Reports multiply of Kremlin links to anti-EU parties
Austria’s far-right FPO party has defended its relations with the Kremlin, amid signs of a wider Russian strategy to build ties with anti-EU parties.
The FPO leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, in a statement published on Tuesday (25 November), said “we are convinced of our neutrality and we do not get financial donations or credits” for the party’s pro-Russia politics .
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The statement comes after Austria's left-wing SPO party raised questions in Austrian media about FPO’s independence.
The SPO spoke out when Strache posted pictures on Facebook of himself and other FPO top men at a high-level conference in Moscow.
The Facebook posts include comments such as: “An end to the Nato-EU economic war and sanctions against Russia … We need and want no new walls in Europe!”.
The seminar - entitled “Ways of overcoming the crisis of confidence in Europe” - was chaired by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Other guests included Russia’s EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov and a former German diplomat, Wolfgang Ischinger, who is also known for his pro-Russia views.
The Austrian furore comes after German tabloid Bild on Monday accused the German eurosceptic AfD party of being financed by the Kremlin.
It said - citing German intelligence “sources” and a strategy paper penned by a Moscow-based think-tank, the Centre for Strategic Communications - that Russia is selling gold to the AfD at below-market prices using shady middlemen without the AfD’s knowledge.
But Bernd Lucke, an AfD founder and an MEP, denied the allegations.
He told Bild: “If the German secret services really had such information, then they shouldn't tell me it via a newspaper. We have no indication of Russian interference. I consider these reports to be untrue”.
Bild also reported that Vladimir Yakunin - a Kremlin confidante and Russia’s railway chief, who is blacklisted by the US - hosted a friends-of-Russia conference at the Hotel Maritim in Berlin last weekend.
It says the guests included: another AfD founder, Alexander Gauland; Egon Bahr, from the ruling coalition’s SPD party; and two men from the neo-Nazi NPD party, Frank Franz and Sebastian Schmidtke.
The reports come after French far-right party Front National this week admitted taking a €9 million loan from a Kremlin-linked bank.
The emerging pro-Russia network also includes Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, one of whose members, MEP Bela Kovacs, is being investigated for receiving money from Russian intelligence services.
Tatjana Zdanoka, an MEP from Latvia's pro-Russian Latvijas Krievu savieniba party, is facing a similar probe.
Meanwhile, another Russian oligarch, Konstantin Malofeev, in Vienna in May organised a meeting with delegates from the FPO, the Front National, and Bulgaria’s far-right Ataka party.
Apart from criticising EU integration and defending Russia’s war on Ukraine, the parties regularly vote against Russia-critical resolutions in the European Parliament.
Ataka, the FPO, the Front National, Jobbik, and Latvijas Krievu savieniba also sent observers to separatist “referendums” and “elections” in March and November in Ukraine’s Russia-occupied Crimea and Donetsk regions.
They were joined by members from the Italian and Belgian rightist parties Forza Italia, Lega Nord, and Vlaams Belang.
Anti-EU far-left parties, including Germany’s Die Linke and Greece’s KKE, also sent members to monitor the votes.