‘They do not deserve the democracy paid for with the lives of Soviet soldiers’. This quote from Komsomolskaya Pravda, a left-wing Moscow based newspaper in response to the election of Emmanuel Macron in the French elections that took place last year. From the outside, it seems rather strange that a far left-wing paper like Komsomolskaya Pravda would support the far-right candidacy of Marine Le Pen. However, the collective voice of the Russian media was firmly on the side of the Eurosceptic right-wing FN and Le Pen while also accusing her opponent at various times of being a tax dodger, a closeted homosexual and a psychopath. This comes as no surprise to those who have been watching the development of closer ties between Russia and various Eurosceptic right-wing parties during the premiership of Vladimir Putin.
This development followed quickly from the apparent tightening of ties between the EU and Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Under Boris Yeltsin, Russia was seen as ‘part of Europe’ by the liberal class and it looked as if this new liberal vision would lead to a new dawn of relations between Europe and Russia. However, the rise of Russian nationalism personified in Putin quickly put an end to that and with that any idea of large-scale co-operation between them. Any hope of this effort disappeared after Russia’s expansionist foreign policy led to sanctions from the EU. To Putin, the EU has been a thorn in his side and with talk of a European Army amid continued integration and expansion of the union that thorn may get increasingly sharper. It is clear then, that it is clearly in Russia’s interest to demolish the EU and as a result any international projection of power that could be used to punish Russia from Europe. Supporting far-right Eurosceptic political parties is a clear attempt to see this goal achieved.
Just before the election, Marine Le Pen met with Putin in Moscow, a strange move in foreign relations, as heads of state tend to meet other heads of state and not unelected foreign Presidential candidates. But this is not the first time Putin has met with candidates from far-right Eurosceptic foreign parties. Putin and his party have met with Austria’s FPO, Germany’s AfD and Italy’s Lega Nord to name a few. Indeed when Matteo Salvini of Lega Nord met with Russian MP’s, their meeting focused on signing an agreement to ‘fight Islamic extremism, ’illegal immigration’ as well as ‘ending sanctions against Russia’. A number of other Eurosceptic parties and their leaders have expressed support for Russian foreign policy in Georgia and Crimea as well as expressing admiration for the figure of Putin himself. Figures in UKIP and the Republican Party have expressed open admiration for Putin and his methods.
Not to mention the various attempts of cyber espionage logged during the French election by hacking groups linked to the Russian intelligence community. When questioned on this, Putin claimed that ‘patriotic hackers’ might have interfered with foreign elections. The words ‘patriotic’ and ‘elections’ are particularly pertinent in his response. ‘Patriotic’, implying that their aims somehow relate to the national interest of Russia. While the use of ‘elections’ as opposed to the singular ‘election’, indicating the plural as opposed to the singular. Indeed, there is evidence that attempts were made to interfere in the UK election 2015 as well as a number of attacks on Angela Merkel’s CDU party in 2016.
As the Russia investigation into Trump continues across the Atlantic, there are reasons to believe a similar situation could play out in Europe as the foundation of democracy is ‘chipped away’ by Russian interests. There may come a time when a similar public investigation(s) is carried out on this continent.