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A Vote for Populists Is a Vote for Putin

For years, the evidence of European populist and far-right parties' allegiance – and debts – to Russian President Vladimir Putin has been piling up. With the Kremlin now fully engaged in swinging the European Parliament election toward its chosen candidates, it's up to Europe's voters push back.

BRUSSELS – On May 18, European right-wing leaders assembled in Milan for a rally ahead of the European Parliament election this week. Among the attendees were Marine Le Pen of National Rally in France, Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom, and representatives from the Danish People’s Party, the Finns Party, the Alternative für Deutschland, and the Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang. Almost all of these parties have joined Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini’s planned new right-wing parliamentary grouping, the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations.

At the rally in Milan, Salvini checked all of the populist, alt-right boxes, describing the upcoming election as an, “historic moment to free the continent from the abusive occupation organized in Brussels for many years by traitors.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and the philanthropist George Soros, he declared, “have built a Europe of high finance and uncontrolled immigration.” To top it all off, Salvini later told an interviewer that he was “waiting for Nigel Farage,” the leader of the new Brexit Party in the United Kingdom, to join him in the European Parliament.

But Salvini and his new allies are also waiting for – or, more accurately, waiting on – someone else. Apart from their Euroskepticism and xenophobia, Europe’s right-wing populist leaders are united by their adoration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Their public statements sound as though they were issued directly from the Kremlin, where Putin’s minions constantly complain about the so-called “Washington-led Brussels elite.” Like the illiberalism of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the partnership between the European right and the Kremlin has been allowed to fester for far too long.

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