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Putin’s Secret Friends in Paris

September 9, 2014

Efforts by Russian intelligence to purchase (or at least rent) friends in Western and Central Europe are not new, but in recent months they have increased markedly due to the Russo-Ukrainian War. As the crisis between Moscow and Kyiv has worsened, the Kremlin has redoubled its secret work to acquire helpers, what they term agents of influence, in NATO and European Union countries. While Moscow has friends on the Left lingering from the last Cold War, much of the Kremlin’s recent covert outreach has been to the Right, especially to Europe’s rising far Right. Hungary is a particular hotbed of activity by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and Military Intelligence (GRU), where, as I’ve recently reported, Kremlin ties to the far Right (indeed quasi-fascist) Jobbik party are important and barely concealed.

France is a source of particular concern, however, given that country’s size and prestige, as well as its nuclear weapons. The rise of the National Front is the major political story in Paris nowadays, and a certain overt Putinophilia is detectable in that party’s ranks and leadership too. Party boss Marine Le Pen blames the EU, not Russia, for the war in Ukraine, and admits to possessing a soft spot for Vladimir Putin: “I have a certain admiration for the man. He proposes a patriotic economic model, radically different than what the Americans are imposing on us,” she recently explained.

French counterintelligence is concerned that the National Front may be getting a bit too cozy with the Kremlin, as elaborated in an article in the Paris weekend paper Le Journal du Dimanche that looks into the Putin lobby in Paris. There are concerns about TV Libertés, a network established by a former National Front cadre that adheres to a decidedly pro-Moscow editorial line and features a suspicious number of Kremlin-linked guests, including Sergey Naryshkin, the Duma chairman who is banned from coming to France due to sanctions against him. Despite these sanctions, Naryshkin somehow came to Paris to meet with French politicians, mostly right-wing, as well as businesspeople involved in trade with Russia.

Many of those facilitating such meetings and getting Russia good press in France are tied to the National Front, a fact not missed by French counterintelligence which, as I’ve previously reported, is concerned about rapidly rising and aggressive SVR and GRU activities in the country. Parallels with KGB operations are not exact, yet as one Parisian analyst concluded, “The National Front doesn’t have the same social connections as the French Communist Party did during the Cold War, but Russia is investing a great deal on the National Front and the popular right-wing to get its ideas across.”

Front organizations play an important role, as they did in Soviet times, and Paris has made note of advocacy groups such as the Franco-Russian Dialog Association (Association Dialogue Franco-Russe), which is chaired by Thierry Mariani, France’s former transportation minister, and Vladimir Yakunin, a onetime KGB officer. Questions have also been raised about this summer’s visit to Moscow by the right-wing politico Philippe de Villiers, where he was warmly greeted by Putin — the French aristocrat also plans to build a theme park in Russian-occupied Crimea — not least because de Villiers’ brother Pierre just happens to be chief of the French General Staff.

Concerns about Russian money and influence on the French Right, particularly regarding the National Front, are spoken of in mostly hushed tones in Paris, but concerns are mounting in counterintelligence circles about Moscow’s covert influence on the party, particularly because the National Front is rising fast in opinion polls. Notwithstanding the presence of Kremlin agents of influence in the party’s ranks, Marine Le Pen may well be the next president of the republic, amid warnings that her party is “at the gates of power.” The National Front’s message of sovereignty, economic populism, and French patriotism has struck a chord with many alienated citizens. The extent to which the party has also struck a chord in Moscow is an important question that needs to be answered, preferably before Marine Le Pen becomes France’s first female president.

26 Comments
  1. And this is the crux of the matter:

    “The National Front’s message of sovereignty, economic populism, and French patriotism has struck a chord with many alienated citizens. The extent to which the party has also struck a chord in Moscow is an important question that needs to be answered, preferably before Marine Le Pen becomes France’s first female president.”

    Under Sarkozy and Hollande, France has moved away from its traditional Gaullism in favour of a slavish devotion to Anglo-America in the realm of foreign policy.

    Compounding this is the presence of millions of non-French (although France legally doesn’t count people as minorities since they’re all deemed French by citizenship) who don’t share the same values as the natives.

    Making this even worse is the economic malaise that has set in which saw Hollande come to power (alongside Sarko’s corruption) but which he has failed to turn around as he has been unable to convince Germany to reject further austerity.

    Last but not least, the sovereignty given up by France to the EU really bites at the national soul and gives the regime in Paris much less room to maneuver in order to solve its own problems.

    Putin himself has publicly stated that he is an admirer of General DeGaulle and that Russia under “Managed Democracy” is akin to the French tradition of Gaullism.

    A perfect storm has appeared with all of the above factors in that the two traditional ruling parties are so unpopular that they have lost legitimacy opening the way for the FN to step in.

    The populist backlash is not contained to France but is seen throughout the continent where the political elite and a large section of the populace have an ever-widening chasm between them, especially when it comes to the unelected bureaucrats of the EU, and especially on issues such as immigration in Western/Central Europe.

    Lastly: it’s certainly not to be doubted that Putin’s regime has made overtures and moves to strengthen ties to European populists, but we must recall how the Quai D’Orsay was visibly upset with the growing American influence in its ranks under Sarkozy as France went Atlanticist to the consternation of Gaulists.

    • Yes….indeed

    • Gus permalink

      Couple of issues with your post:

      1. Interesting perspective on the French economy, when somehow all their problems are the result of another country being too austere. The French problems are roughly speaking a bloated public sector (I think that a lot of FN voters would agree) and an uncompetitive economy in a globalising world. Not Germany’s fault.

      2. France is probably the country that was able to give shape to the structures and policies of the EU the most. Arguably they are also the country that profited the most. Furthermore, the creation of the Euro was a French condition for allowing German reunification. It is interesting that France first wanted to create a single currency because their currency was weak, and now complains that the Germans are too austere. To then complain about losing sovereignty takes it even one step further. The EU was for France always a project to limit the sovereignty of others, namely Germany.

      3. Gaullism and Putinism have nothing in common as the first relies on democracy and the second on the opposite.

      4. The so-called American influence that you refer to in the Sarkozy and Hollande administrations (if it existed) was less dangerous to France as it did not involve a country keen to annex parts of its European neighbor and that considered the expansion of NATO and the EU (to both of which France is a member) as a security threat.

      • 1. I was referring to French perceptions on their own economy. They have an incredibly strong public sector and stringent labour laws. I agree with your assessment re: their economy, but what you and I think about it doesn’t reflect French voting perceptions which see German-driven austerity as the main problem for their current rut. Eventually the French will have to trim their public sector, but that’s a long time away, unless they do collapse soon.

        2. DeGaulle was adamant in his rejection of a British entry into the ECC. France pushed for the ECC by way of moving closer to Germany to offset Anglo-American domination of the continent. The French have benefited in some ways from the EU, particularly with agricultural subsidies, but the main winner seems to have been Germany which has seen its exports strengthen by leaps and bounds.

        3. Gaullism and Putinism are in fact quite similar: etatism with a strong leader and a rejection of narrow ethnic nationalism in favour of the state. Putin’s variant is known as ‘Managed Democracy” a la Surkov and is better suited for Russia than western liberal democracy, which is now intrinsically tied in the Russian mind to gangster capitalism of the Yeltsin era.

        4. I fail to see how close ties with Russia is somehow ‘dangerous’ for France. In fact, the Mitterand-Schroeder-Putin trio managed to keep much of Europe out of the Iraq Debacle. God willing we’ll see these three countries re-emerge to counter the corrosive Anglo-American Axis. Should Le Pen win office, and I hope very much that she does, Europe will benefit.

      • Entirely agree with Gus.

        The Front National was founded by staunch anti-gaullists, nostalgics of Algérie française. And forty years later, the party may pretend to exploit De Gaulle’s image as a ‘souverainist’, but its main cement is still… xenophobia, now under the guise of islamophobia*. Hence several attempts by its current leader – the Austrian FPÖ and Dutch PVV are doing the same thing – to improve her image in… Israel.

        In that regard, Putin’s stance on the Caucasus and Syria are certainly attractive to FN sympathizers, and so are his positions on ‘traditional values’. But the relationship to America is certainly not a key: should the next POTUS decide to nuke Iran, they’d all be singing the Star Spangled banner.

        (*) Note that the line has evolved: in the eighties, the FN had become quite favorable to Arab nationalist leaders (at the time it was a way to recycle the classic anti-semitism of the French far right).

    • c6543 permalink

      Well, Putin has said many untrue things. Do you still belive him after all that has happened in Ukraine? What about the “People’s Republics”? How does that sound to you?

      “The Atlanticists” have saved France in two wars. Have you already forgot?

      • c6543 permalink

        In reply to Niccolo Salos first post:

        “Putin himself has publicly stated that he is an admirer of General DeGaulle and that Russia under “Managed Democracy” is akin to the French tradition of Gaullism.”

      • “What about the “People’s Republics”? How does that sound to you?”

        What about it? That’s a local initiative in keeping with the trend to fuse the Soviet and Tsarist history together for the sake of unity. For instance, while the name of those two republics is Marxist by nature, you have men like Strelkov, a neo-White Officer, leading the rebellion (until his recent displacement).

        ““The Atlanticists” have saved France in two wars. Have you already forgot?”

        Many, many French questioned who the actual enemy was the second time around with men like DeGaulle privately stating that Churchill, and not Germany, was enemy number one.

        Interwar France was headed towards a civil war between right and left like in Spain but WW2 interrupted that march.

  2. Peter permalink

    You could just as well take a closer look at AfD, Podemos, Kongres Nowej Prawicy and perhaps others. It’s all very worrying.

  3. Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    Interesting relationships reviewed !

  4. Couldn’t this backfire on Russia though? Let’s say Le Pen wins and pulls France out of the Euro, returning the the Franc. That just strengthens the USD as the last man standing (despite all our problems). Or maybe it would stay in the Maastricht/EU framework and prevent a united front against Russia from the other countries?

  5. dougr100 permalink

    I noticed that WikiLeaks only seems to spread Western secrets and they like their right-wing candidates too …

  6. Just a thought permalink

    “struck a chord” … I’m afraid it’s worse than that. Russians have only two categories, subordinates and enemies.

  7. Wonderful post! We will be linking to this great post on our site.
    Keep up the good writing.

  8. Alexandre Charron-Trudel permalink

    John, this is somewhat unrelated to the issue of Russian influence or similarities to france, however it does enter into the realm of Russian attempts to influence western outcomes. According to the Bell Interpreter:

    “Yesterday, the BBC’s John Sweeney, who has been investigating for the Panorama programme, wrote that three eyewitnesses from the separatist-held town of Snezhnoye, near the MH17 crash site, had told the BBC that they had seen a Buk SAM being unloaded and driven around the area that day, manned and escorted by Russian men. The witnesses claimed that the men spoke with clearly Russian, rather than eastern Ukrainian accents:

    Three eyewitnesses, all civilians, separately told Panorama that they saw a missile-launcher in rebel-held territory a few hours before the Boeing jet was hit.

    One eyewitness saw the missile-launcher roll off a low-loader at Snezhnoye, around ten miles from the crash site, at around 13:30 local time (10:30 GMT).

    “We just saw it being offloaded and when the BUK started its engine the exhaust smoke filled the whole town square,” he said.
    The eyewitness told the BBC that the crew struck him as Russian soldiers: “Well-disciplined, unlike the rebels, and not wearing the standard Ukrainian camouflage uniform sported by government and rebel troops alike.”

    “They had pure Russian accents. They say the letter ‘g’ differently to us,” he said.

    In eastern Ukraine, most people speak Russian but the BUK crew did not speak Russian with a local accent.
    His testimony was confirmed by a second eyewitness, who added that an officer in a military jeep escorting the BUK spoke with a Muscovite accent.

    If correct, the Kremlin has to explain to the relatives of the 298 passengers and crew who died – including ten Britons – why Russian military personnel were allegedly seen in the area escorting a BUK shortly before MH17 was shot down.”

    So I have to ask: if it is accepted the Russian military was directly responsible for the downing of MH17, a flight that was loaded with EU (and thus, NATO) citizenry, how does this change NATO calculus? Because I figure that the intentional downing of an airliner to attempt an excuse for war, is–in and of itself–a direct act of war against the nations whose citizens were so callously murdered to further one man’s imperial ambitions.

    • Frankly Moscow’s MH17 debacle already has change NATO (and especially EU) calculus – it turned EU publics decidedly anti-Moscow, for instance in Germany, where there were many “Russlandversteher.”

  9. Reblogged this on Andreas Umland.

  10. c6543 permalink

    This is of course very worrying and needs to be watched very carefully. Russian intelligence agencies hav been known to “play both sides” of the political spectrum and of many conflicts throughout it’s existence in order to cause disruption and disorientation, and this may be one such case, and the rise of NF is very much connected to the rise of militant islam

    But where should the Citizens in Europe turn? The situation in Europe is quickly turning into a Broken Arrow situation, as you yourself all but note in your previous post. The peoples of Europe have begun to consider all mainstream politicians with the deepest distrust, and who can blame us? The present situation would never have occured if it weren’t for a decades long suppression of popular resistance against mass migration policies that seem to have originated on a drawing table in the Lubjanka in the late sixties, and executed by the political wing of the Baader Meinhof gang ever since.

    So many intelligent people in leading positions can’t be so systematically wrong, for such a long time, in the face of so much evidence, about political islam, it’s position in the muslim world and it’s ultimate goals without a sinister purpose.

  11. Eldar permalink

    That second one, the franco-russian dialogue… that sounds like an NGO. The exact same kind the west routinely uses to effect regime change in countries it can’t openly go to war with. Pot, meet Kettle.

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