The Russian President’s anti-NATO, anti-EU, anti-gender stance has won him support over Ukraine from far-right and populist-right actors

While much of the Western world watches in horror at Russia’s attack on Ukraine – which the Prime Minister has warned could be the worst land war in Europe since 1945 – Vladimir Putin can look with gratitude to his cheerleaders on the populist and far-right.

Sharing unverified footage of attacks and fires, members of far-right Telegram channels linked to UK activists expressed their solidarity with Putin, who they believe has been “demonised by the mainstream media”. Others shared antisemitic conspiracy or made crude, homophobic and transphobic jokes about Russia versus the West.

It may come as a surprise to some that the populist and far-right see Putin not as an enemy but as an inspiration. After all, for decades the Soviet Union was a communist country, the natural antagonist of the far-right. But Putin’s antagonism towards NATO and the European Union, as well as his anti-gender policies and alliances, dovetail with populist and far-right interests. 

As a result, far-right actors defend Russia against the “North Atlantic TERRORIST organisation” and “American imperialism” which, falsely claimed one prominent far-right leader, “wherever it takes root, comes with an entire range of social poisons that attack the moral fabric of the nation – feminism, the LGBTQ agenda, attacks on the traditional family and anti-white rhetoric”.

In contrast, Putin’s Russia is celebrated by these same individuals as defending a fascist, mythic past of white male supremacy in the home and state. 

The needs and wants of the Ukrainian people in these right-wing narratives, are lost. For Putin’s defenders, Ukraine is merely a pawn in a game between east and west, white supremacist tradition and progressive values – as they join Putin in denying its status as a democratic, independent, sovereign nation with its own political landscape and movements. 

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‘Does Putin Eat Dogs?’

When the far-right indulges in the most extremist pro-Putin rhetoric, it is taking its cue from populist-right voices on TV and social media. 

Take for example Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who demanded to know “why shouldn’t I root for Russia, which I am” and repeated a Trumpian conspiracy about Ukraine and the Biden family. 

In a bizarre monologue, Carlson suggested his audience ask themselves: “Why do I hate Putin? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job to Russia? Did he manufacture a pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for a year? Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? Does he eat dogs? These are fair questions and the answer to all of them is no.”

Donald Trump meanwhile, has taken to his Gab account – a social media channel well known for platforming far-right voices – to say he knows “Vladimir Putin very well” and that this situation would not have happened if he, Trump, was in charge. His followers responded to his posts to say “Putin is not the enemy” and they will “gladly take up arms to defend White Christian Russians.”

During his presidency, Trump was dogged by allegations of Russian interference in his election, rumours that Putin held compromising material about him, and, of course, he was impeached over allegations he improperly sought help from Ukraine to boost his chances of re-election.

Trump’s ‘Mr Brexit’, GB News presenter Nigel Farage, is another populist-right leader who has sought to blame NATO and the European Union – which he appears to use interchangeably – for Russian aggression in Ukraine. 

Before the conflict started, he warned that “the NATO policy, the EU policy, of expanding ever eastwards, was a huge strategic error… Nobody I speak to thinks that the Ukraine joining NATO is a good idea”. It’s not clear who he was speaking to. 

The day Putin officially announced hostilities against Ukraine, Farage took to Twitter to once again blame the EU and NATO, saying that “it made no sense to poke the Russian bear”. Nowhere did he take aim at Putin’s aggression or express any solidarity with Ukrainian people. 

The former UKIP leader also blamed the 2014 annexation of Crimea on the European Union, claiming that it was the EU wanting to expand that led to Ukraine’s Maidan revolution.

Such sentiments were echoed at the time by then London Mayor Boris Johnson, who said: “If you want an example of EU foreign policymaking on the hoof and the EU’s pretensions to running a defence policy that have caused real trouble, then look at what has happened in Ukraine.”  


Conspiracy and Paranoia

The far-right echoes the anti-NATO and anti-EU rhetoric that come from its populist peers. Many have promoted conspiracist ideas such as those shared by Trump, or claimed that because the mainstream media is critical of Putin, the Russian President must be ‘right’.

NATO is blamed for escalating violence in Libya and the rise of ISIS, while activists explain they ‘understand’ Russia’s position. 

As on Trump’s Gab channel, far-right activists agreed the conflict would not have happened if the former President was in power, while others even made the bizarre suggestion that the whole crisis was being staged. 

Some of the crueller comments about Ukraine are not worth repeating here, alongside offensive conspiracy theories about the country’s history and democracy. 

But a significant number of posts from leading far-right figures show that their support of Russia is motivated by anti-gender beliefs. This is driven by the Putin regime’s crackdown on LGBTIQ people and its association of the EU with pro-LGBTIQ, pro-abortion agendas, imposed upon eastern Europe and ‘Mother Russia’.


De-Nazification

Vladimir Putin has spread disinformation to justify the attack on Ukraine as being part of a process of “de-Nazification”. This prompted one right-wing YouTuber to mock the left, which he called “Putin using every Antifa excuse… a glib excuse that has been overused by virtually everyone”.

Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion has been accused of war crimes and has attracted support from fascist sympathisers abroad.

However, the focus on Ukraine’s far-right minority has been accused of being a ‘false flag’ operation that misrepresents the political reality on the ground, particularly the pro-European, pro-human rights youth. 

Although like every Western country Ukraine has its far-right elements, in the 2019 election when the major right-wing parties Svoboda, National Corps, the Governmental Initiative of Yarosh and the Right Sector formed a nationwide united party list, they only managed to win 2.15% of the popular vote.

No far-right parties gained seats in Parliament.

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