Russian active measures, European neo-Nazis and the Kremlin’s French connection

On 7 June 2018, the Russian far-right, misleadingly named Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky held a meeting called the “World Congress of Peace-loving Forces” (WCPF), which became yet another LDPR’s attempt to unite pro-Kremlin European far-right organisations.

The title “WCPF” is a reference to a conference held in Soviet Moscow under almost the same in 1973. That historical conference was a Soviet active measure aimed at promoting the allegedly peaceful image of the Soviet Union. It brought together over 3 thousand of left-wing activists and politicians from all over the world who praised the totalitarian Soviet regime for its struggle for the “preservation of peace”.

Like the Soviet conference in 1973, the LDPR’s 2018 event was about “world peace”. The announcement on the party’s website read:

Taking into account rising tensions in the international relations and destabilisation of the political situation in the world, underpinned by the following factors: disparities in the international financial and economic spheres, emergence of extremist and radical movements on the world scene, breakdown of the demographic balance, aggravation of nationalist, religious and other animosities affecting essential values of material and spiritual lives of the peoples of the world, the LDPR headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, convenes the World Congress of Peace-loving Forces.

The LDPR’s plan was gigantic: the party claimed that it invited representatives from “over 250 parties, over 100 organisations and movements, representatives of embassies, chambers of trade, commercial organisations, as well as various political scientists and media”. The aim was to “develop and strengthen contacts between parties” and form “a new model of social and political order”.

The LDPR’s leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky delivers an opening speech at the World Congress of Peace-loving Forces. Moscow, 7 June 2018.

A dedicated website of the congress said that the party had invited politicians from 55 countries and even named parties that the LDPR apparently asked to participate in the congress: Christian Democratic Union of Germany (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands), Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland), Unity (Die Einheit, Germany), France Arise (Debout la France), National Front (Front national, France), Christian Democratic Appeal (Christen-Democratisch Appèl, Netherlands), Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei), Alliance (Porozumienie, Poland), Serbian Progressive Party, Fidesz (Hungary), Jobbik (Hungary), Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), and Japanese Communist Party.

Unlike in 1973, the 2018 event turned out to be miniscule and there has been so far no evidence that any representative of the above-mentioned parties took part in the LDPR’s conference. However, more credible reports suggest that the conference largely hosted Russian and European fascists, i.e. representatives of the same “extremist and radical movements” that the LDPR was presumably concerned with. And perhaps not surprisingly, the dedicated website of the WCPF featured a symbol of the International Eurasian Movement led by Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin.

The LDPR did not publicise either the names of the participants of the WCPF or names of the organisations they represented. However, the Russian neo-Nazi group “Slavic Unification and Revival” (SUR), which took part in the conference held in the building of the LDPR’s “Institute of World Civilisations”, was more informative. Thus, the SUR claimed that the WCPF hosted “representatives of various pro-Russian organisations from different countries” and “representatives of European national-patriotic forces”.

The SUR also stated that, during the conference, they “had established friendly relations with representatives of the National-Democratic Party of Germany [Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, NPD] and [the Danish chapter of the] Nordic Resistance Movement”. The NPD is a fascist party party, while the Nordic Resistance is a pan-Scandinavian neo-Nazi movement. In 2015, yet another Russian fascist organisation, Russian Imperial Movement, donated an unknown amount of money to the Swedish chapter of the Nordic Resistance.

Representatives of the Russian, German and Danish neo-Nazi organisations at the World Congress of Peace-loving Forces. Moscow, 7 June 2018.

This is not the first time that the LDPR in general and Zhirinovsky in particular have tried to unite Russian and European far-right political forces. In 2003, Zhirinovsky convened – most likely using money from Saddam Hussein’s regime – the First World Congress of Patriotic Parties that hosted representatives of the French National Front, German People’s Union (Deutsche Volksunion), Japanese Issuikai, Hellenic Front (Ellinikó Métopo), Finnish Patriotic People’s Movement (Isänmaallinen Kansanliike) and Czech Republicans of Miroslav Sládek (Republikáni Miroslava Sládka). Three more World Congresses of Patriotic Parties were held by the LDPR in 2004, 2006 and 2010, but every next conference was more marginal than the previous ones, so the Congress died out. (See more details on this Congress and the LDPR’s connections to Hussein’s regime in my book Russia and the Western Far Right, pp. 54-59.)

The First World Congress of Patriotic Parties organised by Vladimir Zhirinovsky to support Saddam Hussein took place in Moscow on 18 January 2003.

The WCPF essentially succeeded the First World Congress of Patriotic Parties, but it also inherited the latter’s failure: no politically significant party, even from the European far right scene, sent its representatives to the WCPF.

One curious exception is Thierry Mariani, member of the French centre-right Republicans (Les Républicains), former MP and current member of the French delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Mariani is well known in Russia and other authoritarian states: being a member of such respected institution such as the PACE, he has used his position to try to legitimise and justify non-democratic developments in Azerbaijan, Russia and Yanukovych’s Ukraine.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky (left) and Thierry Mariani (right) at the World Congress of Peace-loving Forces. Moscow, 7 June 2018.

Mariani is also the head of the openly pro-Kremlin French-Russian Dialogue Association, the members of which include Leonid Slutsky, a member of the LDPR who was recently accused of sexual harassment by several Russian female journalists. In April 2015, Slutsky, who is also the Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs of the Russian “parliament”, brought Mariani to Moscow; there Mariani would say that the EU’s “anti-Russian” sanctions had to be lifted. In July 2015, Mariani illegally travelled to Crimea as part of a larger French delegation. Mariani’s both trips (to Russia and Crimea) were fully funded by the Russian Peace Foundation (RPF) headed by Slutsky. In December 2015, Mariani led a delegation of 17 French politicians to Moscow, also upon the invitation from Slutsky’s RPF.

Thierry Mariani (left) and Leonid Slutsky (right) at a press conference in Russia-annexed Crimea, . Mariani refused to answer a question about the amount of the honorarium for his visit to Crimea.

His participation in Zhirinovsky’s WCPF – during the opening session Mariani sat to the left of Zhirinovsky himself – was, however, unlikely the main reason why he went to Moscow in June. Just days before the WCPF, Mariani took part in the International Forum “Development of Parliamentarism” held in the Russian “parliament” on 4-5 June 2018. The Forum was founded by the Chairman of the Russian “parliament” Vyacheslav Volodin and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and co-organised by Mariani’s crony Leonid Slutsky.

Vyacheslav Volodin (left) and Thierry Mariani (right) at the the International Forum “Development of Parliamentarism”. Moscow, 4 or 5 June 2018.

Tellingly, the LDPR noted on its website that the WCPF was “combined with The World Forum on the development of parliamentarism”, which implies that Zhirinovsky’s party did not really think that it could attract a crowd of participants for their own event (the LDPR would not cover either the flights or accommodation in Moscow) and simply decided to “latch on” on the Forum promising that all the participants of the WCPF would also be invited to Forum in the State Duma. The latter may explain the photos of Russian, German and Danish neo-Nazis in front of the State Duma.

It remains to be seen whether the LDPR will be able to redeem the WCPF from the curse of the totally failed World Congress of Patriotic Parties, but today Zhirinovsky’s “new” international far-right endeavour seems to be a still-born child.