Right-Wing Groups Find a Haven, for a Day, in Russia
Railing against same-sex marriage, immigration, New York financiers, radical Islam and globalization, among other targets, one speaker after another lauded Russia and PresidentVladimir V. Putin as a pillar of robust, conservative, even manly values.
Mr. Putin has for some time sought international influence by casting Russia as the global guardian of traditional mores. Yet the effort has acquired new urgency, as Moscow seeks to undermine support in Europe for economic sanctions and other policies meant to isolate Moscow over its aggressive actions against Ukraine.
“Putin’s calculation is that Europe should change its attitude toward Ukraine, and it can easily happen when and if internal European problems outweigh Ukrainian events,” said Nikolai Petrov, a political scientist in Moscow.
“They can make friends with everybody who poses a threat to the ruling parties, including radical forces,” he said. “If the radical nationalists are increasing their weight in Europe, they can serve as good allies for the Kremlin.”
Organizers said the one-day conference, officially billed as the International Russian Conservative Forum, was just the first such outreach effort. Russia is ready to make common cause with leftists, centrists, greens and any other potential allies critical of American domination and other social ills, they said.
If the forum was the first step, however, it proved rather anemic. Representatives of the more effective right-wing European political parties — notably the National Front in France, Jobbik in Hungary and Austria’s Freedom Party — stayed away. Two members of the European Parliament from Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-fascist party, spoke, but one used his time to pitch increased economic cooperation between Russia and Greece.
Russia’s nationalistic Rodina, or Motherland, party was the main organizer of the conference. The party’s deputy leader for ideological issues, Fyodor V. Biryukov, described the central goal as building new organizational bodies for “the traditionalists.” The National Front and others had been invited but were “too busy,” he said.
Experts said, however, that the more mainstream parties were apparently leery of being lumped with groups seen as neo-Nazis in their home countries. Two leaders of Rodina who had been listed as speakers also did not show up. Rodina exists as a kind of nationalistic branch of Mr. Putin’s ruling United Russia party.
The National Front was contesting local elections across France on Sunday. But Ludovic de Danne, an adviser on European affairs to the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen, said he had known nothing about the St. Petersburg meeting.
In her absence, Ms. Le Pen was criticized by various participants. One French speaker said she had gay friends, while Roberto Fiore, a longtime war horse of right-wing politics in Italy, sniffed that the French party had started to take a “slightly more politically correct line.”
Mr. Fiore praised Russia as the vanguard of Europe’s future, a common theme among both Russian and foreign speakers. “We are the avant-garde of a new Europe that will very soon emerge,” he said. “It will be a Christian Europe, a patriotic Europe, and Russia will not just be a part but a leading force.”
Others were even more effusive. Jim Dowson, a British nationalist, flashed a picture on an overhead screen of Mr. Putin shirtless riding a bear. “Obama and America, they are like females. They are feminized men,” he said. “But you have been blessed by a man who is a man, and we envy that.”
Conference participants repeatedly endorsed the efforts of the separatists in Ukraine, where, Russia says, a “fascist” coup overthrew the legitimately elected government in February 2014.
The United States, as the main adversary, attracted the most hostility, but a couple of American speakers received warm applause by painting Washington as an aggressor trying to export its misguided new values.
Jared Taylor, who runs a website called American Renaissance, said the descendants of white Europeans risked being swept away by a wave of Africans, Central Americans and Asians. The United States, which he said worshiped diversity rather than Christianity, “is the greatest enemy of tradition everywhere.”
Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert on European extremist groups, said the tradition of Russia’s currying favor with even the fringes of European political groups was an old one. Lenin, he noted, used to call leftist agitators “useful Western idiots” who helped block attempts to isolate Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution.
The gathering drew about 40 protesters outside the hotel, carrying signs saying things like “We don’t want foreign Nazis in St. Petersburg, we have more than enough of them here.” The police detained eight of them.