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Putin's Western Allies
Why Europe's Far Right Is on the Kremlin's Side
MITCHELL A. ORENSTEIN is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University and an Associate at both the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. Follow him on Twitter @m_orenstein.See more by this author
Given that one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated reasons for invading Crimea was to prevent “Nazis” from coming to power in Ukraine, it is perhaps surprising that his regime is growing closer by the month to extreme right-wing parties across Europe. But, in both cases, Putin’s motives are not primarily ideological. In Ukraine, he simply wants to grab territory that he believes rightly belongs to him. In the European Union, he hopes that his backing of fringe parties will destabilize his foes and install in Brussels politicians who will be focused on dismantling the EU rather than enlarging it.
In Hungary, for example, Putin has taken the Jobbik party under his wing. The third-largest party in the country, Jobbik has supporters who dress in Nazi-type uniforms, spout anti-Semitic rhetoric, and express concern about Israeli “colonization” of Hungary. The party has capitalized on rising support for nationalist economic policies, which are seen as an antidote for unpopular austerity policies and for Hungary’s economic liberalization in recent years. Russia is bent on tapping into that sentiment. In May 2013, Kremlin-connected right-wing Russian nationalists at the prestigious Moscow State University invited Jobbik party president Gabor Vona to speak. Vona also met with Russia Duma leaders including Ivan Grachev, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Energy and Vasily Tarasyuk, deputy chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources and Utilization, among others. On the Jobbik website, the visit is characterized as “a major breakthrough” which made “clear that Russian leaders consider Jobbik as a partner.” In fact, there have been persistent rumors that Jobbik’s enthusiasm is paid for with Russian rubles. The party has also repeatedly criticized Hungary’s “Euro-Atlantic connections” and the European Union. And, more recently, it called the referendum in Crimea “exemplary,” a dangerous word in a country with extensive co-ethnic populations in Romania and Slovakia. It seems that the party sees Putin’s new ethnic politics as being aligned with its own revisionist nationalism.