While Russia’s efforts to wield leverage in Europe have not entirely succeeded, they have yet to fail either wholly. Despite overwhelming support for Ukraine, which continues suffering from Russia’s cruel and unjustified war, a subculture of those who condone Putin’s regime’s crimes still exists.
Putin’s European “useful idiots” promote the Kremlin’s narrative in the West
The Economist describes Vladimir Putin’s European “useful idiots” who promote the Kremlin’s narrative in the West and harm Ukraine. The newspaper points out that the far right and far left parties, which often have fundamental contrasts, are united in demanding an instant “peace” in Ukraine that “would effectively reward Russian war aggression with the captured and occupied territory” and accept Moscow’s privilege to gain territories through wars.
These “grumblers”, according to The Economist, have begun to challenge the scale of their governments’ aid to Ukraine, which by February this year had totalled more than €60 billion in economic and military assistance from Brussels and individual EU members and €70 billion if you include the UK, roughly equal to the US contribution.
The publication points to the cynicism of media and intellectuals who are willing to ignore the evidence of Russia’s imperial intentions and instead complain about “Europe’s being dragged into what they see as a proxy war between the US and Russia, or perhaps, in a more geopolitical sense, a confrontation between the US and China”.
Despite numerous Western sanctions and condemnations of Russian crimes in Ukraine, Russia still has many “friends”.
Who is part of Putin’s circle of friends?
Several European governments are among Putin’s aides. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is one of Putin’s most apparent cronies, The Economist writes.
The newspaper reminds us that Orban has repeatedly criticised Western support for Ukraine, and his government has continued to import Russian gas to Hungary.
Orban’s government also refuses to allow the transit of weapons provided to Ukraine by Hungarian NATO and EU partners.
Austria, too, has withdrawn from the fight, citing that it is not a NATO member and plays the role of a bridge between East and West, offering little assistance to Ukraine, although its trade with Russia has soared.
Greece, another EU member, has complied with EU sanctions but has been reluctant to tighten restrictions on the transport of Russian oil, possibly because Greek firms benefit from this trade.
Only recently, under intense US pressure, Cyprus, an offshore financial haven, closed some 4,000 local bank accounts of Russians. Faced with less pressure, non-EU countries such as Turkey and Serbia do not even try to hide the lucrative back doors they provide to Russia.
Citing its vaunted neutrality, Switzerland has used local laws to block arms shipments to Ukraine, including 96 mothballed Leopard tanks in Italy that turned out to belong to a private Swiss firm. However, after the war started, Switzerland continued to buy gold of Russian origin.
Slovakia has been a vital conduit for Western aid and recently provided Ukraine with MiG-29 fighter jets. But polls suggest that the party of Robert Fico, a Russophile leftist who has accused “Ukrainian fascists” of provoking Putin, is likely to win the September elections.
Le Pen plays along Russian propaganda effort
France is the linchpin of both NATO and the EU. But recently, a French parliamentary commission slammed the far right leader Marine Le Pen, President Emmanuel Macron’s closest rival in last year’s election, for repeating Russian propaganda after the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Le Pen has steadfastly denied that her allegiance to Putin’s stance in international politics has anything to do with the €9 million in loans her party received from Russian-controlled banks.
She has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Still, several months after the war began, she said that sanctions against Russia were not working. Le Pen also repeated the narrative of an immediate pease without calling on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine.
In Italy, while Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is a strong supporter of Ukraine, Matteo Salvini, who leads the second-largest party in her coalition, is another opponent of sanctions and, at least before the invasion, was a fervent Putin fan.
Germany, like France, is a reliable partner and an excellent support for Ukraine. However, the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which the country’s intelligence chief has explicitly called a propagandist for Russian narratives, is gaining ground in the polls. German far-right play along with Russian propaganda.
What narratives are being promoted by pro-Putin politicians
According to The Economist, the narratives of the “useful idiot” are surprisingly resilient. The publication points out their main theses:
- NATO “provoked” Russia’s repeated attacks on Ukraine and its eventual invasion,
- Ukraine is an artificial entity created on territory that rightfully belongs to Russia,
- The US is happy to add fuel to the fire to sell arms and maintain its global hegemony.
The publication notes that these narratives sound different. In particular, the collective West is blamed for NATO’s “attack” on Serbia and Libya in 1999 and 2011, respectively. The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are also mentioned. In this way, the “useful idiots” pose a rhetorical and, at the same time, cynical question: “What’s the harm in Russia’s behaviour?”
Some people are weaving conspiracy theories. For example, German sociologist Wolfgang Streck argues that the hidden purpose of the crisis is to create the conditions to bring a frightened EU under the control of a pumped-up NATO.
Cold War anti-Americanism unites far right and far left parties
The Economist suggests that a husky Cold War anti-Americanism links Europe’s far right, far left and “intellectual” opposition.
Tino Hruppalla of Alternative for Germany insists that the allies benefited from the war in Ukraine by forcing Germany to switch from Russian natural gas supplied through pipes to more expensive liquefied natural gas supplied from America.
He believes this is a trap, as imported American energy is so expensive that German manufacturers will be forced to move production to the US. Sarah Wagenknecht, his left-wing ally in pro-Russian views, believes that Washington provoked the war with Russia to draw Ukraine into its “sphere of influence”.
At a recent political rally near Berlin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was confronted with shouts of “Warmonger!”. Scholz replied that it was Putin who wanted to destroy and conquer Ukraine. “If you, chatterboxes, had any brains, you would know who the real warmonger is!” Scholz replied.
Source: The Economist, Image: A.Yermolenko