Staunton, May 20 – No one should be surprised that “Vladimir Putin is finding a common language with that segment of European politicians who are playing on the sharpening of national feelings” both to strengthen their own domestic position and to promote myths about their nation’s pasts.
But Yaroslav Shimov argues in Novaya Gazeta there are important limits to cooperation between Moscow and the European right because with rare exceptions “almost none of the new friends of the Kremlin is an opponent of parliamentary democracy and does not sympathize with the Russian political model”.
Thus, Nigel Farage, the leader of the British populist party UKIP, while expressing his admiration for Putin’s political skills, directly stated: “I do not trust him and would not want to live in his country.”
That is a difference that is sometimes overlooked, Shimov says, in coverage of the growing popularity of national populist groups in Europe and their efforts to cooperate with Moscow and in Moscow’s use of the term “fascism” to demonize the leaders of Ukraine who are resisting Russia’s demands.
But for almost everyone on both sides, this is a “tactical” alliance in this case “against European integration and the liberal mainstream,” the commentator says, a reflection of the longstanding political principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” rather than something more.
“Present-day European national conservatism does not have such a destructive potential as that ideology which the Kremlin is currently propagandizing as ‘conservatism,’” Shimov says. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban may talk about the rights of Hungarians abroad but there is no indication that he is about to annex Transcarpathia.
The same is true, he continues, for the Italian Northern League which is delighted with the idea of a Crimean-style referendum in Italy which could demonstrate its strength, but it “does not consider [what Moscow has done in Crimea] a model for emulation” And Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party opposes EU help for Ukraine “not because he likes Russia’s actions but because he considers such assistance” an unnecessary burden for European taxpayers.
“In this sense,” Shimov suggests, “Europe is genuinely conservative, unlike the lip-service ‘conservatism’ of Russia which now is acting in the role of a geopolitical revolutionary.” Indeed, Europe’s reluctance to confront Moscow over Ukraine reflects that attitude as much as anything.
To oppose Moscow by offering Kyiv “immediate military assistance and begin talks about Ukrainian membership in NATO is,” from this perspective, “to accept the Kremlin’s rules of the game which by undermining a weak Ukraine is seeking to carry Europe into a period of a total redrawing of borders.”
“In a political sense,” Shimov concludes, “the European 20th century is continuing. However, the last century had not only an apocalyptic first half but well-off and constructive second part. The next few years and perhaps even months will show which of these historical orientations is closer to Europe and which to Russia.”