Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing a dangerous game in Europe, perhaps with the intent to destabilize the largest network of national alliances that shares a border with Russia. The European Union has been experiencing political turbulence for the past several years partly due to the migrant crisis and economic troubles. Economic pressure coupled with large waves of refugees has given rise to vociferous far-right parties in Europe, such as the National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Jobbik party in Hungary, and the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands to name just a few. President Putin has found a way to help these parties come to life, by funding their political campaigns.
Most of these far-right parties have another element in common apart from their xenophobic attitudes: most are pro-Russia. President Putin has demonstrated throughout his two and a half terms as president that he wants to restore Russia as a global hegemon. In the eyes of President Putin, the most effective strategy for projecting Russian power in the world is to expand its influence in the European Union.
According The Independent, the National Front party in France has received millions of euros from the First Czech-Russian Bank. Russia has employed alternate tactics to undermine the current leadership in Europe, specifically German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The “Lisa Affair” has caused massive protests in Germany. A 13-year-old German girl of Russian decent alleged that a group of immigrants gang-raped her, causing the Russian diaspora in Germany to protest against Chancellor Merkel’s stance on refugees and migration. Later, police discovered that the entire episode was fabricated, and some have gone so far as to say that President Putin had a hand in the girl’s lie in order to undermine the elections last month that resulted in major losses for Merkel’s political party.
According to Bloomberg, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has begun to look into Russia’s role in the “Lisa Affair” and has a special task force in place that is dedicated to “countering Russian disinformation and it works on the assumption that Putin’s goal is to topple EU-friendly governments and replace them with pro-Russia parties.”
Some observers have speculated that this push for pro-Russian political parties in Europe is an attempt by Putin to garner support for his intervention in Ukraine. Many members of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have condemned Putin’s blatant disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty. Sanctions have been imposed on Russia, and visa bans and asset freezes have been placed on those closest to Putin. Fostering new alliances in Europe could help ease the economic and political pressure that has been placed on the country and Putin’s inner circle.
Putin has made it clear that he wants to strengthen Russia’s posture in global affairs, believing one way to achieve this objective is to exert influence in European politics in hopes of propelling pro-Russian politicians to positions of power. This may be the first step in President Putin’s plan to reestablish Russia as a strong regional and global power.