Newspaper article International New York Times

Mr. Putin's Far-Right Friends

Newspaper article International New York Times

Mr. Putin's Far-Right Friends

Article excerpt

He could hardly wish for better allies than these anti-European Union agitators.

When we met him in The Hague the other day, Geert Wilders, chief of the Dutch far-right Party of Freedom, maintained that he was not, in fact, Vladimir V. Putin's best ally in Europe.

My colleague and I had asserted that he and the Russian president had a shared interest: They both wanted to weaken the European Union -- Mr. Putin from outside, Mr. Wilders from within. "Nonsense," he said. "I don't need Putin."

But that was a dodge. Whether he needs Mr. Putin or not, Mr. Wilders and the rest of the European far right are coming together in their belief that, as the Ukraine crisis shows, Europe has long been punching above its weight, and that it is now paying the price.

In the past, Mr. Wilders raged against Islam, calling it fascist and demanding a ban on the Quran. Now the self-described freedom fighter is using the same approach to what he regards as the second- greatest danger to Europe's liberty: the strangulation of sovereign nations by bureaucrats in Brussels.

He's not alone. Practically every country has its own version of the Tea Party, each striving to do away with the euro or even with the European Union altogether. They see their big day coming on Sunday, when 380 million Europeans will finish electing the European Parliament. In Italy it is the Five Star League, in France it is the National Front, in Britain it is the U.K. Independence Party.

They all see the vote as a referendum on an overstretched 28- nation bloc and a common currency that condemns their peoples to agonizing austerity measures. Polls see the parties winning up to 25 percent of the seats.

All of this is happening at a time when Russia is trying to roll back the European Union's influence in the east. To be fair, Mr. Wilders has been critical of Mr. Putin's actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Still, the Russian leader could hardly wish for better friends these days than the anti-Union agitators. The European elections are taking place on the same day as presidential elections in Ukraine. It's not hard to imagine that, after Syria, Snowden, Sochi and Simferopol, Mr. Putin's propaganda machine will try to add Strasbourg to the list of Russia's victories.

And if Mr. Wilders demurs on his relationship with Russia, others don't. "I think we can be a good partner for Russia in the European Parliament," said Filip Dewinter of the Belgian right-wing party Vlaams Belang. Indeed, leading representatives from Mr. Putin's United Russia party have already visited with Europe's anti-Union activists, returning the good wishes.

The mutual attraction is more than the usual enemy-of-my-enemy scheme. It is the promise of a new model of modernity that unites Europe's anti-establishment movement with Mr. …

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