Posted on Dec 22, 2018
It has been the background to much political debate over the last few years, certainly in Brussels - Russian money pouring into populist European parties. Marine le Pen of Front National (now rebranded as Rassemblement national) has benefited greatly, as have others of a similar persuasion.
The eurosceptic wing of European politics has always been particularly attractive to the Kremlin, seeking as it does to undermine western democratic institutions and values. However, one name has teased the British press throughout all the speculation, that of Nigel Farage.
Nigel Farage has been referred to by the Kremlin based media outlet RT (formerly Russia Today) as their “favourite British politician”, and it was reported in September 2016 that he had been offered his own TV show by the channel. “Reports suggest Mr Farage has discussed a wide range of options including working as a reporter during the White House election…” the Independent reported (Sept 8th 2016).
As recently as November 27th of this year RT carried an article “All the Kremlin’s men: Farage, Moscow and six degrees of Kevin Bacon” attacking Carole Cadwalladr of the Observer and her own recent article “Who is the real Nigel Farage … and why won’t he answer my questions?” In which she refers to the dynamic between RT and Farage, who has named Vladimir Putin as the world leader he most admires, praising the Russian president's handling of the bloodbath in Syria.
Of course, RT has always been popular with politicians who otherwise might find it a problem getting airtime: Farage does not currently fall into that category, which might explain why he appears on the channel somewhat less these days.
Whilst Farage’s message fits the Kremlin’s strategy to a tee it should be acknowledged that his message on British membership of the EU has been consistent and unwavering since the days when UKIP was little more then a minority grass-roots movement with an unsustainable demographic and next to no resources. It could never be suggested that he has changed his tune to suit the needs of RT or any other Russian outlet.
However, when one of the better known personalties in British politics stands up and tells an audience, as he did at a rally in London on December 14th “I don't trust the prime minister, I don’t trust this cabinet, I don’t trust our politicians. I think they will in the next few months betray us completely” in the almost certain knowledge that his words will be widely reported in the press, he is putting another piece into the jigsaw that is the Kremlin’s hybrid war against the west.
One worrying development in the debate over possible links between populists and Russia is the arrival on the European political scene of Steve Bannon, former media executive and White House Chief Strategist during the first seven months of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Trump himself has also attracted much critical attention for his somewhat ambiguous approach to dealing with the cardinal of the Kremlin. In recent days it has been announced that he is lifting sanctions against the business empire of Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s most influential oligarchs, and a key figure in the murky business world that surrounds Putin. The lifting of these sanctions will bring great joy to the Kremlin, but even greater despair in Kyiv and Brussels. The ending of sanctions is the Kremlin's number one priority at the moment.
But what of Bannon? There is much controversy surrounding his involvement with Europe’s far right. Indeed, it may be noted that many of the figures he is courting are those who may or may not already be in the grip of the Kremlin.
One intriguing turn of events involves the foundation, in Belgium, of a group known as ‘The Movement’. Originally launched by Belgian businessman Mischaël Modrikamen, another admirer of Donald Trump, it appears to have effectively now been taken over by Bannon, who is said to be funding it.
Other politicians involved include Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who as an MEP sat with Nigel Farage’s political group in the European Parliament. In 2009 speaking at an election rally in Milan he sparked an outcry when he called for "seats or carriages reserved for the Milanese”, effectively the introduction of racial segregation on public transport. Salvini’s former party, Lega Nord, a significant number of whose members have convictions for racially motivated offences, was known to be courting Russian funding, and openly called for EU sanctaions against the country to be dropped.
But Salvini is not the only link with Farage in this story.
In February 2017, Farage was reported to be sharing a home in Chelsea with a French female politician, one Laure Ferrari, a former employee of his political group, who headed a think tank linked to his political group in the European Parliament, and which was at the centre of an investigation into the alleged misspending of European Union funding for the benefit of UKIP.
Mme Ferrari, the executive director of the the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE), was a candidate in the 2014 European elections for the far-right populist Debout la France,a fringe party that has made no impact on the polls whatsoever.
The Electoral Commission also opened an investigation into whether UKIP accepted "impermissible donations" from the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE) and the IDDE. The claims were strongly contested by UKIP at the time.
The European Parliament advised the commission that "it has formally concluded that ADDE and IDDE used EU grant funding for the benefit of UKIP in breach of its rules and therefore, these expenses were declared as non-eligible for the financing”.
Mme Ferrari emerges as a key player in the debate surrounding Bannon and his plans for Europe's far right. Legal documents obtained by EU Today clearly identify her as one of two nominees for the role of Secretary-General of The Movement. How incestuous the far-right is.
Although there is relatively little attention given to The Movement at present, Bannon and Modrikamen have reportedly said they intend to form a new populist group in the European Parliament after the elections in May 2019, in which the far-right is expected to make significant gains.
Earlier this month, Farage announced that he is considering establishing a new political party, presumably in the hope that Article 50 will be at least delayed, and he can look to continuing a lucrative career as an MEP. Certainly it is the case that European Parliament officials are currently making preparations for such an eventuality.
Another new party which may offer options to Farage is ‘Irexit’, founded by another of his employees, one Hermann Kelly. In a recent interview with the Irish Times Kelly explained that he was “very much at home” with the economic nationalism espoused by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon.
In July of this year Farage appeared on the BBC defending Bannon’s “new European project,” even defending the involvement of the party formerly known as Front National stating that whilst the party “came out of Vichy France” and had been anti-Semitic “to its fingertips”, “under Marine le Pen there have been some significant steps forward”.
Bannon has reportedly given assurances to the effect that the significant funds he is putting into The Movement do not originate in Russia. Many observers remain highly sceptical.
Some time ago, in a bar in Brussels, an RT correspondent was asked if she would give EU Today the names of the British politicians that the channel pays for personal appearances (it should be mentioned that some MEPs are open about this, others not so). “Of course,” she replied, “as soon as they stop playing ball, you will have their names”.
An old saying comes to mind - lay down with dogs, and you will get up with fleas!
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