The trap of democracy or the triumphal march of the far-right

No week goes by without a statement of some European leader, minister or official condemning Putin and calling for defense against the Russian threat.

However, the situation for Russia is far from desperate, as some might still believe. For years, the Kremlin, quite successfully, has been making ‘new friends’ in Europe with nationalist and far-right parties. Putin provides the funding and expects that these parties, with high electoral rates, will ultimately destabilise his adversaries and enable the influx of politicians to Brussels who are more determined to ruin the EU than to expand it. A figure like the head of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, could feel safe only if his active and potential European allies came to power. And he is working towards this goal now.

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Are they influential? Currently, none of the above-mentioned parties hold the helm of power in their countries, except for Hungary and Slovakia, but given their electoral successes, the impact on national politics and public opinion is growing fast. A large portion of the electorate is opposed to the policies of European governments and budget cuts during Russia’s war against Ukraine. European far-right groups have long succeeded in inciting hatred of immigrants and Islam, and promoting sexual intolerance. They are even triggering public irritation over “too many sacrifices” in the combat against climate change. The far-right is also benefiting from the widespread confusion caused by rapid social transformation. The appeal of demagoguery has increased due to the cost-of-living crisis created by the uneven recovery from the pandemic and Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The general dissatisfaction with traditional political parties across European countries has contributed significantly to the popularity of far-right parties. The influence of radicals is growing throughout the continent.

The elections to the European Parliament in early June will show how strong these groups are. According to latest polls, it is anticipated that far-right parties in the majority of EU nations will likely win the highest number of parliamentary seats in recent years, given the growing polarisation of society.

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Brussels is concerned that one-fifth of MEPs in the European Parliament will represent parties seeking to ruin the EU. But even if they’ll fail to ruin it, far-right MEPs may interfere with the EU apparatus and block some of its most controversial policies, such as support of Ukraine.

Putin’s war in Ukraine has made it increasingly difficult for many European right-wingers to keep up official ties with Russia. Along with internal shifts – a rejection of anti-immigration rhetoric, for example – at least part of the right-wing has started distancing from Russia and hiding openly pro-Russian politicians from the public eye. The idea of prioritization of national interests is becoming the main motivating factor for their indirect support of Russia. From this perspective, they articulate the need for lifting or loosening sanctions, and imposing restrictions on the supply of military equipment to Ukraine. Russia’s current strategy is to compel the West to stop supporting Kyiv. To achieve this, the Kremlin is using a spy network and new technologies to promote propaganda supporting pro-Russian political parties. The growing popularity of radical and populist parties in Europe may testify to the effectiveness of this Moscow strategy.

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Support Ukraine as a victim of war, but fail to condemn Russia for the act of aggression. This appears to be a major challenge for many European populists since February 2022. They are within the realm of influence of the Kremlin and actively lobbying Russia’s interests in the West.

The US elections still remain an important target for Moscow. Russia is consistently engaging in information operations aimed at denigrating NATO and US policy. It is likely that it will intensify its efforts in the next few months, especially closer to the US presidential election. Russia’s ultimate goal will be to undermine pro-Ukraine candidates and disrupt U.S. policy.

During the upcoming European elections, the Kremlin will keep pushing for pro-Russian candidates. After all, a far-right group ‘Identity and Democracy’ has been sitting in the European Parliament since 2019.

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