In Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, pro-European candidates swept the balloting. But in Europe that day, voters flocked to parties that want to close Europe’s doors.
The strong right-wing showing in the recent European Parliament elections may claim an unexpected victim: Ukraine and its European ambitions.
Almost one-third of the members who will sit in the Brussels-based parliament until the end of this decade come from parties hostile to the European Union and EU expansion. In many cases, they are full of praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Maria Lipman predicts these Euroskeptics and right-wingers will try to block financial aid to Ukraine.
“The result of the European election is not good for Ukraine. It presages more difficult decisions, having to do with aid to Ukraine. The European Union already has serious burdens. It is not in excellent shape economically. To assume yet another burden that Ukraine is, and to allocate, actually, huge funds to Ukraine, is a difficult decision,” said Lipman.
In Ukraine’s presidential election Sunday, pro-European candidates won over 80 percent of votes. The apparent winner, Petro Poroshenko, won 54 percent.
On Monday in Kyiv, the head of the EU Parliament delegation in Ukraine, Sweden's Goeran Faerm, said the EU is ready to sign a free trade zone agreement with Ukraine and to continue talks on visa-free travel.
But, back in Brussels, a growing minority of European parliament members may want to close Europe’s doors. They say that Ukraine is Russia’s problem. The Kremlin is courting these anti-EU politicians.
Last month, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, visited Moscow. She praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said there was “no point” in Ukraine joining the EU.
In return, Putin publicly hailed what he called “the success of Marine Le Pen in France.”
Then, last Sunday, the National Front won the most seats of any French party in the European elections.
Peter Kreko, director of the Political Capital Institute in Budapest, studies the rise of Europe’s far right. He said that Europe’s nationalist parties are anti-U.S. and anti-EU. Here, they find common ground with President Putin.
“What is the benefit of radical forces for Russia? They are anti-EU. Both on the far left, and on the far right in Europe, we can find forces that are openly talking about the end of Europe, and that, in the current form, the European Union should be demolished,” said Kreko.
In March, the Kremlin invited representatives of the National Front and of other far-right European parties to Crimea to observe the snap election that ultimately approved Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula. These foreign observers wrote up a positive report on the vote.
Russian state media give generous coverage to Europe’s new nationalist and Euroskeptic parties. Over the last four years, RT, the Kremlin-funded TV station, has mentioned or featured Marine Le Pen 144 times. Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, or UKIP, was interviewed 17 times.
“[Farage] makes a lot of statements praising Russia, and making a lot of statements about the greatness of Putin, and how he (Putin) handled the Syrian, and then the Crimean conflict. And Nigel Farage has a lot of coverage in the pro-Russian media, including Voice of Russia, Russian television,” said Kreko.
In Sunday’s voting, UKIP won the most votes. It the first time in over a century of British elections that first place did not go to Labor or the Conservatives.
In Moscow, the Kremlin is clearly pleased with this surge in far right and Euroskeptic parties.
Mikhail Margelov, head of the foreign affairs committee of upper house of Russia's parliament, told the Interfax news agency: “Many right-wing candidates elected to the European Parliament like Russia," adding, “so it can be expected that right-wing deputies will be able to affect the opinion about our country and the policy of Brussels regarding Moscow.”
A negative assessment came from John Vinocur, a Wall Street Journal columnist based in Paris.
Writing under a headline, “Putin’s Woman in Paris,” Vinocur concluded: “Mr. Putin can count at the least on Marine Le Pen as being appeasement's loudest cheerleader.”
In the East-West tug of war over Ukraine, it appears that some Western Europeans are pushing East.