Amid growing evidence of links between the Kremlin and far-right groups across Europe, France’s National Front has admitted taking a multimillion-dollar loan from a bank controlled by Russia.
The admission came as the French government postponed a contract to deliver two warships for Russia.
In a statement Tuesday, the French president’s office said the situation in Ukraine did not permit the delivery of the two Mistral-class, helicopter-carrying warships.
But the far-right National Front — which polls show to be the country’s most popular party — has campaigned hard for the warship contract to be fulfilled.
The party's Gauthier Bouchet — a councilor in the port of Saint Nazaire, where the ships are being built — told VOA last month that "our position is to protect our industry, to protect our right to trade with every country that we want.”
National Front leader Marine Le Pen, a regular visitor to Moscow, admitted Tuesday that the party had taken an $11 million loan from Russian-owned First Czech-Russian Bank.
Supporting far right, anti-European Union parties is part of Kremlin strategy, said Neil Barnett, an associate with the Center for Policy Studies in London.
Moscow's objective is “to divide European countries from each other, their governments from each other," he said. "To spread division within the European Union, but also more broadly to divide Europe from the U.S. Having radical political forces potentially forming governments in major EU states is a major contribution towards that.”
Earlier this month, pro-Russian rebels held elections in parts of eastern Ukraine, seen by the West as illegitimate. But several extreme parties in Europe accepted invitations to be election monitors.
“What we can see from the lists of election observers that the Russians brought in in Crimea, and then a couple of weeks ago in Donetsk and Luhansk, is that there is quite a range of European rightist movements, which are openly sympathetic towards Russia,” Barnett said.
Among them was Hungary’s far right Jobbik Party. In April elections, it won 20 percent of the vote. It has called for special detention camps for Roma, and it has argued that Jews are a national security risk.
Also present were Italy’s Forza Italia party, Bulgaria’s Ataka and the Communist Party of Greece, among many others. It is likely some are getting funds from Russia, Barnett said.
“This is really an intelligence matter," he said. "And so payments that have been happening will have been happening generally covertly through third parties.”
Split over Ukraine
The accusations come amid sharply deteriorating relations between Moscow and Europe over Ukraine.
Moscow’s finance minister said Monday that Western sanctions, together with a falling oil price, would cost Russia up to $140 billion a year. Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the economic pain to fuel anti-Western feeling, said Nicholas Redman of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
“Anti-Americanism is something that is being given full rein," Redman said. "Some people who are in opposition now risk being classed as traitors. Society is in some senses on a phony war footing. The political setup is now conditioned for several years of economic relative hardship.”
While that economic war intensifies, analysts say, Russia is exploiting political instability in Europe.