Why Europe Is Right to Fear Putin’s Useful Idiots
The Kremlin’s support for right-wing parties is no game. It’s trying to subvert the European idea.By Alina Polyakova, Foreign Policy
February 23, 2016 - 11:28 am
Scholar Scott Radnitz recently authored an article with a provocative title: “Europe’s Extremists Are Not Putin’s Fault.” In this well-thought-out piece, Radnitz argues that the “elite rhetoric focused on Russia’s alleged efforts to infiltrate western politics” by supporting Europe’s far-right parties verges on hysteria. Vladimir Putin is not a “puppet master,” the author writes; the Russian president is simply taking advantage of Europe’s political and economic problems to stir a pot of brewing nationalist sentiment that is not of his making. According to Radnitz, the U.S. Congress’s recent call to investigate Russian funding of extremist groups and pro-Russian NGOs is an overreaction to what is, at its core, a domestic European phenomenon.
Radnitz is correct that the far-right surge in Europe is, in many ways, a response to European Union policies. But his overall conclusion — that policymakers’ overreaction to the threat posed by the Kremlin is distracting them from addressing Europe’s problems — is based on a false logic that confuses correlation with causation and greatly underestimates the extent to which Moscow uses its band of “useful idiots” to pursue its foreign policy interests.
First, though, here’s where the article gets it right. As I write in my book, The Dark Side of European Integration, the rise of the far right is first and foremost a cultural backlash against the rapid economic and political integration of the E.U. over the last 25 years. The core founding principle of the European project was that economic interdependence among nations would lead to a Europe whole, free, and at peace. Indeed, in establishing a common market, eliminating tariffs, and instituting a common currency, European elites ushered in an unprecedented era of peace on the war-torn continent.