PARIS – A surprising phenomenon is increasingly apparent in Western Europe: far-right parties are moving away from their traditional anti-communist and anti-Russia ideologies, with many expressing admiration – and even outright support – for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
To be sure, several former and current European political leaders have sought to ally themselves with Putin’s regime. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, for example, joined the board of the Nord Stream gas-pipeline project (ensuring Germany direct access to Russian supplies via the Baltic Sea) immediately after leaving office. Similarly, The Economist described former Czech President Václav Klaus, a prominent Euro-skeptic, as one of Putin’s “warmest admirers abroad.” But opportunism is not ideological affinity.
By contrast, Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party has demonstrated nostalgia for East German virtues, calling the defunct German Democratic Republic “a better Germany” than the Federal Republic. In 2011, the NPD officially merged with another far-right party, the German People’s Union, which has long been linked to Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) and its founder and leader, the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
While Zhirinovsky has long been a prominent member of Putin’s opposition, he has displayed similarly authoritarian tendencies, for example, by promising to establish a police state if elected President. And his communist links are clear. Not only was the LDPR’s establishment a joint project of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the KGB, but Zhirinovsky has also advocated returning to Germany the eastern territories – including much of Poland and the Baltic region – that it lost in World War II.