Russia’s appeal to Europe’s fringe was on full show Sunday [in St. Petersburg] at the International Russian Conservative Forum, a conference organized by a pro-Kremlin ultranationalist party to cement far-right ties, as one participant put it, “from Gibraltar to Vladivostok.” United by their hatred of Washington, the European Union, and LGBT people, about 200 far-right politicians and activists from across Europe gathered in St. Petersburg’s Holiday Inn to rail against liberal tolerance and implore Russia to lead the fight for Christian morality.
“Constantinople has been and gone,” said Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party until last year. “Rome and the persons who came from Rome have gone the same way. It’s absolutely inevitable that in the lifetimes of most of the people in this room, Western Europe will either become an Islamist caliphate or there will be a terrible civil war or perhaps both. Which makes the survival of Christendom absolutely impossible without the rise of the Third Rome: Moscow.”
Since returning to Russia’s presidency in 2012 on the heels of unprecedented protests against him, Putin has sought to recast Russia as a bulwark of conservative values. Though designed to shore up political support at home, measures like bans on offending religious believers and “gay propaganda” have also struck a chord with many on the European right who now see the Kremlin as an ideological fellow traveler. Leaders of anti-immigrant parties across Europe have received enthusiastic welcomes in Moscow. Others have visited Crimea and rebel-held eastern Ukraine to provide a fig leaf of legitimacy to separatists votes there as observers.
Russia has responded in kind. RT, the Kremlin’s foreign-language propaganda network, gives heavy airtime to insurgent European parties and rolling coverage to anti-EU demonstrations. A Russian bank gave France’s Front National — whose leader, Marine le Pen, is an open admirer of Putin’s — an $11.7 million loan last year. Many in Bulgaria saw a Russian hand in anti-fracking protests that helped reverse a shale gas deal with Chevron. One lawmaker from Hungary’s ultranationalist Jobbik party is even under investigation on charges of being a Russian intelligence agent.
Sunday’s conference aimed to formalize the relationship. Its program was adorned by a line from remarks Putin made in 2013 accusing Europe of backing away “from the Christian values at the foundation of European civilization.” Rodina, the party that organized the conference, caucuses with Putin’s United Russia party and enjoys the patronage of Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister who once led the party.
The very fact that the conference was happening at all suggested the Kremlin’s tacit approval, if not outright support. Last December, police repeatedly disrupted a streamed speech in the same venue by exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, arguably Putin’s top critic, then ended it by turning off the hotel’s electricity. Former Kremlin spin doctor Stanislav Belkovsky had to move a lecture for Khodorkovsky’s foundation in St. Petersburg twice after similar harassment on Saturday. Eight members of a small crowd that gathered outside the Holiday Inn to protest the conference were arrested.
Besides Griffin, the conference drew the likes of Udo Voigt of Germany’s far-right National Democratic party (who has described Hitler as a “great German statesman”), two members of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, and American Jared Taylor, who runs the racist American Renaissance website and warns that “the descendants of white Europeans risked being swept away by a wave of Africans, Central Americans and Asians.”
So which side are you on, George Galloway, Seamus Milne, John Wight? The Russians who were arrested for protesting this shameful conference or the regime that sanctioned it?
Don’t bother to answer. We already know.