Given the deteriorating relations between Russia and the leading European powers, Russia’s relations with the Eurosceptic parties of the EU are increasingly being called into question.

France’s far-right National Front president Marine Le Pen, center, surrounded by members, waves to supporters after her speech during their meeting in Marseille. Photo: AP

Over the past two years, a number of commentators and journalists have brought up the issue of a possible connection between the Russian authorities and Europe's Eurosceptic political forces. Such a connection would threaten the parties in power within the EU by criticizing austerity measures, immigration policies or revenue allocation mechanisms.

Given the current tense relations between Russia and the EU, any allegation of receiving funding from Russia is an extremely efficient way to compromise political opponents, especially those on the right of the political spectrum. 

Analysts who suppose that Russia is funding European political parties to destabilize and destroy the EU clearly are not familiar with the basic principles of Russian foreign policy, which still does not include strategic planning and has not developed the habit of acting with the purpose of achieving any kind of long-term results.

Who needs Moscow?

By 2015, the international audience had solidified its view of Russia as a stronghold of conservatism. The current drive towards Russian conservatism has every chance of finding success among Western conservatives. 

First, unlike Communist ideas that were imported to Russia, traditionalism is typical of Russian society. Second, given the widespread economic and social problems of the Western world, consumer society can potentially give way to a more ascetic ideology that assumes the return to Western religious origins.

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This political line attracts up-and-coming political parties in Europe. Pro-Russian European parties are not homogeneous and defy a single simple definition. They include nationalists, Eurosceptics, social conservatives, as well as far left anti-capitalist forces. 

Their reasons for strengthening ties with Russia also vary greatly. Parties from the Mediterranean area aspire to lift economically disruptive sanctions, while the interests of their French or Hungarian counterparts go beyond economics.

However, there are a few political organizations that would like to establish unilateral relations with Russia. Far right political parties in Europe need a strong partner to gain legitimacy and demonstrate their readiness to make political policy from a position of power.

Western analysts rarely mention that the European far right and Russia are connected not through the ruling political class, but via the Rodina (“Motherland”) party founded in 2004 by Dmitry Rogozin, Sergey Glaziev, and Sergey Baburin. Initially, the party was pressured by the authorities and was shut down in 2006-2012. However, 2012 was a turning point in its history.

Rodina was admitted to parliamentary elections, and its frontrunners received official recognition: Rogozin, who enjoyed a good reputation after serving as Russia's ambassador to NATO, and the academician Glaziev were appointed to government positions.

As of 2015, Rodina does not hold a single seat in the State Duma, but some of its members, such as party leader Aleksey Zhuravlev, became the deputies of the Russian Legislative Assembly through the United Russia party lists.

Thus, paradoxically, nationalist-minded Rodina was recognized by high-ranked officials only after it lost all of its political influence.

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Since Rodina representatives infiltrated the ruling party, some analysts tend to view the International Russian Conservative Forum as an event orchestrated by the Kremlin. The Forum was attended by far right (and frequently fascist) European parties, such as Golden Dawn, the National Democratic Party of Germany and the British Nationalist Party. 

Russian authorities did not take any part in the event, yet it remains to be seen why the Kremlin permitted Rodina to generate nationalist slogans. It looks like there are strategic interests at hand.

Presently, Moscow is dealing with more pressing issues, and if Rodina gains more support, it can be easily pushed out of the political field.

Currently, the Russian political establishment has virtually no connections with European far right forces. Russia, a multinational state according to its Constitution, in 2007-2012 welcomed 1.1 million immigrants, and in 2014-2015, their number increased by 1.1 million Ukrainian refugees, which goes directly against the agenda of radical right-wing organizations. Moreover, inciting hatred or discrimination on the basis of gender, race, nationality, language, ethnicity, religion, or social affiliations are punishable by law.

In general, the discussion of Russia's ties with far right political forces is usually based on three false premises that give rise to conspiracy theories about Moscow's desire to use radicals to destabilize some EU members.

The first premise is that Russia supports far right political parties as opposed to the parties using the Russian authorities to achieve legitimacy (for example, the anti-Semitic and white supremacist British Nationalist Party and the National Democratic Party of Germany).

The second premise pertaining to the alleged interaction between the Kremlin and European political parties is based on the belief that, when two sides agree on something, they expose a shared mentality or came to an agreement in the process of negotiations. For example, if the British Nationalist Party or the Hungarian Jobbik party urge their governments to restore their relations with Bashar Assad and fight ISIS, they are not doing it out of loyalty to Russia, but to expose the flaws in British and Hungarian foreign policies. 

The third part of the problem is that the Western perception of the Greek fascist party Golden Dawn and the far right parties of Central Europe quite often relies on the expertise of a single public figure, the Eurasia specialist Alexander Dugin. Until 2014, he was the head of the Sociology of International Relations Department at Moscow State University. It is highly unlikely that Dugin, who in the 1990s shared National Bolshevik views, has any influence over diplomatic processes in Europe.

Whom does Moscow need?

European political parties want to work with Russia, and Moscow also has a number of reasons to promote this interaction. First and foremost, the Kremlin needs influential European partners who will not be weighed down by rigid ideologies.

Contact has been successfully established with some political forces. Several major political players (the Social Democratic Party of Germany, several representatives of The Republicans party in France) have been maintaining a good relationship with Moscow over several decades. 

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From the Russian perspective, the Moscow-Berlin-Paris axis that existed in 2003 under presidents Putin-Schröder-Chirac is the best option. However, let us focus on those parties that came close to acquiring political control, but are yet to become a part of the EU political establishment.

The recession that started in 2008 caused further social stratification in Europe. It would be unwise to presume that the financial difficulties caused by national politics and austerity measures promoted by Berlin would prevent people from participating in European politics.

It is also necessary to factor in the future generations of voters that have not experienced the economic prosperity of the early 2000s, and then we can safely assume that changes in the canvas of European politics are inevitable.

The recession facilitated the rapid growth of political parties that used to be excluded from “big politics.” Economic problems, excessive amounts of debt, social stratification, and the immigration crisis gave a huge boost to such political parties as the National Front and Jobbik. 

Although the majority of these parties favor Moscow, not all of them are fit for a serious political partnership. The French National Front, especially after a major overhaul and the departure of Jean-Marie Le Pen, gradually got rid of the most provocative parts of its political program and is now ready to enter the political arena as a major player. Some other potential partners of Russia have not yet overcome their growing pains.

European populism and Brussels

At the EU level, issues of poverty or diminished prosperity do not get addressed. However, when these tendencies have major political repercussions that threaten EU community values, Brussels uses all its power to stigmatize the political parties that oppose it. Poverty suggests a certain susceptibility to populist slogans, and then usually nationalism becomes the most popular and appealing political ideology.

The current attitude of Brussels to Eurosceptic parties is also a manifestation of populism. Instead of removing the causes of Euroscepticism, the authorities criticize the consequences of their own ineffective decisions.

If it were not for austerity measures, there would be no contacts between Russia and Podemos, Syriza would not be in power, and even Jobbik would not have stood a chance on the Hungarian political arena. 

 Related: "Why the parliamentary elections in Greece matter to the Kremlin." 

Due to the decisions of the European government, several countries were reduced to poverty, and now European politicians are outraged that these countries come to them “begging for money.” This is too cynical of a stand for the countries of the Mediterranean or Central and Eastern Europe not to take notice.

Russia, which still has a long way to go before it becomes self-reliant, is interested in cooperating with any serious European political parties. Historically, the Russian authorities have a harder time with liberal European politicians, so Moscow is developing its relations with the right-leaning parties that tend to be rather conservative.

The change in the European political landscape may help Russia overcome its international isolation. After 2015, the right-leaning political forces that are interested in building better relations with Moscow will have serious leverage in some European countries.

Due to the catastrophically low ratings of François Hollande, the 2017 presidential elections in France will be a face-off between Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen.

The outcome of the 2018 parliamentary elections in Hungary is likely to be decided between the ruling party Fidesz and Jobbik, which is consistently supported by 25 percent of the population.

A large amount of Syrian, Afghan, and other immigrants in Austria can bring about the consolidation of the Freedom Party of Austria, which received almost 30 percent of the votes at the October mayoral elections in Vienna even though the city is deemed a traditional stronghold of the Social Democrats. In other EU countries, new representatives of the right-wing forces are emerging.

Moscow has a lot to gain from the rise of new Eurosceptic right conservative parties in Europe. Even if it does not happen, pro-EU right-wing parties will feel the pressure from the growing Eurosceptic right radical organizations and will have to take a stronger stand against ineffective EU policies.

In general, the European political spectrum will shift to the right, which benefits Moscow because the Europe of nations has a lot more room for Russia than a unified Europe in the form of the EU.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.