Mr. Putin said he occupied Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine to defeat the fascists and reactionaries. At the same time, he supports and even finances neo-fascist and racist parties in Europe. This dual approach has been successful: it has allowed him to create inside the EU and NATO member states a coterie the Kremlin can rely upon in its competition with the West. Among its members are the British UKIP and BNP, the French National Front, the Flemish Interest, Lega Nord (Italy), FPÖ (Austria), NPD, AfD, and Die Linke (Germany), and Syriza and the Golden Dawn (Greece). Although Eastern Europe endured decades of Soviet occupation, it too has its share of extremist and pro-Kremlin parties: e.g., Jobbik (Hungary), Ataka (Bulgaria), and Usvit (Czech Rep.). In return for support from Moscow many of these groups back Putin’s annexation of Crimea, oppose the western sanctions, or claim that the EU is less free than Russia.
There is a contradiction between the Kremlin’s anti-fascist ideology and the practice of supporting fascists and reactionaries. Yet in embracing it, Putin follows a well-trodden path. Consider for yourself: in 1922 Bolshevik Russia signed in Rapallo an agreement with Germany whereby the two countries renewed their diplomatic relations. This framework allowed Berlin to break out of the limitations imposed upon it by the allies and train its military in Soviet Russia. Hitler put an end to this clandestine collaboration but not for long. Although Stalin held high the red flag, he kept searching in Nazi Berlin for a return to the era of cooperation. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of Aug. 1939 represented a successful culmination of his efforts. Inspired by this lesson, Putin combines anti-fascist speeches aimed at his domestic audience that may be nostalgic for the old Soviet Union with support for some of the most unsavory right-wing elements in the West. It is now clear that Ukraine is not his chief strategic objective. He aims higher. Putin intends to use his political allies in Europe (e.g., Nigel Farage in London, Marine Le Pen in Paris, Milos Zeman in Prague) to dissolve the EU and to weaken NATO.