THE RUSSIA CONNECTIONEuropean Populists Back Putin as They Roll Out Their Anti-Ukraine Positions

By Natasha Lindstaedt

Published 14 June 2024

Vladimir Putin looks to be a big winner from the populist far-right gains in the recent European Parliament election. Russia inspires, encourages and funds extremist actors because they can disrupt democratic, liberal Western countries – and the more authoritarian the world is, the less likely it is that democratic voices within Russia will be supported by other nations. The rise of the populist far right is further evidence of not just the genuine angst brewing over cost of living and identity issues, but also of Russia’s expertise in psychological and information warfare.

Vladimir Putin looks to be a big winner from the far-right surge in the recent European Parliament election.

Not content with only exercising control over former Soviet Union members, the Kremlin is now increasing its support across the rest of Europe. One significant symbol of the pro-Russia swing was the decision by the far-right Alternative for Deutschland party (AfD), to refuse to attend Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the German Bundestag (Germany’s national parliament) on June 11, along with the populist Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht party. Both parties oppose military support for Ukraine.

The AfD, which won 16% of the vote beating Olaf Schulz’s Social Democrats party into second place in Germany, said that Ukraine’s leader “needed to negotiate so the dying stops” even if this meant losing its territory. These remarks echo Putin’s stance on the war.

After the recent election, two far-right groups  – the European Conservatives and Reformists and the Identity and Democracy group – now control 131 seats out of 720 in the chamber. AfD has another 15 representatives. This adds up to a significant parliamentary far-right power base, and one which will have more influence over Europe’s position on the Ukraine war.

Concerns about German far-right parties being too close to Putin prompted a European Parliament resolution in April stating that the AfD must publicly declare all of its financial relationships, especially with Russia.

One might think that the alliance between a supposedly anti-fascist Russian regime and the increasingly fascist right-wing parties in Europe would not be a perfect match. But Russia inspires, encourages and funds extremist actors whether they are pro-Moscow or not. Why? Because they can disrupt other countries.

Far-Right Threats
Putin has skillfully influenced and infiltrated agendas of far-right groups, while also building up an extensive spy network in Europe. Propaganda operations that are disguised as legitimate news sources have spewed confusing and divisive information that promote pro-Kremlin narratives, such as the claim the cost of living crisis is being driven by sanctions on Russian energy products.

It’s not just Germany’s far right that is sympathetic to Russia, but also far-right parties in many other European countries including Slovakia’s neo-fascist Republika, Hungary’s Fidesz party, Romania’s Alliance for the Union of Romanians Party, Bulgaria’s Revival party, and France’s Rassemblement National party. All of these parties did well in the recent European Parliamentary elections, and many of the party leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán have been vocal opponents of Russian sanctions.