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Russians and Reactionaries

The on-again, off-again flirtation between Mother Russia and the deplorables of Europe

Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir, by Anton Shekhovtsov, Routledge, 262 pages, $35.95

RoutledgeRoutledgeA central accusation in the uproar over "Russian influence" holds that Moscow is covertly in cahoots with the American alt-right, supplying the movement with fake news, memes, and social media talking points. The evidence for this tends to be more speculative than solid, but the general question of post-Soviet Russia's cooperation with Western nationalist and racialist groups is certainly salient.

Such links are at the heart of Anton Shekhovtsov's new study, Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir. Shekhovtsov is a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and his book is exhaustively detailed in its description of Russian relations with the European far right. What impact this may have had on the American right comes up only in the book's final three paragraphs, which mostly raise questions and provide no answers.

Shekhovtsov argues that a range of reactionary groups, largely in Europe, see Putin "as an ally in their struggle against Western liberal democracy and multiculturalism." Moscow, in turn, uses them both "to consolidate the authoritarian kleptocratic regime at home" and "to counteract the growing isolation of Russia in the Europeanised world." And in some cases, the author argues, Russia wants "to disrupt the liberal-democratic consensus in Western societies and, thus, destabilize them."

Shekhovtsov begins his survey with an early precedent. In the 1920s, the Soviet Union explored possible cooperation with the Western far right. While this never amounted to much, it did coincide with the emergence in Weimar Germany of an ideology of "National Bolshevism" among fringe-left German nationalists. This tendency saw a later revival of sorts among Russian far-right groupuscules in the 1990s.

During the Cold War, the Soviets sometimes found it useful to provide covert support to far-right actors as a means to stir up trouble for Western liberal democracies. For example, Soviet and East German intelligence agencies funneled funds to former Nazis and other radical rightists in West Germany because they were proponents of German neutrality. One such client was Rudolf Steidl, who received 2,363,000 Deutschmarks during 1951–1954 to publish the Deutsche National-Zeitung propaganda newspaper.

Another campaign, in 1959–1960, involved KGB agents in West Germany who went on a spree "painting swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on synagogues, tombstones, and Jewish-owned shops." The intent was to give a black eye to West Germany and "produce a snowball effect where troublemakers would carry out anti-Semitic activities on their own." As Shekhovtsov notes, the operation "helped East Germany legitimise itself as a peace loving, antifascist state" by comparison.

In Austria in the early '50s, while the Soviets and the Western forces both occupied sectors in Vienna, the Soviets helped support the National League, a far-right movement partly composed of former Nazis. Its newspaper, Österreichische National-Zeitung, also promoted neutralism.

You might think such alliances would be ideologically taboo, but counterintelligence can make for strange bedfellows. This cuts both ways, as when the CIA supported Islamist militias fighting the USSR in Afghanistan in the '80s. As the venerable aphorism goes, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"—at least until the blowback hits.

This does not mean that Russian contacts with Western far-right groups and individuals have always been part of a coherent, top-down governmental strategy. Shekhovtsov notes that initial contacts in the Yeltsin era were largely between far-right leaders of small Russian political parties and their counterparts in Western Europe.

Thus, Aleksandr Dugin, while a leading Russian intellectual proponent of Eurasianism in the 1990s, met Alain de Benoist and Robert Steuckers, two significant theorists of the French and Belgian New Right, respectively. Dugin invited them to participate in a panel discussion held in the office of a far-right Russian newspaper.

Similarly, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia—despite its name, a far-right group—met with Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the French National Front, and with "multi-millionaire media czar" Gerhard Frey, founder of the German People's Union. In this instance, support flowed from West to East, in the form of financial support from Frey and donations of some computers and a fax machine from the National Front.

Sergey Glazyev, a member of the Russian Duma, forged links with Lyndon LaRouche, inviting the well-known American crank to disseminate his conspiracy theories to an audience in Moscow. (LaRouche's Schiller Institute already had a Russian branch, so this was not purely Glazyev's initiative.)

It may be hard to remember now, but many Western politicians and analysts initially saw Putin as a reformer who could normalize Russia's economy. And some reform did occur. But in due course, national leadership was reconcentrated among the siloviki—that is, members of the various intelligence and security agencies. Their presence in the Russian ruling elite rose from 17 percent under Boris Yeltsin to 31 percent under Putin as of 2008.

Shekhovtsov's book portrays Russia's putative democracy as a Potemkin village going through the formalities of elections, a parliament, mass media, and a civil society, all of which have been hollowed out by the siloviki's permanent hold on power. (You could even call them a "deep state.") Opponents have been eliminated or defanged, while Putin has appealed to Russian nationalism and conservative Orthodox culture and traditions in rallying popular support for his regime.

Stung by the "color revolutions" in some former Soviet republics—revolts he attributed to Western interference—Putin felt the need to counter poll watchers from the European Union (who commonly pointed out irregularities in elections and referendums in former Soviet states) with sympathetic poll watchers drawn from the European far right. The ground for such collaboration was laid when Moscow sought out Western groups who shared a skepticism of the European Union and an opposition to NATO.

If Putin seemed uninterested in the Western far right during his first term as president (2001–04), this began to change in the latter half of the decade, as he felt increasingly isolated from mainstream Western respect. The underlying drive, Shekhovtsov argues, is Putin's determination to maintain power. He'll pursue pragmatic alliances with mainstream European centrist parties if they're willing, and go with far-right factions when they seem like the best bet. If that means flirting with François Fillon's center-right party in France, so be it. If that attempt fails, Russian gestures toward the French National Front will be the next best choice. Russia can roll with the punches and side with whichever political camp might be ahead in the polls. Self-preservation comes before ideology.

Much of Russia and the Western Far Right is taken up with identifying and tracing Russia's interaction with Western rightists. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the latter are almost all marginal figures trying to leverage these dealings to burnish their own reputations. The book's cover photo shows Marine Le Pen of the French National Front shaking hands with Putin, but very few on the far right make it that far. More commonly, fringe players, such as André Chanclu, a French far-right activist and founder of the France-Russia Collective, are invited to Russian think-tank symposiums and given photo ops with second- or third-level bureaucrats. Their egos are stroked, a bit of funding may flow their way, but it's all rather small potatoes.

Photo Credit: Routledge

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  • JoeBlow123||

    "Another campaign, in 1959–1960, involved KGB agents in West Germany who went on a spree "painting swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on synagogues, tombstones, and Jewish-owned shops." The intent was to give a black eye to West Germany and "produce a snowball effect where troublemakers would carry out anti-Semitic activities on their own." As Shekhovtsov notes, the operation "helped East Germany legitimise itself as a peace loving, antifascist state" by comparison."

    Hilarious.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    It probably fooled a lot of people into thinking there were more neo-Nazis in West Germany than in reality; but the only people who would have been fooled into thinking East Germany had none were the same fools who thought Communists were benevolent in the first place.

    My father subscribed to some Soviet magazine in the 1960s, Soviet Life or such. A Soviet version of the American Life. Full of pictures of Soviets at work, at beaches, cooking and eating dinner, etc. I remember two things: their houses, cars, offices, etc were pretty dumpy compared to American counterparts; and I knew, even as a pre-teen, that there was something fishy about it. It just had that propaganda smell, no different than, say, the NASA bulletins we received on their satellites and pre-Apollo lunar missions, or even stories in the American Life. I knew they were only telling me one side of the story, and unlike real news stories, the stories were so mundane that it made me wonder why they thought they needed to hide something.

  • JoeBlow123||

    I wonder what the headlines would be today if this happened:

    "AFD Channels Nazi Past"
    "Nazism on the Rise in Germany"
    "Immigrant Backlash Sparks Neo-Nazi Resurgence"

    The leftist stooges when have as intelligentsia and media would swallow this just like they swallowed the Soviet lies in the past.

  • Mark22||

    It probably fooled a lot of people into thinking there were more neo-Nazis in West Germany than in reality; but the only people who would have been fooled into thinking East Germany had none were the same fools who thought Communists were benevolent in the first place.

    There probably were few neo-Nazis in East Germany since Marxism is ideologically so close to Nazism anyway, including its anti-Semitism.

  • Michael Hihn||

    We know the Russians had no influence on the Alt-Right because none of them shook hands with Putin. Okay, makes sense. But why would they need Putin himself, when they had Trump to defend their brutal assaults in Charlottesvile, with perhaps his most psychopathic lies yet, as so well proven by the videos?

  • Mark22||

    Why did we need Hitler and Stalin when we have Michael Hihn?

  • Michael Hihn||

    Since you asked...

    Now Trump's totally psychopathic lie about Charlottesvile, sucking up to white supremacists. Bad enough that he said both sides were to blame. But he also went bat-shit crazy, saying the counter-protesters charged the nazis, swinging clubs. He is one sick fuck. UNDENIABLE proof

    The initial assault, Charlottesvile-- Nazis and white supremacists attacking peaceful protesters with clubs
    "Alt-Left" standing peacefully, no visible clubs or bats.
    Alt-Right Facsists/Racists crash into them en masse, swinging clubs.
    Fascists are carrying the same shields as cops in riot gear. The motherfuckers CAME for violence
    Shame on Trump and the party who defends him
    Giving aid and comfort to the enemy is ... treason

    These are Nazis, Racists and Jew-Haters. Ivanka and Jerod are Jewish.
    Trump threw his own daughter under a bus, playing to the very worst in his base SHAMEFUL.

    Anything else you'd like proof of?

  • Z565||

    This article neglected to mention Carter Page:

    ".....Over time, Page became increasingly critical of United States foreign policy towards Russia, and more supportive of Putin, with the United States official describing Page as "a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did". Page is frequently quoted by Russian state television, where he is presented as a "famous American economist". In 2013, Russian intelligence operatives attempted to recruit Page and one described him as enthusiastic about business opportunities in Russia but an "idiot". News accounts in 2017 indicated that because of these ties to Russia Page had been a subject of a warrant pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 2014, at least 2 years earlier than was indicated in the stories concerning his role in the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

  • Mark22||

    The evidence for this tends to be more speculative than solid, but the general question of post-Soviet Russia's cooperation with Western nationalist and racialist groups is certainly salient.

    It's salient, but you misinterpret it. Russia doesn't "help" those groups in hopes of them succeeding, Russia "helps" those groups for the same reason it helped the civil rights movement, unions, and other groups: it likes to sow chaos and dissent in other countries. And the US likes to use the same means for creating chaos in other countries; the CIA has turned democracies into dictatorships that way.

    That's also been Russia's goal in every election: to get an unpopular, weak president elected; to delegitimize the president; and to tie up the US government in knots of collusion and corruption allegations. For the 2016 election, they may have hacked and released Hillary's e-mails, but the massive misconduct of the Obama administration, the DNC, and the FBI, plus Trump's ineptness in dealing with the political fallout made this an even bigger success for Russia.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Some countries inspire hope and a desire to become more wealthy. The USA sometimes is that and sometimes not.

    Countries like Russia, Cuba, and North Korea try and bring other countries down to their lower level. They can't move up based on their repressive regimes and they know it.

  • Mark22||

    My point is pretty simple: countries propagandize beyond their borders all the time and that's OK. Furthermore, for many decades, the evident direct beneficiaries of Russia's propaganda in the West were leftists, so it is rather hypocritical for leftists to get all pushed out of shape because Russia may have bought some ads for white supremacists.

    Now, what's your point, because I sure as hell didn't see one in your response.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    China to buy 'significantly' more US goods and services after trade talks
    Another one on the Trump done good column
    Uh-oh, who would have thought Trump could nudge China into better free trade by negotiating from a position of strength?

  • Michael Hihn||

    Umm, the Trump who REVERSED himself after China made a $500 million loan to a project that will enrich Trump personallty? "Strength" at personal extortion, on top of his massive personal tax cut, and over a dozen other instances of self-enriching graft?

    He's hasn't drained the swamp. He's bottled it and selling it under his brand! Will it be like his other actual businesses, a baker's dozen, all of which failed, four of which as bankruptcies? Or the $25 million he paid to settle fraud by Trump University?

    He did say his base would lie to defend him from murder, in broad daylight, with witnesses. If they accept being so publicly insulted and degraded, the rest is easy for them

    Left - Right = Zero

  • Mark22||

    Hihn = neo-Marxist authoritarian

  • Michael Hihn||

    Hihn = neo-Marxist authoritarian

    Trumptard launches unprovoked personal attack
    ... says his VICTIM is authoritarian
    ... and is PROVEN full of shit here

    Almost like getting a Christmas present!

  • DajjaI||

    The basic strategy is to incite an hysteria over a crisis, such as a rise of communism or nazism or antisemitism or addiction or anything really, that is surely going to spread like a virus through the populace and destroy us all, to use as a pretext for the government to crack down on civil liberties. About a year ago a facebook friend (who was born in Russia and now works at the VA) posted pics of a neo-Nazi rally in Austin, where he just so happened to be vacationing. Well it was just such an obvious Russian op, and I was quickly de-friended for haha'ing it. Now you'd think that people would start to view all such cases with a little more skepticism. But they don't. Why? Because we need them to fan the flames of our own pet ideologies. For example despite many of these neo-Nazi uprisings being less indigenous than we thought, there will still be an antifa blue wave in the next elections to 'protect' us from it.

  • DajjaI||

    Israel does the same thing by fanning the flames of antisemitism in Eastern Europe. For example, Bibi 'King of the Jews' is an open ally of neo-Nazi Orban in Hungary. Why? So they can create antisemitism hysteria and he can cry, "The Jew is not safe in Europe.
    Come to Israel, we'll protect you!" And to create a market for Israel arms and security tech export. And to shore up his political base. And people don't seem to mind, because they are sure that antisemitism is indigenous regardless of the storied Zionist history of inciting it. But yes, Jews are starting to get wise to it, and this creates some pretty funny paradoxes. For example, the Russian propaganda front Redfish published a video about Orban for the purpose of attacking Bibi even though it made Putin (Orban's ally) look pretty bad too. This is the problem with this strategy - blowback is inevitable.

  • Nardz||

    I just love how uncritically this "Russia bad! Putin bad!" narrative is accepted.
    Related: how much foreign "support" is tied up with globalist groups?

  • Michael Hihn||

    Did you also defend Hitler? Pol Pot? Mussolini? Donald Trump?

  • Mark22||

    Did you also defend Hitler? Pol Pot? Mussolini? Michael Hihn?

  • Michael Hihn||

    Stalking cyber-bully also humiliated himself here!

  • Nardz||

    I have defended Trump in cases when it's appropriate to defend his actions, as I'm not so much on board with groupthink.

    But we've all seen you defend Hitler and call for the disarmament of minority Americans, so tough for you to take the moral high ground on anything.

    Hihn - 0 = State Supremacist

  • Michael Hihn||

    Did you also defend Hitler? Pol Pot? Mussolini? Donald Trump??

    I have defended Trump in cases when it's appropriate to defend his actions, as I'm not so much on board with groupthink.

    WHOOOOOOOOOSH
    Why did you defend both Putin and Russia .. across the board ,, even over Trump?
    YOUR defense of Putin and Russian is visible on this page

    Your bullshit about me is both shameful and pathetic But typical of your insanity.
    You've been called out as a liar.

    State Supremacist

    Because I defend the Constitution! Goes with your love of Putin and Russian!

    TRY! You CAN make an even bigger ass of yourself!!

  • DajjaI||

    Very true and to rephrase Eleanor Holmes Norton, "No one can undermine your democracy without your consent."

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