Europe's Far Right And Putin Get Cozy, With Benefits For Both : Parallels Despite tensions between Russia and the West, Moscow is forging links with far-right, anti-EU parties in Europe. They're attracted to the traditional social values of Vladimir Putin's Russia.
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Europe's Far Right And Putin Get Cozy, With Benefits For Both

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Europe's Far Right And Putin Get Cozy, With Benefits For Both

Europe's Far Right And Putin Get Cozy, With Benefits For Both

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now let's hear how Putin's appeal extends beyond the border. There's been a growing bond between Putin's Kremlin and some of the far-right opposition parties in Europe. We have this joint report from NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris and Corey Flintoff in Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: At a recent National Front meeting in the city of Lyon, the party faithful chanted this is our country. There was a special guest at this far-right rally - Andrey Isayev, a member of President Vladimir Putin's political party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREY ISAYEV: (Speaking foreign language).

BEARDSLEY: The apparent contradiction of political philosophies didn't seem to dampen the crowd's enthusiasm for Isayev's message.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ISAYEV: (Speaking foreign language).

BEARDSLEY: Long live Franco-Russian friendship and down with the European Union, he said. Isayev called the EU a spineless lackey of the United States. Pierre Lellouche is a member of France's mainstream conservative party. He says the far-right is attracted by Putin's Russia because it embodies their traditional social values they feel Europe has abandoned.

PIERRE LELLOUCHE: In Russia, it is really this mix of exalting nationalism, exalting the church and Christian values. They are now replacing the red star by the cross and they are presenting themselves as the ultimate barrier against the Islamization of the continent.

BEARDSLEY: National Front president Marine Le Pen has made no secret of her admiration for Putin and has traveled to Moscow on several occasions. It seems to have paid off. Last month, the Russian Bank lent the National Front $11 million.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen defended the loan, saying French Banks had refused to help her party. That may be so, says Sylvain Crepon, who studies the French far-right, but he doesn't believe a loan from a bank with ties to Putin came about by chance.

SYLVAIN CREPON: Putin is a kind of model for Marine Le Pen. He has, according to her, a natural authority and also he's not afraid to stand up to United States for National Front and, especially, Marine Le Pen, it is something very important.

BEARDSLEY: The National Front is not alone in its admiration for the strong Russian president. Nigel Farage, the head of UKIP, Britain's far-right party, called Putin one of the world leaders he admires most. When Russia annexed Crimea last March, Le Pen and Austria's far-right FPO party defended the land grab as legitimate. Putin even invited a handful of European far-right leaders to observe the separatist referendum in Crimea. I asked my NPR colleague in Moscow, Corey Flintoff, why is the Russian leadership all of a sudden interested in the far-right?

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Eleanor, the political elite here is really angry at the West for imposing sanctions on Russia over its involvement in Ukraine. So they support these right-wing movements because they think they can be of use in Russia's confrontation with the European Union and the United States. There's one thing that's clear, though - that loan from a Russian bank to a French political party would never fly in Russia.

BORIS KAGARLITSKIY: Definitely, if any foreign bank gave loans to a Russian political party, it would have been illegal, or at least it would have been an issue which could lead to a lot of scandal, a lot of noise.

FLINTOFF: That's Boris Kagarlitskiy, the head of a think tank called the Institute for Globalization Studies and Social Movements. He says any Russian party receiving foreign money would have to register as a foreign agent, which is practically equivalent to being a spy.

BEARDSLEY: Back in Western Europe, the fortunes of the far-right have been boosted by rising immigration and sagging economies. Analysts say Russia hopes to work with an empowered far-right to help weaken European unity. The Kremlin may also be trying to appeal to more mainstream cultural conservatives in Europe.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

BEARDSLEY: There's a giant Christmas tree outside of Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral. For the first time ever the tree wasn't purchased by local businesses and parishioners. This year it was a gift from the Russian government. A Russian diplomat called it a symbol of unity between Christian peoples. Some Parisians were outraged, others, like Michel Onre, shrugged it off.

MICHEL ONRE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: We all know Putin is aligning with the far-right 'cause he wants to divide and weaken Europe. I hate that, says Onre, but is there really any harm in Putin buying France a Christmas tree?

ONRE: (Speaking French) (Laughter).

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

FLINTOFF: And I'm Corey Flintoff in Moscow.

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