Germany saw a 25,000-member immigration rally this week against the imminent “Islamization” of the West. While the Pegida movement is still small, ominous pro-Russian cries of “Putin, hilf uns!” (Putin, help us!) at the rally demonstrate how easily Vladimir Putin can manipulate populist European “dissent” parties and create a more fractured Europe. Come on—it’s not like he hasn’t done this before. As Bloomberg View’s Leonid Bershidsky writes:
The rapid rise of Pegida, the group that organizes the rallies, doesn’t yet signal a shift in national politics — although it soon might, if it earns the attention of a political party offering broader anti-establishment appeal and an outside backer, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, willing to bankroll the effort. […]If [Germany’s far right] wants to better its odds, it should look beyond the borders of Saxony and consider working together more closely with Moscow. That’s the model followed by France’s successful Front National, which has loudly bucked Europe’s ongoing policy of ostracizing the Russian president, and has received millions of euros from Russia in return. Putin’s strategy seems to be to build up a “fifth column” of far-right parties in Europe willing to cooperate with the Kremlin.
We’ve covered the French Front National’s cozy relationship with Putin before, part of a pro-Russian tradition that the National Front has maintained for decades and which recently garnered Marine Le Pen a 50 million euro loan. Germany’s leftist Die Linke and the far right Alternative für Deutschland both contain pro-Russian sympathizers that opposed German action in the Ukraine last year. These old-style isolationists have stopped short of Marine Le Pen’s open hand-holding with Russia—so far. But “peace” with Russia is one of Pegida’s goals in its grand strategy to reform the German State, and the group could be open to the same sort of manipulation that we’ve seen in France.So far, Pegida’s impact has been marginal—this week’s counter-protest was stronger than the original march by some 10,000 members. But Putin has bankrolled France’s far right before, and any new populist movements in Germany will only cause dissension that helps his Eastern project. Be on the lookout.