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21st May 2022

Far-right MEPs told they can't whitewash Putin sympathies

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European parliament lawmakers previously seen as supporting Russian president Vladimir Putin were in the spotlight on Tuesday (1 March) as the European Parliament voted to condemn his invasion of Ukraine.

Only 13 MEPs voted against the resolution, with 26 abstaining, which condemned the "unprovoked and unjustified military" aggression by Russia, and called on Moscow to withdraw its troops.

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In total, 637 European lawmakers voted in favour.

The resolution was backed by the centre-right European People's Party, the Socialists and Democrats, the liberal Renew Europe, the Greens, the hardline conservative European Conservatives and Reformists, and most of The Left.

French MEP Manon Aubry, the co-chair of the Left group, was a co-signatory to the resolution, but seven of her group's lawmakers voted against it while another 10 MEPs abstained.

Much of the attention was on the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group. The only ID member to vote against was Marcel de Graaff of The Netherlands; 7 other ID lawmakers abstained.

The ID party includes French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's National Rally, Austria's Freedom Party, and Alternative for Germany, among others.

The ID group leader, Marco Zanni from Italy's League (Lega) party, said other groups prevented his political group from formally joining the resolution, which Zanni said they were prepared to do.

But the other political groups were having none of it. They say ID lawmakers have been too close to the Kremlin for years, and letting them join the resolution would allow them to "whitewash" their past behaviour.

Parliament sources confirmed that the other groups did not want ID to join.

"A political decision was made so that the ID party wouldn't have a chance to whitewash their image after years of supporting Russian president Vladimir Putin," said parliament sources, who were not authorised to speak on the record.

A source from the Socialists & Democrats group also said it was important to maintain a "cordon sanitaire" around the ID party — meaning no cooperation with the far-right group.

"They have been traditionally supportive of Putin, so it is great if they want to vote to support the resolution, but it is not going to change the cordon sanitaire," said the source.

In December, 69 MEPs voted against a resolution condemning Russia's military build-up, and 54 abstained.

That resolution, which called on Russia to "cease its provocations on the Ukrainian border," and to de-escalate, was voted down by 26 far right MEPs from the ID group, and 23 from Aubrey's hard-left group.

The ID group said in a statement on Tuesday that it had been "prevented from its democratic participation, as some groups opposed this co-signature, only to then accuse the ID group of supporting Russian aggression."

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