Anton Shekhovtsov
Anton Shekhovtsov

Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (Austria)


Putin’s Friends on the New Political Map of Europe

2017 was quite a successful year for the European project. Far-right parties did not win in key countries such as France and Germany. Or, rather, the consolidation of the far-right did not take place in the countries where we thought or feared it would happen.

In the Netherlands, the last minute surge by the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy ensured that the far-right Freedom Party would not become the largest party in the Dutch House of Representatives. In France, Marine Le Pen was soundly defeated in the presidential elections and her National Front won only 8 seats in the National Assembly.

However, the far-right party Alternative for Germany received 12.6% of the vote in the September elections, enough for 96 seats in the Bundestag and third place overall. Their presence in the parliament may have brought Germany closer to her European counterparts where the far-right also have representations in their parliaments. If AFD propagates right-wing populism instead of neo-Nazism or fascism, that ideology has a right to be represented in the Bundestag as it is supported by a substantial part of a population as a form of opposition to the talking points of liberal democracy so widely-spread nowadays. It is good for liberal democracy as it returns the discussion on emigration, cultural and national identities into a more civilized framework.

Today Europe is in the situation of duality, where the dialogue between the two poles of power will determine the future of the European Union. The first pole is represented by France and Germany, especially after the victory of Emmanuel Macron and his recent speech where he outlined approximate plans for future much-needed reform of the EU.

The second pole is the Visegrád Group and in particular Poland and Hungary, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia catching up. This block is formed around non-liberal trends, which are predominant in these states. Even though today these movements are concentrated in Hungary and Poland, similar trends appear to be growing stronger in the Czech Republic.

In my opinion, the dialogue between these two poles will largely determine the future of the European Union. Europe’s near future will likely be centered around the debate of Macron’s plan. This plan will be strengthened by Germany’s position after the creation of the Jamaica Coalition (CDU, FDP, The Greens). Currently, Germany is still in a transitional state and is not taking part in the discussion so far, but will most likely join after the rebooting of Merkel’s government.

As for the influence of the Kremlin, the main allies of the Putin regime in Germany are the Social Democrats, who had and still have much more influence than the “Alternative for Germany”. The latter is by far the most pro-Russian party, but in terms of its importance, it is very much inferior to the Social Democrats, in particular, in the business sphere. Among the Social Democrats, there are lobbyists of big businesses and large industrial groups in Germany who, guided by postmodern Realpolitik sentiments, would like to return to the relations they used to have before with Russia and the Putin regime.

Despite a lot of doubt, there’s still an optimistic air to be found around the development of the European Union. There’s a good possibility that when put to the test, the far-right’s arguments and plans will crumble as they fail to deliver real results. Marine Le Pen should not be dismissed yet, but on the other hand, the National Front is at a chaotic crossroads following their dual defeat at the ballot box. Perhaps the National Front is doomed to split into a more moderate and a more radical wing. The Kremlin, of course, will continue to influence or will try to influence the processes that take place in the European Union, not only through the far-right but also through business structures through Putin’s and his closest associates’ personal connections with leading or significant politicians of the European Union. The paradigm of attempts to influence will persist.

Kremlin has acted and will act based on a variety of national contexts. If the Putin regime gets to cooperate with mainstream players or more influential players, then Russia will not resort to any particularly destructive actions. If these Putin’s friends disappear or lose their influence, it is likely that the regime will again turn to cooperation with the far-right. It will always depend on the specific national context.

For example, speaking of the parties Jobbik or Fidesz in Hungary (the latter is in power, the former is the in the opposition to the latter), Russia, as far as I know, does not support Jobbik, although it was quite pro-Russian and, probably, stays the most pro-Russian party. But Russia does not support Jobbik for the simple reason that there is Fidesz, with which Russia is pleased to work. And since Jobbik is in the opposition to Fidesz, then it would be somewhat inconvenient for Russia to support the opposition to its friends. Similar situations happened in many countries, including France in 2012, when Marine Le Pen was eager to cooperate with Russia, to meet and communicate with Putin. But Putin initially placed its stake on Nicolas Sarkozy or François Hollande. It did not work out when Hollande became President and the only thing left was to start cooperation with the National Front. In other words, specific context is important for Putin’s Russia: with whom to work, through whom to influence, and if not influence, then, perhaps, engage in some kind of subversive actions.

 

122