Is RT conservative or liberal

Right-wing extremism

Benjamin Bidder

Benjamin Bidder is an editor at Spiegel Online, for whom he also reported as a correspondent from Moscow from 2009 to 2016. He is the author of the book "Generation Putin - Understanding the New Russia".

Russian politicians have made contact with right-wing extremists and populists in Western Europe: for example, in Germany with the AfD and in France with the Front National.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the presidential candidate of the French National Front, Marine Le Pen, will meet in Moscow in March 2017. (& copy picture-alliance, ZUMA Press)

In November 2014, a remarkable alliance formed in Paris: Not only did nationalists from all over Europe rehearse solidarity in France, but also welcomed the United Russia party, which supported Russian President Vladimir Putin and was headed by him for years. The French Front National had invited. Party leader Marine Le Pen hugged Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders on stage. Nationalists from half a dozen EU countries took their places on the podium, including Heinz-Christian Strache from the Austrian FPÖ and Matteo Salvini from the Lega Nord from Italy. [1] The two flanked a guest from Moscow: Andrei Isayev, a leading member of United Russia and vice-chairman of the Russian parliament. In his speech, Issayev whipped up the audience with attacks against the heads of state and government of France and Germany. The then President François Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel were just America's henchmen, he claimed, and they acted "as Washington likes". [2]

Issayev's appearance at the side of Le Pen, Wilders & Co. highlighted a sharp shift in course on the part of the Russian leadership. United Russia had sought partnerships with established conservative parties in the EU for years. In Germany, for example, there were good contacts with the CDU, Russian delegations attended party congresses of the Union parties and the Germany Day of the "Junge Union" [3]. A few years ago, the functionary Isayev also took part in events with members of the CDU, whose chairwoman Merkel he has now harshly attacked. [4] Today, however, United Russia is courting parties like the German AfD or Austria's FPÖ as partners.

This turnaround was accelerated by two crises: Domestically, at the turn of the year 2011/2012, the Kremlin was faced with mass demonstrations, especially in the capital Moscow, at which, in addition to broad sections of the more liberal-minded metropolitan middle class, officials of the Kremlin administration and even for a short time previously dismissed economically liberal finance minister Alexej Kudrin took part. [5] Subsequently, between December 2011 and May 2012, Putin strengthened the camp of national conservative forces within the Russian leadership. For example, Dmitry Rogozin, founder of the right-wing populist party "Rodina - Heimat", became vice-premier. The conservative economist Sergej Glasew became the presidential advisor for economic relations with Ukraine and the states of Eurasia. In terms of foreign policy, Russia maneuvered itself into isolation in March 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea. Since then, the Kremlin has intensified contacts with groups beyond the established parties in the West. Relations with the right wing in (Western) Europe existed before, but were sporadic.

The connections are of a very different nature: On the one hand, there are contacts between right wing forces and state organizations or organizations that support the Russian state. This includes, for example, meetings and collaborations with the Kremlin party United Russia, but also support from foreign media financed by the Russian state, such as Russia Today. This must be distinguished from a large number of contacts via unofficial channels in which clear evidence of the influence of the Russian state is lacking, but this is obvious. As it became known in 2014, the French Front National received a million dollar loan from a Russian bank [6], but the money house is in private hands. This category also includes contacts with representatives of right-wing circles in Russia who do not hold any political offices but are nevertheless considered influential - key figures here are, for example, the right-wing extremist university professor Alexander Dugin or the Russian entrepreneur Konstantin Malofejew, a monarchist, multimillionaire and sponsor of right-wing extremist circles in Russia.

Who are Russia's partners in Europe?

Russia maintains a wide range of contacts with the right wing, in Germany for example with right-wing populist journalist Jürgen Elsässer. As early as 2013, the Russian politicians Olga Batalina and Jelena Misulina - both of whom sit in parliament for United Russia and are among the authors of the controversial Russian law against "homosexual propaganda against minors" - attended a conference in Berlin by the magazine Compact, which is run by Elsässer. [7 ] A year later, Compact even welcomed Vladimir Yakunin. [8] At that time, Yakunin officially only held the post of head of the Russian railways. But he belongs to the inner circle around President Putin [9], both have known each other for decades. [10]

There are also relationships with the AfD. The Brandenburg state chairman, Alexander Gauland, has been to Moscow several times for political talks, including at the invitation of a foundation run by the entrepreneur Malofejew; On a trip to St. Petersburg he met the ideologist Dugin and a personal advisor to Putin [11] North Rhine-Westphalia's state chairman Marcus Pretzell traveled to a conference on the annexed Crimean peninsula, at the invitation and expense of the Russian organizers. [12] At the beginning of 2016 it became known that the AfD youth organization JA under its chairman Markus Frohnmaier was trying to form an official alliance with the "Young Guard" of the Kremlin party United Russia. Gauland and Pretzell did not or only barely commented on the trips financed from Russian sources. Pretzell was named "Guest of Honor" by the conference organizers in the Crimea. [13] He referred to the assumption of costs as "Petitesse" [14]. Gauland defended his course in Russia with a view to German history. He stands in the tradition of Bismarck and Metternich: "It is part of the German-Prussian tradition to maintain good relations with Russia" [15]. Russia's military interventions in Crimea and the bloody war in eastern Ukraine, fueled with Russian weapons, Russian fighters and Russian soldiers, Gauland played down as "collecting Russian soil".

Marine Le Pen, a candidate for the National Front in the 2017 presidential election, was received by Vladimir Putin shortly before the first round of voting in Moscow. [16] Matteo Salvini, front man of the Italian Lega Nord, was in Moscow four times in 2015 for "consultations", as United Russia said. [17] On the Red Square he posed in a T-shirt on which a photo of Vladimir Putin in a fighter pilot's uniform could be seen. [18]

The FPÖ from Austria has even signed a formal cooperation agreement with United Russia. According to Austrian media reports, it will initially run for five years and include an "exchange of experience" on areas such as party building and legislation. Point 6 of the agreement, for example, reveals a remarkable ideological closeness: It announces a cooperation with "youth, women, education, aid and other social organizations" - with the aim of "educating the young generation in the spirit of patriotism and Enjoyment of work ". [19] Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of parliament and well-known moderator of state television, emphasized the importance of such alliances "in today's politically correct world". [20]

The head of the Greek right-wing populists, Panos Kammenos, also maintains familiar contacts with Moscow. The chairman of the party "Independent Greeks" was in a coalition with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of the left-wing "Syriza" meanwhile Defense Minister in Athens. Both the right-wing extremist university professor Dugin and the entrepreneur Malofejew have contacts with Kammenos, as reported by Zeit Online with reference to hacked emails. Dugin saw the Greek minister as a candidate for an "elite club" of allies in Europe that he was planning to distribute there, "in the interests of Russia". Right-wing populist German journalist Jürgen Elsässer was also on Dugin's list. [21]

Right sympathies for Putin

In Hungary, both Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling party Fidesz and the right-wing extremist Jobbik party are considered close to Russia. Its boss, Gabor Vona, sees Russia as the guardian of "true European values" and as a counterweight to the "treacherous EU". [22] In Greece, the openly fascist "Golden Dawn", whose party flag is reminiscent of Nazi symbolism through the connection of the Greek meander with the colors black, white and red, pleads for a "natural alliance" with Moscow [23].

Even on the far-right in Germany, sympathy for Russia's leadership cannot be overlooked. At Pegida rallies, for example, protesters wearing the Russian tricolor have been appearing for some time. [24] Numerous AfD top politicians, such as Federal Vice-President Alexander Gauland, have long been calling for closer cooperation and an end to the EU sanctions that were imposed after the annexation of Crimea, which was contrary to international law. [25]

Many right-wing populists and right-wing extremists see President Putin as an alternative to the mostly liberal and transatlantic core political currents in Europe. They like his often martial demeanor and the impression that Putin had duped his then US counterpart Barack Obama over and over again in the past, for example in Syria policy. "Europe's right-wing populists admire Putin's authoritarian leadership style as much as his aggressive actions in Crimea. Russia appears to them as a geopolitical alternative to the West - ideas of a" Eurasia "and a" Europe of Nations "are making the rounds," analyzes political scientist Florian Hartleb. "There is also agreement in ideological terms, in the rejection of homosexuality and the cultivation of social conservatism and solid identity politics." [26]

For some years now, Moscow has been spreading anti-liberal positions similar to those found on Europe's right-wing fringes. In a keynote speech in 2013, for example, he accused the West of rejecting its own "roots, including the Christian values ​​that form the basis of Western civilization". They [the Western "elites"] deny moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even sexual. They enforce a policy that equates the family with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with belief in Satan. "Putin also criticized" so-called multiculturalism, "as he said, a" model that is artificially implanted in many ways. "[ 27]

"Man, Putin is good," says a Facebook post from the NPD Bavaria: "The Russian President Putin is always refreshing and shows how politicians should actually be: he stands without ifs and buts for life, future and traditions of his people and despises gays and nihilists. No wonder the scum of the West shot at him. "[28]

Russia's goals

The alliance between Russia and the right wing is fueling fears in Europe. According to a report by the Czech secret service BIS, Moscow was deliberately establishing ties to undermine European states: "Russia is building a structure similar to the concept of the Communist International". Numerous communist parties had come together to form this in 1919/1920 [29]; the Bolsheviks viewed them as a kind of "general staff for the world revolution" and promoted uprisings through them, including in Hamburg.

A Russian strategy paper from 2013 speaks of a possible establishment of Putin "as the leader of a new, global conservatism" [30]. The document was written by the Moscow Political Boom Center. The think tank is closely networked with the Kremlin, has accompanied election campaigns for Putin's party and is headed by the former vice-head of the domestic affairs department of the presidential department.

The institute identified "mass migration and conflicts between the ethnic groups" as weaknesses of the EU - long before the refugee movement to Europe came to a head in autumn 2015. These are "the basis of the fears of the EU citizen", it says in the paper. Germany is expressly mentioned. There is "demand for a strong right-wing politician".

For the Kremlin, the support of EU-hostile right-wing forces is about "pure power engineering", as the journalist Jörg Himmelreich puts it. It is about weakening the European Union from within and undermining ties to the West with the USA. [31] Putin has the goal of destabilizing the West and the EU, believes the political scientist Hartleb - and the right-wing populists are "Trojan horses" in this. [32]

Why nationalists seek alliance with Russia

Conversely, the European right-wing movements - in addition to their sometimes clear ideological closeness - have very pragmatic reasons for working with Russia. Groups like the Front National or Geert Wilders' PVV are (so far) outsiders in their home countries. The other important political forces usually exclude cooperation with them and work together against them in parliaments. Potential donors risk being publicly ostracized.

The sometimes high-ranking political contacts in Moscow and frequent appearances in Russian foreign media therefore often give marginal right wing politicians the opportunity to present themselves to their voters at home in a statesmanlike manner. In Germany, for example, this applies to the AfD. At the beginning of the 2017 federal election year, for example, party leader Frauke Petry flew to Moscow. There she even got an appointment with the President of Parliament Vyacheslav Volodin (United Russia). [33]

AfD, Front National and others also benefit from the "counter-public" organized by the Russian media, above all Russia's international broadcaster Russia Today (today: RT), which was launched in 2005. The channel broadcasts in English, Arabic and Spanish. In 2014 a special program started in German and in 2017 - just at the beginning of the hot phase of the French presidential election campaign - RT en français. [34] The channel now has more than 2,500 employees worldwide. In addition, there are several thousand journalists from the state media holding "Rossija Segodnja", who produce, among other things, websites and radio programs for the international service "Sputnik".

RT is financed by the Russian state. Editor-in-chief Margarita Simonjan sees her channel as a kind of media defense ministry. If Russia goes to war, "we go into battle," she says. [35] The station makes smart propaganda: There are hardly any reports on the situation in Russia. Most of the space is taken up by topics such as the NSA surveillance scandal or US drone attacks.

Putin gave RT the task of "breaking the monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon mass media". [36] That works to some extent. The station has an audience of millions in the west. In Great Britain, the number of regular viewers grew from 2.5 million (2012) [37] to 3.3 million (2016) [38]. The Brexit advocate and longtime head of the EU-hostile UK Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage already regularly got a big forum at RT when most of the western media paid little attention to him. The broadcaster itself proudly claims that Farage has been "known to RT audiences longer than most of the British electorate". [39]

There is a method to this: RT repeatedly portrays hardened right-wing extremists as supposedly neutral experts. A German right-wing extremist had the say in 2014 as a key witness for the thesis that the German foreign intelligence service BND is a "branch of the CIA": Manuel Ochsenreiter, editor-in-chief of " First! ", A monthly newspaper for German right-wing extremists. [40] Not an isolated case: right-wing extremists have appeared regularly on Russian channels for almost a decade. There they are presented as respected experts from the West and are intended to give credibility to the sometimes steep theses of Russian propaganda.

In 2009 RT sold its viewers the compact man Elsässer innocently as a "politician and historian". [41] A national Russian national broadcaster introduced the British Holocaust denier and former chairman of the right-wing British National Party (BNP) Nick Griffin as an "independent election observer" on the evening of the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections. Griffin announced to a Russian audience of millions: "The elections in Russia are freer than in Great Britain." [42]

But Putin disappointed the far-right in his own country

But it is precisely the far-right scene in Russia itself that disappoints Putin - their hope for a complete change of course in domestic politics has not been fulfilled. Putin continues to hold his hand over the right-wing hated Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his economically liberal team.The military march through to Odessa in south-eastern Ukraine called for by the right has so far not taken place any more than a longed-for complete breakdown of all relations with the West.

This is also clear from the fate of the Russian news site "Sputnik & Pogrom", run by Russian nationalists. The portal became known to a wider audience in Russia at the turn of 2013/2014, was mentioned in the state's "First Channel" (the moderator later apologized after protests via Facebook) [43] and then gained popularity in the course of the annexation of Crimea. At the beginning of July 2017, however, the Russian telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor imposed a network block against "Sputnik and Pogrom". The portal can no longer be accessed in Russia, it spreads "nationalist and religious hatred", it said in the explanation. [44]

Even the right-wing thought leader Alexander Dugin has been biting criticism of the president. Putin does not want to choose between a "Russian throne" and the "Western chair of a correct European manager". [45]

These are remarkable statements from the mouth of a man who is occasionally (and falsely) presented as "Putin's ideologue" by the Western media, but who himself has no direct access to the president. Nonetheless, Dugin is an important link between right-wing circles in Russia and in the West. In 2014 he took part in a meeting with the niece of the National Front chairman, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, and FPÖ leader Strache in Vienna. [46] Dugin is in contact with the US presenter and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who is popular with Trump voters. [47]

When it comes to choosing its partners in the West, Russia is ideologically flexible

In contrast to the Soviet era, the Russian leadership is ideologically very flexible when it comes to choosing its partners. Moscow's support is not limited to the far-right, but extends to numerous populist movements in the West that position themselves as alternatives to the mainstream political forces. When the left-wing Syriza party won the election in Greece at the beginning of 2015, the first meeting with the prospective Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was reserved for the Russian ambassador in Athens. [48] In Germany, not only does the AfD maintain good contacts with Moscow, but also the Left Party. Members of the Bundestag of the party even visited the war zone in eastern Ukraine and posed together with functionaries and fighters of the pro-Russian separatists. [49] In Italy, on the other hand, Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment movement “5 Stars” has sympathy for readings close to the Kremlin. [50]

By supporting the forces on the fringes of the political spectrum, the Kremlin is hoping that it will be able to weaken the established parties in Europe, who are largely skeptical of Putin, in the long term - and subsequently also the EU and NATO. In an interview with the BBC in 2000, Putin had expressly not ruled out his country's accession to NATO. [51] Today the President sees both the EU and NATO as foreign policy competitors who stand in the way of Russia's hegemony in the post-Soviet space.

The extreme ideological range of Russia's partners in the West became apparent when the RT broadcaster celebrated its tenth anniversary in Moscow in December 2015: Not only Michael Flynn, later briefly National Security Advisor to US President Donald Trump, took a seat at President Putin's table - right next to it sat Jill Stein, presidential candidate for the US Greens in 2016. [52]