Putin’s international friends

While everybody should be aware of Putin's relationship with former US President Donald Trump, writes Dave Kellaway, his influence can be found in many corridors of power.

 

Links between Trump and Putin are well known and documented. There is evidence that Russian intervention on social media helped him defeat Hilary Clinton. His business interests in Moscow were facilitated by Putin. Politically Trump’s America first and more isolationist foreign policy suited Putin’s expansionist plans within what he considered his sphere of influence. Trump’s coolness to the EU alliance and criticism of NATO was also looked on favourably by Putin. On Wednesday last week, just before the actual invasion Trump praised Putin as smart and a genius for taking over a country for $2 of sanctions.  He maintained this state of affairs was because of the way the US election was rigged against him. Mike Pompeo who served as Secretary of State and CIA director under Trump said last month before the invasion:

(Putin is) a very talented statesman. He has lots of gifts. He was a KGB agent for goodness sakes. He knows how to use power. And we should respect that.” 

Since then Pompeo has rowed back and condemned the invasion. Trump’s cosying up to Putin still has a strong influence in the Republican party.  His supporters are more preoccupied with the ‘migrant invasion from the south’ and are willing to deal with Putin in a realpolitik fashion. But is it not just in the US that Putin has won friends, he has cultivated political and material links in some key European countries.

Britain (England)

Nigel Farage is an open admirer of Putin and the Brexit campaign benefited, like the Trump one, from covert support from Russia. He has been a long term collaborator with the Russian state-run TV station, RT. His Leave campaign manager Aaron Banks had a number of meetings with Putin officials. Recently, Farage has said that while Putin’s incursion in Ukraine was not justified, it was an understandable response to Western overreach. He told Fox News:

“The Ukrainian crisis actually was sparked by the European Union saying they wanted to extend their borders to take in the Ukraine, which Putin took as being a direct threat (…) Now, my view on Putin and the Russians is, don’t poke the Russian bear with a stick. If you do, you’re bound to get a response.”

In many ways his analysis echoes some of the campist far left who overemphasise Putin’s security concerns regarding NATO encirclement and downplay his expansionist project. He denies Ukraine is a sovereign nation and wants to impose a similar undemocratic regime to the one in Russia. Ukraine’s own security concerns or right to self-determination is left out of the equation.

France

Eric Zemmour, the French presidential candidate who is currently on nearly 15% in the polls on the 9 December 2021 said: “I would lay bets that Russia will not invade Ukraine” on the France 2 news programme. In 2018 he said he dreamed of a French Putin and recently he said that NATO had no right to exist. Of course, the Gaullist legacy in French politics means there is much more latent hostility to US power. The French nuclear deterrent for example is not so tied into the US arsenal as the British Trident warheads.

His obsession with the French nation and its ethnic identity is similar to Putin’s enthusiasm for the Russian people to get off their knees and show their vigour and true destiny after the humiliations following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Remember Putin saw all this upfront as a KGB officer in Berlin in 1989. Like Zemmour he has contempt for the materialism and liberal moral decline of the West. Globalism, the EU and NATO are anathema and obstruct the pure interests of the people and nation.

Marine Le Pen leader of the RN (National Rally, formerly National Front) was given an audience with Putin during the 2017 election campaign and received a 9 million euro loan from a Russian bank in 2014. The debt has since been rescheduled but is not yet repaid in full. Following the invasion Le Pen expressed some doubts, noting “an eminently regrettable act.” “Everything must be done to find the path to dialogue to ensure peace in Europe,” she added. “From now on, the solution probably lies in the organization of an international conference,”. So she is not exactly standing with Ukraine.

Jean-Luc Melenchon from the radical left who is currently on around 11% in the polls has argued along the same lines as much the campist left who tend to over define everything in terms of opposition to US and EU imperialism. On the 10 February on France 2 TV, when asked who was the aggressor, NATO or Russia he replied: “NATO without any doubt. The USA has decided to annex Ukraine into NATO and Russia feels humiliated, threatened and attacked”. After the invasion, he changed tack now saying that such an attack could not be supported and such actions lead us practically back to the causes of the First World War.  We should also point out too that unlike Putin’s hard-right friends he has spoken up against the imprisonment and harassment of opposition figures like Putin.

Italy

In Italy, a wide range of political leaders have connections with the Russian leader. Italy is heavily reliant on imports of Russian gas for its energy security. The influence of the former Italian Communist Party means there are many historic business and trade links.

The Five Star Movement set up by comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009 can be defined roughly as centrist bourgeois populism. It made great play of being neither right nor left and was anti-EU and critical of NATO and military expenses. Since its accession to the last two governments, having at one stage won a third of the Italian electorate, it has moved to the right and fragmented. Its opposition to what is defined as the political caste’s foreign policy positions meant it took positions accommodating or supportive of the Kremlin. So in 2016 its current Foreign affairs undersecretary, Di Stefano, defined Ukraine as a ‘NATO puppet state’. Last week he flipped completely to support sanctions against Russia. In 2017 Di Battista who headed up the more radical wing of this movement, flew to Moscow to participate in the congress of Putin’s party, United Russia. He stated then that the Russian government appreciated its objection to EU sanctions. Just last week he said Russia was not going to invade Ukraine.

Salvini, as leader of the hard-right Lega, has cultivated links for a long time with the Putin regime. I remember seeing a detailed Italian TV documentary last year that showed contacts in the Moscow hotel Metropole between a representative of a Lega front organisation, the Lombardy/Russia association and key Putin intermediaries. Just as with Le Pen there have been allegations of Russian financial support for Salvini’s party.  Like the M5S movement, the Lega were violently anti-EU. Although, particularly since their participation in the Draghi government which is implementing an EU post-Covid recovery plan, they have rowed back on that and no longer call for an exit from the Euro. There is the famous picture of Salvini in Strasbourg with a Putin tee shirt and a declaration stating: “I will trade you two Matterellas (Italian president) for half a Putin”. There is a clear affinity between these hard-right/neo-fascist politicians who praise national/ethnic identity, extol traditional family and religious values and Putin who does the same in Russia.

Before the Lega and the M5S love affair with Putin, there was Berlusconi and his Forza Italia. His catchphrase was ‘my friend Putin’.  They partied together – and Berlusconi loved to party – in Putin’s dacia and in his Sardinia villa in 2008. Some of his closest collaborators picked up a number of honorary awards from Moscow. Berlusconi is said to have received a cut in Italy/Russian energy deals according to reports emerging from the Wikileaks documents.

Bolsonaro and Brazil

Putin has another far-right supporter in the Brazilian president, Bolsonaro. Putin praised the latter’s handling of the pandemic. Most observers have judged it in fact disastrous for Brazilians. A big trade contract exists around Russian fertilizers for the huge Brazilian agri-business sector. Bolsonaro made a point of visiting Putin in the immediate run-up to the invasion. However, Brazil did vote in favour of the UN resolution condemning the invasion.

Putin’s reactionary political project

These open or more secret relations between the hard right or fascists and Putin are another indicator of his reactionary political project. His opposition to NATO does not rest on any progressive interests in defending either working people or countries’ right to self-determination. Most of it boils down to the Machiavellian politics of the enemy or my enemy is my friend. At the same time, his great Russian ethnonationalism aligns pretty much with the politics of these collaborators. Our attitude to Putin cannot be solely defined by his opposition to NATO expansion.

We have to start from the interests of the working class internationally. A victory for Putin in Ukraine will be a big defeat for working people, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia. It could stimulate more support for the West’s military spending and for right-wing politics generally. A defeat for Putin would not be simply an ‘imperialist’ victory as some on the left are arguing but, to a degree, be a victory for self-determination and an example to the rest of that region in defeating a repressive regime. Of course, the imperialists will also try to take advantage, as Johnson and co are doing today, but that is not the only consequence.


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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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