Washington probes Moscow’s influence on European Parties

EPA/KEVIN DIETSCH / POOL

CIA Director John Brennan (C) and Director of the National Security Agency Mike Rogers (R) applaud as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) takes his seat after introducing US President Barack Obama at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the formation for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, at it's headquarters in McClean, Virginia, USA, 24 April 2015.

The question is framed in a Cold War fashion; but, distinguishing between genuine anti-systemic criticism and instrumental spying for the Kremlin will be a thin line to walk.


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United States intelligence agencies have been given the mandate to investigate the funding channels between the Kremlin and anti-systemic parties in Europe. An intelligence authorization act passed by the U.S. Congress and the Senate instructs the National Director, James Clapper, to assess Russian clandestine funding operations over the last decade.

The mandate is already causing alarm. BBC reported on January 13th that Clapper’s phone was found tapped. Clapper is to assess whether party and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) funding is linked to Russian security services (FSB) and whether there is concerted action to undermine Euro-Atlantic political cohesion. He will be reviewing concerted action to derail specific projects, including energy infrastructure and missile defense. In addition, there is to be close oversight over concerted action to have economic sanctions following the annexation of Crimea lifted.

There are many voices in Europe that have been calling for a similar probe. The Political Capital Institute lists 15 European far-right parties that have openly expressed their sympathy towards Russia, joined, on occasion, by the radical left. In total, that is 20% of the European Parliament political parties that have been willing to support Russian foreign policy.

Political Capital is barely one among many thinks tanks that have been making the same point. In February 2015, The Economist linked most anti-systemic parties with pro-Russian position addressing the question of whether a pro-Russian block forming in Strasbourg. In Greece, they pointed to the Greek foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, whose first visit as a Foreign Minister of the newly elected Syriza government was in Moscow. The Economist also spoke of “rumors” about Nigel Farage and UKIP.

The first party to openly admit its economic link to the Kremlin was the National Front in France. In November 2014, the Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank granted the far-right French party a €9 million loan.

In May 2014, Béla Kovács, a Jobbik deputy in the European Parliament faced charges of allegedly spying for Russia, Foreign Affairs reports. His immunity was lifted in October 2015. But, the Russian government has not only been dealing with “extremists” in the opposition. In February 2015, the Russian government was given a tender by the Orban administration to develop nuclear reactors. That was a surprise announcement with no public debate, the Guardian reported.  This is despite the fact that Hungary is already dependent on Russia for 80% of its natural gas supply. Indeed, Senator John McCain challenged him on his Russian policy, to which he reportedly replied “I don’t care what you think. You don’t matter. Russia matters because of energy. Germany matters because of jobs.”

The ideological fascination with the Kremlin’s strong man is no longer a “fringe phenomenon.” Days before the Paris attacks, Nicola Sarkozy flew to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin. In July, ten center-right Republican Party MPs arrived in Crimea, the Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia. Before paying this private visit, the French Republicans had met Russian MPs in Moscow.

British government officials speak of a new Cold War, The Telegraph reports. Reporting on the US probe, they suggest that besides Jobbik in Hungary and Front National in France, Golden Dawn in Greece and the Northern League in Italy will be also under tight scrutiny. The Telegraph also reports on the unprecedented intervention of Russia in British domestic affairs, when Russia’s ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, hailed Mr Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party as a democratic breakthrough, making specific references to his positions on nuclear disarmament and NATO outliving its  raison d’etre.

Bulgaria’s extreme-right Ataka party is already suspected by the U.S. State Department of ties to Russia, according to confidential cables released by Wikileaks.

Clapper’s probe will have to walk a fine line between political and ideological alignment with anti-systemic parties in Europe and illicit funding that makes parties instruments in a wider geopolitical game. The exploitation of results could affect the cohesion of the Euro-Atlantic alliance, especially given the rising influence of far-right parties in Europe.

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