Decryption – How Russia is influencing far-right parties in Europe: “It's much bigger than we thought”

This Wednesday, April 10, was published by the International Center for Combating Terrorism (ICCT). A book (in English) “Russia and the Far Right: Insights from Ten European Countries”. The book seeks to identify the different shapes and forms of Russian influence in far-right circles across Europe over the past decade. “We looked at 10 countries (Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Sweden) and examined two concrete cases each time: extremist groups, social networks, websites, politicians, etc.“, explains Thomas Renard, director of the center.

This book took a year to write. A year in which the ICCT and a panel of experts from across Europe monitored Russian actions against the European far-right. This observation covers the last 10 years, i.e. since 2014, the date of annexation of Crimea, “It's only when we add it up that we realize it's bigger than we thought“, adds Thomas Renard.

A fertile land

In Europe, independent of Russia, populism and extremism have risen“, the expert underlines.”Russia noticed this and tried to use one of its levers to buy influence networks through financial loans to far-right parties such as the Front National, which became the National Rally in France..”

Russia doesn't just influence policies. Through social networks, in particular, the country “It has become one of the largest spreaders of misinformation fueling some extremist circles“.

It is not necessary to imagine a grand Russian strategy. Generally speaking, they shoot bazookas at flies.“, notes Thomas Renard.”They carry out massive propaganda operations without knowing much about the consequences, but it doesn't matter because what matters to them is that liberal voices are weakened in relation to dissenting voices, even non-supportive ones. – The Russians.”

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Russia's goalClear“Expert Analyzes:”Affects civil society“With the aim of creating political disruption and disorder from within. A strategy that can and will prove powerful.”Create security issues as individuals may commit acts of violence based on propagandistic ideas.”

Russia, an alternative ideal?

Some may be affected by Russia's actions, while others do not need to honor the motherland. “We have always admired American soft power, and we believe that Russia does not have the power of attraction. But a minority – but significant – segment of the population in Europe sees Russia as an alternative to a liberal model that few recognize.“, Thomas Renard underlines.

One of the reasons for this disillusionment stems from the evolution of our society. Over the past three decades, Europe has undergone many developments, and many may feel uncomfortable with these developments. Since then, Russia, which “It has given itself the image of a standard bearer of traditional values“, finds a significant echo in far-right groups”Wrapped around traditional values“.

What are the results?

If 15 or 20 years ago, Russian discourse found very little resonance with us, things have changed over time. As described above, extremist groups tend to share certain views with Russia. As these groups enjoy increasing success, the number of victims and sensitizers to Russian propaganda is also growing significantly. For Thomas Renard, this has two main consequences.

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First: “In some countries, this allows parties favorable to Russian positions to come to power. This has been seen in Hungary and Slovakia, and in Italy with Russian support for some neo-fascist parties. They do this through legal or illegal financing, facilitating deals with Russian companies, etc. All this is not new, but we are seeing it start to pay off as these parties start coming to power in various countries in Europe..”

Second: “In countries where this seems most problematic, Russia plays a strategy of the weak, which weakens countries from within by encouraging disruptive elements within our liberal democracies..”

Putin's absolute dream is for Russia to become a great power again, and he doesn't hide it. But they realized long ago that this could not be achieved by traditional means, as Russia did not have the economy or the armed forces that would allow it to compete with Europe or the United States. So Russia has decided to invest in disinformation warfare and political warfare.

Our democracy at risk?

Through this long-term strategy, Russia ensures the gradual weakening of what it considers its rivals. Today, Russian influence is widespread, the ICCT investigation demonstrates. In the face of these results, the director of the International Counter-Terrorism Center issued a warning. “The danger is not only real, but already present“The main risk is about companies that protect us or manage a division.”We know that in the European Union, NATO and all international forms, there are people who are paid by Moscow. It affects trust between partners. Within the EU and NATO, classified information is exchanged, and if we start to distrust each other and know that this information will be leaked, these organizations lose a large part of their raison d'être. In any case at the security and political level“.

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Supporting his point a little more, Thomas Renard asserts: “This is very worrying. Yes, it is time to take this issue very seriously. Along with corruption there are aspects of the fight against criminal fraud, but also aspects of the fight against false speech and incitement to hate online..”

All countries are concerned, he reiterates, calling for the mobilization of services and political figures.

If there are more countries moving towards pro-Russian positions like Slovakia, it will inevitably weaken the EU and NATO.

Russia, not only influential … but very attractive

In games of geopolitical implications, Russia is not the only one using its weapons. Other countries participate in spreading disinformation online, Thomas Renard assures. “Russia's peculiarity is that, rightly or wrongly, a large part of the European population feels ready to join its cause because it presents itself as a conservative and white country. This is not the case for countries like China or Iran, which also play influence games, but are more distant and have different cultures..”

By playing propaganda, Russia undermines the Western liberal model and the principle of truth. We're in a somewhat 'post-truth' world where facts don't matter more than feelings, and Russia is playing a lot into this, fueling this.“, warned the expert in the fight against terrorism.

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