constant refusal of the European Council to decide for the future president of the European Commission is not only a careless disrespect towards the election outcome but puts the unity of the European Union at risk. Besides – or actually because of – facing the challenges of globalization much effort still needs to be invested in constitutional questions essential for the future cohesion of the European Union.