European Nationalist Parties and the Crimea Crisis
European Nationalist Parties Respond to the Ukraine Crisis
European Union has responded to the Ukraine crisis by applying some
sanctions on Russia, but some European nationalist parties look at the
efforts of Russians in Crimea and see a struggle for self-determination
not so different from their own. These parties are not necessarily
pro-Russian, but they view good relations with Moscow as a counterweight
to the European Union at a time when the union is politically
fragmented and Russia is becoming more assertive.
of these parties are also developing ties with one another ahead of
European Parliament elections in May. Political and ideological
differences will limit their ability to form a cohesive bloc in the EU
Parliament, but their rising popularity will force mainstream parties to
adopt some of their views and to make some compromises at the EU level.
of Europe's main nationalist parties have received the Crimean
referendum positively. While Brussels denied the legitimacy of the vote,
the foreign affairs spokesman of the Danish People's Party said
the decision to join Russia should be respected, and Bulgaria's Ataka
party urged Sofia to recognize the result. In early March, the leader of
France's National Front,
Marine Le Pen, expressed concern about the unelected government in
Ukraine, which she accused of being illegitimate and of having
This pattern goes back since before the events in Crimea. In January, the leader of Slovakia's far-right People Party-Our Slovakia,
Marian Kotleba, sent a letter to former Ukrainian President Viktor
Yanukovich urging him not to give in to the Maidan protesters. Even
before that, in May of last year, the leader of Hungary's Jobbik party, Gabor Vona, visited Moscow and met with several lawmakers.
Most of these parties look at closer ties with Russia
as a way to counter the European Union and United States. A key element
of the European nationalist parties' agenda is their criticism of
Brussels. Some call for a freezing or reversal of the process of
continental integration, while others want the complete abolishment of
the union. Closer Russian ties also serve to counter U.S. influence, a
desirable effect for the parties that believe their countries should
none of these parties are in power, their pro-Russian gestures are
mostly rhetorical and have little effect on their countries' foreign
policy. Nationalist parties have seen their popularity climb during the
European crisis, however, so Russia is interested in developing closer
relations with them. According to the Hungarian think tank Political
Capital, Moscow provides professional and organizational assistance to
some of the parties, including access to networks and political
expertise. Russia's goal is not only to develop stronger bilateral ties
but also for the nationalist parties to network with one another.
these initiatives, the European nationalist parties for the most part
are not simply pro-Russian. In fact, several of the parties declined an
invitation from a nongovernmental organization close to the Kremlin to
send observers to the Crimean referendum. But at a time when the eurozone crisis is leading to deeper political fragmentation in Europe and
Russia is becoming more assertive, the nationalist groups believe their
governments should keep their options open and develop more balanced
foreign policies. For some parties, deeper economic and political links
with Russia -- though not total alignment -- are a strategic necessity
in the current environment.
the Ukraine crisis, some nationalist parties were also developing ties
with the Ukrainian far right. In March 2013, a member of Ukraine's
Svoboda party participated in a conference organized by the right-wing
Party of the Swedes in Stockholm, where a member of Germany's National Democratic Party was a speaker. Svoboda and the National Democratic Party then met in Germany in May 2013 to discuss closer cooperation.
that the crisis has emerged between Russia and Ukraine, however, many
of the nationalist groups have had to pull back. For example, the
National Democratic Party is internally split because supporting Russia
means undermining the Ukrainian nationalists. The party has been silent
on Russia's moves in Crimea, and its Bavarian regional faction recently
criticized the West for its sanctions against Russia. In its program for
the European Parliament elections, the National Democratic Party
applauds Russian President Vladimir Putin for opposing multiculturalism
in Russia and calls for stronger economic collaboration with Moscow.
nationalist parties such as France's National Front have also recently
reduced their ties with Svoboda as they try to clean up their image and
become more acceptable for a broader voting base. The Ukrainian
nationalist party is now mostly reliant on smaller, more extremist
parties for international cooperation.
Moving the Mainstream
the European nationalist parties are seeking closer ties with each
other. In recent months the National Front and the Dutch Party of
Freedom agreed to join forces after the EU Parliament elections. Smaller parties, such as Italy's Northern League, Belgium's Flemish Interest and the Sweden Democrats, could join them.
most of the parties are expected to perform well in the vote, they will
be able to form a relatively large group in the EU Parliament, yet they
are far from homogenous. While most of them have a negative view of the
European Union, there is little else that they agree on. Some even
think that campaigning alongside foreign (and controversial) parties
could hurt them domestically. Some Euroskeptical parties, such as the
U.K. Independence Party, have also already said they will not join any
coalitions with the nationalists. Finally, some of the parties are
considered too extreme, including Hungary's Jobbik and Greece's Golden
Dawn, and will be excluded from any coalition.
a result, the nationalists will have strong representation but probably
will not be cohesive enough to take full control. However, mainstream
groups on the center-left and center-right will still be forced to form
an alliance to prevent the Euroskeptics from blocking legislation. This
will make an already complex decision-making process at the EU level
even more cumbersome.
growing popularity of nationalist parties will also have domestic
repercussions. As Euroskepticism becomes more popular, moderate parties
are having to adopt elements of the nationalists' agenda. The recent
increase in anti-EU rhetoric from London is explained in part by the rise of the U.K. Independence Party in opinion polls. Similarly, anti-immigration attitudes in the French government and opposition come largely in response to the rise of the National Front.
nationalist parties have much less of an effect on their governments'
relations with Russia. Trade, energy and political obstacles still factor heavily into EU countries' ties with Moscow.
Before the Ukraine crisis, however, some Central European countries
were reconsidering their strategic position within the Continent. To
various degrees, countries such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and
Slovakia were seriously assessing the benefits of closer economic and
political ties with Russia.
closer to Russia does not mean breaking away from the European Union
and NATO, but the changing geopolitical environment is making Russian
relations no longer taboo in these former communist countries. Events in
Ukraine will probably cool relations between these countries and Moscow
in the short term, but growing competition between Russia and the West over Central Europe will define the coming years. European nationalist parties will play a role in this competition.