Why do right wings admire Russia

A clear picture emerges from much of the news: The AfD wants to loosen West Germany's ties to the West. Their youth organization allies itself with the Young Guard of Vladimir Putin. Frauke Petrys partner Marcus Pretzell travels with FPÖ politicians as a guest of honor to the Crimea annexed by Russia. He speaks against the sanctions of the West at an international economic forum. The Thuringian party and parliamentary group leader Björn Höcke advocates leaving NATO. Russia is then the decisive geopolitical alternative. The AfD is taking over positions from the left, also with a view to its strategy of winning protest voters in East Germany.

For a long time, Russia hardly appeared in party programs or speeches by right-wing populists. Just a few years ago, the FPÖ spoke out against any form of communism, talking about the red threat from the east. Conversely, Putin wanted nothing to do with right-wing extremist forces for a long time; he even warned against Europe drifting into fascism. In the meantime, FPÖ politicians regularly make pilgrimages to Moscow and rail against NATO, the USA, the EU and the West as a whole. 2014 was a key year: in the controversial referendum in Crimea in March, Moscow relied on election observers from the French Front National, the Belgian Vlaams Belang, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Italian Lega Nord and the FPÖ.

In November it became known that the Front National was helping to finance its election campaigns through millions of loans from a Kremlin bank. In Germany, the pro-Russia wing of the AfD was clearly in the minority at the time, apart from the youth organization. As early as February 2014, the "Junge Alternative" called for an end to the course of confrontation with Russia. Russia has shown itself to be a prudent geopolitical player and a reliable partner of its allies, is still in their program today. That is why the friendship agreement with the Young Guard of Putin's United Russia party has a history.

Russia suddenly appears as a geopolitical alternative

Because of the different attitudes towards Russia policy, the AfD wing around Alexander Gauland clashed with party founder Bernd Lucke and his camp at the beginning of 2015. The dispute is over. The new engagement of the Petry-AfD coincides with the radicalization course of the Höcke wing. The refugee crisis has strengthened the unity of the right at European level: The remaining AfD MEPs Marcus Pretzell and Beatrix von Storch have just moved away from David Cameron's conservatives and towards the independence party Ukip. This path is not over yet, Ukip boss Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen from the French Front National admire Putin. Le Pen once said that Vladimir Putin was closer to her than Angela Merkel.

Europe's right-wing populists admire Putin's authoritarian leadership style as well as his aggressive actions in Crimea. Russia appears to them as a geopolitical alternative to the West - ideas of a Eurasia and a Europe of nations emerge. Such visions are often discussed at joint conferences, whether in Berlin, Vienna, Saint Petersburg or Moscow. The club includes parties like the Greek Dawn and the Hungarian Jobbik, which appear openly fascist. The Moscow sociology professor Alexander Dugin, whose real influence on Putin is still unclear, is an important source of ideas. There is also agreement in ideological terms, in the rejection of homosexuality and the cultivation of social conservatism and solid identity politics. Like their European allies, Pretzell, Gauland & Co. are happy to talk to Russia Today or Sputnik, the Kremlin-loyal broadcasters in the West. Everything fits perfectly with Putin's media propaganda campaign through Western Europe.

Florian Hartleb, 36, is a political scientist and lives in Tallinn (Estonia), where he works for a Bertelsmann Foundation project.