Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has cast a light on the web of ties between influential individuals (and politicians) in Russia, Europe and the US. This not only involves oligarchs and manipulative energy tactics, but Russia’s special relationship with the far-right around the globe.
One of the most significant ties linking Russia to the far-right concerns the movement of funds, which are notoriously difficult to trace. Here the most obvious example is the granting of a Russian loan to France’s Rassemblement National (formerly Front National) worth several million euros, even though the transfer was arranged not by state actors but a private bank. Yet Putin’s own political party, United Russia, has in the past also had ties to the likes of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, populist Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Matteo Salvini’s right-wing party Lega Nord. It has also cooperated with some conservative parties, such as Germany’s CDU and CSU. Most of the partnerships were arranged by Andrey Isayev, a leading United Russia official. Equally, there is also evidence of networks – albeit indirectly linked – away from the Russian parliament. For instance, a network of Russian ‘cultural institutes’ has grown across Europe whose committees include members of the far-right. Lists of committee members have since vanished from the internet, making it now impossible to say with certainty who had or has a (presumably remunerated) position and with which body. The main office of one – the Suvorov Institute – is located in Vienna. Its general secretary is Alexander Markovics, who was a founding member and a central actor in the Identitäre Bewegung Österreich (Identitarian Movement Austria), a Neue Rechte (New Right) far-right group formed in 2012. It remains unclear how the institute is financially managed, but the organisation proudly displays images of and awards from Vladimir Putin.
Markovics also works as a translator for Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian political philosopher known for his fascist views. However, his translations are not based on the original Russian texts but on English translations. The translator’s political ideology was clearly more important than his linguistic abilities. One of the outlets publishing Markovics’ German translations is Arktos Media, a company specialising in New Right authors. Everything is thus kept within established networks. Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory became a seminal philosophical work in the international and transnational organised fascism movement. He puts forth the theory that all political ideologies – with the exception of liberalism – have been defeated and that all opponents to liberalism must join forces. However, they must do so within the bounds of a clearly authoritarian social order, i.e. traditionalism. In other words, a traditionalist social order designed around a rigid social hierarchy. Here Dugin notably takes inspiration from the caste system in India, a country that remains, alongside Russia, a bastion of traditionalism against western liberalism when it comes to social stratification. A clear social order that sees society divided into separate status groups is contrasted with a diverse liberal society that permits boundaries with regard to gender and sexuality but also class mobility, and which must be contained. Here the fascist concept of decadence takes shape.
Dugin’s theory transforms traditional fascist ideology in two distinct ways. Firstly, the ideology is no longer local but global, and, secondly, it is no longer a matter of individual nation states – or even individual continents or cultural regions – fighting each other but an ideological battle between liberalism and traditionalism. In this battle, Russia is held up as a bastion of traditionalism. However, this also means that far-right groups devoted to this ideology think globally and thus are sometimes brought into conflict with their own nation states. The battlefield is no longer just one’s own country but the whole world. And the enemy are the western democracies, which are portrayed as being contaminated by liberal ideology. Much of this is played out within the realm of culture wars, which focus on issues such as feminism, homosexuality or transgender people. Or anti-racist pedagogy and countless other related issues. Each of these issues and even the most minor social progress are interpreted as proof of decline and an out-of-touch elite. Here liberals and the left are lumped together. The most traditionalist (i.e. fascist) forces are operating underground and are society’s last hope. The status quo must be challenged both from within and externally by an anti-liberalism alliance that can bring the system down.
Similar to Trump’s former chief strategist and alt-right ideologue Steve Bannon, Dugin takes inspiration from the fascist thinker and occultist Julius Evola. The aim is to herald a new golden age. Both Bannon and Dugin hold not a linear but a cyclical view of the world, according to which we currently find ourselves in Kali Yuga, or “the age of darkness”. This must be overcome by accelerating current crises and bringing about an apocalyptic final battle from which a new golden age will emerge. This reasoning appeals to religious and esoteric forces. The aim of the pincer grip created by a Trump-led US and a Putin-led Russia was to force this apocalyptic endgame and to free the world from ‘liberalism’, a term actually used to mean ‘postmodernism’ in this context. (And, in fact, ‘postmodernism’ is used as a catch-all for modernism’s achievements.) Revolt Against the Modern World was one of Evola’s most influential works. In it, the author calls for an end to modernism in order to bring about a rebirth of the golden age. Evola was one of Italian fascism’s most influential thinkers. In a sinister parallel, Dugin and Bannon have now become the leading intellectuals for 21st-century fascism.
Yet not everything is as clear cut as it would seem, even if large sections of the far-right have adopted traditionalist views. The war against Ukraine has also created gaping divisions among members of the extreme right. This is because a considerable number of them feel allegiance to Ukraine: in their fascist worldview, Ukraine is the last bastion of a white Europe that must be defended. A deeply rooted anti-communism means that these groups (here I primarily mean neo-Nazis, but also many of those on the New Right) still see Russia as a communist enemy that must be fought. Putin is seen as the successor to Stalin and Russia as the new Soviet Union; neo-Nazi logic dictates that Russia must be defeated. Since 2014, cooperation between European and Ukrainian Nazis and fascists has intensified, which has posed a quandary, especially for sections of the New Right, as the scene is now divided. Some key players, such as the former leader of the Austrian Identitarian movement, Martin Sellner, are trying to appease both sides and find the middle ground. If in doubt, they can simply resort to their usual ploy of claiming everything is one big conspiracy and that someone else is to blame, be it NATO or the liberal billionaire George Soros.
While a section of the far-right believes Russia is leading them into a final battle with the West, another (albeit smaller) group is preparing to defend Europe against the exact same nation. Either way, Russia will decide the future of the far-right.