- In 2009, Political Capital was among the first to call attention to East European far-right parties’ orientation towards Russia. In April 2014, in an analysis generating lively international attention, we indicated that with the assistance of far-right parties’ pro-Russian policies, “the promotion of Russian interests couched in national colors is proliferating throughout Europe.” We also demonstrated that with the votes they cast in the European Parliament, some far-right and far-left parties pledge allegiance to Putin and his regime. All this makes it patently clear that the Russian state’s political influence across Europe has increased in recent years. The European extreme right, with its Eurosceptic and anti-liberal ideology, provided a fertile ground for the two-faced foreign policy of Russia – ideologically hostile, yet economically cooperative – towards Europe.
- France’s mainstream political elite are in line with the European and NATO consensus, as well as policies reflected in the Minsk II agreement, regarding sanctions against Russia. Due to the Crimean crisis, the French government canceled delivery of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers—one being just short of handing over to Russia on 7th August, 2015—and refunded the advance payments, as well as Moscow’s consequential losses on the project.
- The far-right Front National party (FN) cultivates a dense relationship with the Kremlin, and with various Russian stakeholders on personal, organizational, and financial levels. The party’s connections with Russia yield profits for both sides, a recent example of which is the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, where the FN not only endorses elections on separatist territories, but also acts as a “peace-broker.” In return, President Putin openly praised Marine Le Pen for her electoral success and her commitment to „conservative values” and to national sovereignty instead of serving Brussels.
- Marine Le Pen, the leader of the FN is considered to be among the few political friends of President Putin; however, it appears that the underlying strategic relevance of the FN for the Kremlin can be found more generally in France’s geopolitical position since France is a major power, an essential part of the Euro-Atlantic community. On the other hand, the Front National, the strongest radical right party in the European Parliament, cultivates excellent ties with other pro-Russian parties in Western Europe, allowing it to act as an intermediary between those parties and Russia through the organization of different pro-Russian events and pan-European far-right party-families. The pro-Russian far-right caucus, spearheaded by the Front National, recently proved its weight and lobbying power in the European institutional environment with its creation of the pro-Kremlin Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF). Figures show that 91% of the members of the pro-Russian far-right parties, now part of the ENF, voted against anti-Kremlin resolutions, while the same figure is exactly 100% for Front National’s MEPs in selected Russia-related decisions in the European Parliament prior to the establishment of the new caucus.
- The FN advances pro-Russian activities domestically through a wide French network of individuals and organizations and encompasses elements from both far-right scenes as well as Russian emigration circles. The party also relies on a well-structured pro-Russian domestic media, ranging from traditional media outlets to social media platforms.
- In turn, the FN’s pro-Kremlin stance and its political activities are embedded into a Kremlin-friendly social milieu on a domestic and an international level. Moreover, this milieu provides excellent ground for the Kremlin’s ‘active measures’ (aktivnye meropriyatiya), which date back to the power projection of the USSR, and usually involve the contacting of foreign political actors, the establishment and coordination of pro-Russian parties or other organizations, and the export of political know-how and expertise.
- The Front National’s latest scandal of being financed by a Russian-owned Czech bank very well fits this proactive political strategy of the Kremlin, but it may show only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, different pro-Russian (or anti-Ukrainian) organizations and events involving FN and other far-right parties are constantly managed and often financed by Russian stakeholders tied to the Kremlin, even more so during this time of crisis in Ukraine. In this respect, the FN’s international politics may have been directly influenced by Russian interests, regardless of whether the latter translated into financial, personal, or other forms of mutual “back-scratching”.
- Far-right organizations may fill three major functions: (1) destabilization (at the Member State, EU, and transatlantic levels alike); (2) external legitimization of the Russian regime (e.g., through ideological support, statements and “observation” of elections); and (3) provision of information and spread of disinformation (i.e., transmission of the Russian point of view to EU Member States and collection of intelligence). The Front National is well suited to fill these functions. Its harsh anti-EU and anti-NATO-stance, loud Kremlin-supportive foreign policy campaign (including a strong support of Assad), and active participation in the Eastern Ukrainian political crisis on Russia’s side provides important help to Russia to achieve its goals in Europe.
The complete study can be downloaded from this link.