French and German votes 'crucial' to Putin's agenda
Weakening the EU by meddling in French and German elections will be a big feature of Russian foreign policy this year, Russian opposition leader and former prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, has warned.
“The main purpose of Mr Putin is to divide and weaken Europe”, he told EUobserver in a recent interview from Moscow, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“He wants to weaken the EU to the extent that it cannot conduct its own affairs without his direct participation … he wants to be involved directly in all negotiations on important issues”, Kasyanov said.
“Putin’s nervous about European unity and about transatlantic unity”, he added.
“He’s trying to undermine those features of a common European foreign and security policy that have started to emerge, for the first time in EU history, in reaction to Russia’s resurgence”.
Kasyanov said that upcoming elections in France and Germany would be “crucial points” on Putin’s agenda.
The votes come after EU confidence was battered by the Brexit vote and by the election of a volatile populist, Donald Trump, in the US.
They also come amid an ongoing migration crisis, in conditions that some commentators have said threaten the European Union’s survival.
“Putin’s foreign policy will be based on this,” he said, referring to Russian efforts to help anti-EU and far-right parties do well in the polls to make matters worse.
Putin, on Friday, hosted the French anti-EU candidate, Marine Le Pen, in the Kremlin in an honour normally reserved for heads of state or government.
The meeting, the first of its kind, came just two weeks before French people vote in the first round of the presidential elections and represented an “outrageous” interference in French politics, Kasyanov said.
He said one reason why Putin did it was in revenge for Western politicians’ meetings with Russian opposition.
He said the Russian leader also did it to see just how much interference the European public and authorities were willing to accept.
“He was testing the waters,” Kasyanov said.
Turning to developments in Russia, the former prime minister said the EU could expect little change from presidential elections in 2018.
Kasyanov spoke to this website before the mass protests in Russia on Sunday (26 March) against regime corruption - the largest in five years.
But he said that the election would be little more than an “imitation” of democracy and that the mood in Russian society was “gloomy” and “nervous”.
“He [Putin] is moving from an authoritarian system to a totalitarian one and the mood is negative”, he said.
He said his own party’s activists, both in Moscow and in regional towns, were being harassed by the FSB intelligence service and by government-sponsored hooligan groups.
“They [the activists] are being told they could lose their jobs and their children could lose places in university”, Kasyanov noted.
He said he would campaign in the 2018 vote, even though he did not believe it would be fair, in order to help create change in the long term.
He also said that Russians in big cities with access to alternative sources of information were beginning to understand that Putin’s policies, not Western conspiracies, were to blame for Russia’s increasing poverty.
“That’s my main goal - the enlightenment of the Russian people,” he said.
“Russian society is already divided [on Putin] 50-50 in big cities and that’s no small thing,” he said.