Kalev Stoicescu, RKK/ICDS, 3 December 2014
Russia’s confrontation with the West seems to have entered into a new, existentialist phase: a fierce political and ideological battle that the Kremlin apparently takes as nothing more or less than a life-and-death struggle. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov echoed president Putin’s “doctrinal” speech at the Valdai Club on October 24 stating that Western sanctions against Russia were ”different” from those imposed on North Korea or Iran because they “target Russia’s social sphere and economy” rather than the elite, and ultimately “seek regime change”. Deputy defence minister Anatoli Antonov also recently stated at a meeting of South Asian defence ministers in Sri Lanka, that “colour revolutions” -which he directly linked to terrorism -are also a real threat to the stability of Asian countries, in a move to rally them behind Russia’s cause.
The Russian-Western ideological struggle once again has become global. However, a well-known Soviet and Russian tradition is to consider attack to be the best possible form of self-defense. Therefore, while the Kremlin is desperate to counter the spread of Western values and the colour revolutions that it considers mortal diseases, it has also launched a massive operation to influence Western public opinion and certain political forces in Europe, particularly far-right parties and movements. In the eyes of the former KGB officer serving as Russia’s president, every serious issue is seen as a special operation. This one is particularly important because it aims to strike the very heart of the European democratic system, to weaken and destabilize the West and damage the transatlantic relationship as much as possible.
Fresh media reports suggest that the French far-right Front National (FN), which won the 2014 European Parliament elections with an astonishing 25% of the vote, has borrowed €40 million from a Russian-owned bank, a sum that should cover more or less all of its needs for the 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections. FN leader Marine Le Pen acknowledged a €9 million loan, claiming that no other bank would lend the party any funds. The German anti-euro (but ostensibly not anti-EU) party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), established in 2013, managed to sell €1.6 million in gold bullions and coins in late October in an attempt to reach the €5 million target that would secure public matching funding. However, sources alluding to German intelligence suggest that the gold was sold to AfD by Russian agents through intermediaries in order to give the party the opportunity to profit from its resale.
These are just two recent examples of Russian meddling with European politics and public opinion. In fact, after Putin returned to office in 2008, he started actively communicating with and openly supporting far larger numbers of European far-right parties and movements – Jobbik of Hungary, the Austrian Freedom Party, the UK Independence Party, Ataka of Bulgaria, etc. The ideologies of most European far-right parties and the Kremlin have something special binding them together. It’s not just dirty money that Moscow gladly spends for “noble causes”. The Kremlin’s narrative on Western decadence, the failure of liberal democracy, anti-Americanism, homophobia and xenophobia justified with reference to “Christian family traditions,” aggressive nationalism etc., increasingly appeals to a number of Europeans.
Moreover, Moscow uses not only such so-called “useful idiots” or greedy unscrupulous businessmen, who are always readily available, but also corrupt high-level politicians and other prominent figures. The president of Russia’s state-owned rail company, Vladimir Yakunin, recently convened a group of “friends of Russia” in Berlin. Former German chancellors Gerhard Schröder and Helmut Schmidt participated along with top-ranking diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger.
This is of course the very same Schröder who once – together with the French president Jacques Chirac – declared political war against George W. Bush because of Iraq in 2003; yet, he now cynically pretends not to see anything wrong with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Representatives of the FN and other European far-right parties have “monitored” and praised the Crimean “referendum” in March, even though it would be extremely hard to imagine the FN similarly condoning the annexation of Corsica by Italy or Alsace by Germany, regions with even closer historical ties with those respective countries than those of Crimea to Russia.
From a Western perspective, Moscow’s relationship with these far-right parties is an internal political, judicial and moral issue for the respective countries. However, as seen from the Russian side, it is a well-targeted and planned operation that cannot be simply ignored. It is closely linked to Moscow’s efforts to increase the effect of Russian propaganda on Western public opinion, and a means to increase pressure on Western governments, especially in Germany and France, which are hesitating between Washington and Moscow.
To complete the picture, Putin declared at Valdai Club (in a statement later echoed by Lavrov) that it is impossible to conclude agreements concerning the future of the world and humankind with the Western powers because of their short election cycles, which constitute the “dark side of democracy.” Putin announced a bit later that he might not consider running for the 2018 presidential elections—a statement that cannot be taken seriously in light of his ideological stance. In addition, Putin made comments suggesting that there was “nothing wrong” with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 (and its secret protocol to divide Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and the USSR).
This all seems to suggest that Putin not only considers himself to be a czar with absolute powers, but that he regards the whole system of international agreements in a fairly medieval way. The Russian president earlier hinted that he has not personally signed the 1991 Belavezha Accords (which dismantled the USSR) or the 1994 Budapest Memorandum (in which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for international guarantees of its territorial integrity). Hence, Putin would like to make major deals with Western leaders according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop model. Indeed, he probably attempted something like this at the APEC and G20 meetings in November.
Day by day it becomes more and more clear that the West does not have a choice in dealing with Putin – he is dangerous and cannot be trusted. He must be contained and stopped before it is too late. Those who claim or believe that Putin represents Russia, and that standing up to him means fighting against the Russian people, should also remember someone called Adolf Hitler, who also fought against the democratic world, had (and unfortunately, to this day still has) sympathizers in many countries. Hitler believed that WWII was a life-and-death fight, in which he viewed no possibility for compromise or surrender. Above all, he saw no future for the German nation if it was defeated in war -and was utterly wrong.
President Putin’s belligerent and anti-Western course does not offer any viable prospects for his country to experience peace and prosperity or to play a constructive role in the international system. Thankfully, the defeat for Putin that looms on the horizon will give Russia a new chance that hopefully will not once again, be misused.
Putin’s political and ideological struggle with the West