Kremlin is widely believed to be behind an extraordinary Russian cash and charm offensive that is reportedly trying to court Europe’s far-right populist parties in order to strengthen the Russia’s political influence within the EU.
The strategy, which is supposedly an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy ‘toolbox’, has recently included France’s xenophobic Front National (FN) party, and politicians from three German parties including the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Social Democrats (SPD). French far-right party Front National led by Marine Le Pen, a controversial figure in the country’s political scene this week admitted taking a €9 million loan from a small Kremlin-linked financial institution called First Czech-Russian Bank. The cash will be used to fund the party’s campaign for next year’s regional elections.
In Austria, following questions raised in the local media by the left-wing SPO party about the independence of far-right FPO party, the latter has defended its relations with the Kremlin. In response to being caught in Russia’s wider strategy to gain influence in the EU, the FPO leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, said “we are convinced of our neutrality and we do not get financial donations or credits” for the party’s pro-Russia politics.
The SPO spoke out when Strache posted picture on Facebook of himself and other FPO top men at a high-level conference entitled “Ways of Overcoming the Crisis of Confidence in Europe” in Moscow that was chaired by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Meanwhile, Tatjana Zdanoka, an MEP from Latvia’s pro-Russian Latvijas Krievu savieniba party, is facing similar accusations. The FPO, the Front National, Latvijas Krievu savieniba, but also Bulgaria’s Ataka and Hungaria’s Jobbik sent observers to separatist “referendums” and “elections” in March and November in Ukraine’s Russia-occupied Crimea and Donetsk regions. Apart from their vocal criticism of EU integration and support expressed for Russia’s war on Ukraine, these parties regularly vote against Russia-critical resolutions in the European Parliament.