Leaked e-mails showing an extensive correspondence between the newly elected leaders of Greece and prominent figures in Vladimir Putin’s circle in Russia grabbed the attention of the Western media last week. And those emails were explosive, demonstrating how chief Syriza figures were running policy memos by ideologue Aleksandr Dugin and oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, both of whom are tightly connected to Putin. The revelation raised raises serious questions about Greece’s reliability as a NATO and EU member under its new government.But more than that, the e-mails shed valuable light on how Putin manages to unite both the far left and far right in Europe. As Radio Free Europe reports:
At the end of May 2014, Dugin and Malofeyev hosted representatives of these movements — including Syriza — at a secret conference in Vienna, according to media reports.At that meeting, researcher Shekhovtsov says, Dugin and Malofeyev “met with representatives of the Austrian Freedom Party, of Bulgarian Ataka, of the French Front Nationale. All of these are far-right parties.”
But Syriza isn’t far-right—in fact, it’s usually described as far-left. This gives an important window into Putin’s appeal in Europe. He speaks simultaneously in the language of anti-capitalism and ethnic grievance-mongering. In some ways, Putin is actually healing an artificial breach in European extremist politics that was created by Stalin in the 1930s for tactical reasons: the labeling of fascist groups as “far right” and polar opposites to the “far left” Communists. Both groups stood in opposition to liberal capitalism, favoring instead high degrees of central planning on national lines.What Russia holds out to the disaffected of Europe, particularly southern Europe, isn’t an offer of monetary support (Putin probably would like it to be, but Russia’s broke, too). Instead, it’s an offer of sympathy with those who, rightly or wrongly, think the liberal-capitalist order has hosed them. Appeals to both ethnic pride and a more “sympathetic” way of managing the economy have a long history in the Med, and Brussels and Washington risk missing this element of Putin’s strategy at their peril.