Europe’s far right unites around Russia and Armenia
Connections between the Kremlin and Europe’s far right have become a topic of great debate in recent years. Despite this, the far right’s extensive support for Armenia in last year’s conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh largely went unnoticed by the continent’s media.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia has become a focal point for mobilising the extreme right in the West. At the same time, Moscow has castigated the Euromaidan revolution as a “putsch” that brought “fascists” to power in Ukraine. The Kremlin effectively subcontracts contacts with fascists, Nazis and populists to satellite political forces, such as the National Bolshevik Rodina (Motherland) Party or Orthodox oligarch Konstantin Malofeev.
A sinister outgrowth of Russia’s cultivation of extreme right parties and movements in Europe is the appearance of their members in Armenian-occupied territories in Azerbaijan and Russian-occupied Donbas in Eastern Ukraine. Paradoxically, intelligence services in the West have largely ignored these mercenaries, who are far larger in number than those who travelled to Syria to join ISIS. Far right terrorism is a growing threat to western democracies and in the US is more of a threat than radical Islam. This was made clear during the coup attempt in Washington on January 6th. Most European legal systems punish mercenaries travelling to fight for ISIS but not for Russian proxy groups.
Hundreds of Europeans who have travelled to join Russian proxy forces in Armenia and Ukraine have largely gone unnoticed. The influx of foreign fighters into Eastern Ukraine “mirrors that of young Muslims from Britain and other parts of Europe travelling to the Middle East to fight in its wars”.
Armenia and the Donbas have attracted a mix of fascist and Stalinist mercenaries who share common ground regarding their pro-Russian and anti-Western platforms. Greeks, Hungarians, over 100 Serbs, French, over 100 Germans, Spaniards, Finns and Armenians have all fought alongside Russian proxies in the Donbas. It appears that 20 mercenaries from the French fascist organisation Continental Unity, formed in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by suspected Serbian war criminal Vojislav Šešelj, have also been active in the Donbas.
The French extreme right have travelled to the Donbas and formerly occupied Azerbaijan to fight for Russia and Armenia respectively. Marc de Cacqueray-Valménier, leader of the violent neo-Nazi Zouaves Paris, an organisation closely related to the fascist group Action Française, travelled to the Donbas sometime after 2014. He also travelled to Armenia during last year’s Second Karabakh War. As Cacqueray-Valménier travelled to the country in October 2020, he posted a picture of himself holding a Kalashnikov rifle and wearing a uniform with an Armenian flag and SS Totenkopf. At the same time, Armenia – much like Russia – was welcoming extreme right parties from Europe such as the AfD (Alternative for Germany), whose representatives travelled to Karabakh with Armenian government officials and ruling party MPs.
Cacqueray-Valménier created a “Brigade of Foreign Volunteers” to fight for Armenia in the Second Karabakh War. The presence of these foreign mercenaries, including Kurds, only revealed Yerevan’s duplicity in accusing Turkey of allegedly bringing mercenaries to fight for Azerbaijan.
Cacqueray-Valmenier’s Zouaves Paris resembles another French neo-Nazi group, Génération Identitaire, which was banned in spring 2021 for violent attacks and racism. Violence at a December rally in support of the far-right populist nationalist Éric Zemmour was instigated by the “Zouaves” against the left-wing organisation SOS Racisme. The French justice ministry is currently hoping to ban the far right organisation Zouaves Paris.
Five days after the rally Zemmour, who did not condemn the violence, travelled to Armenia for a four-day visit. He was accompanied by another extreme right ally, Movement for France President Philippe de Villiers. Zemmour’s visit to Armenia was designed to gain votes from the world’s third largest Armenian diaspora group, which involves half a million people in France. The French Republican Party’s presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse, whose views do “not differ much from Zemmour”, visited Armenia this week with a similar anti-Turkish and anti-Azerbaijani message. Zemmour has successfully made immigration and Islam the two central issues for all presidential candidates, including President Emmanuel Macron, in the 2022 election campaign.
Zemmour is clearly an opportunist, as he opposed legislation in France that penalised genocide denial, arguing that it was a threat to free speech. The legislation was also strongly supported by the Armenian community. Like all extreme right French politicians, Zemmour is, according to French Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti, a Holocaust denier. This makes Zemmour an uncomfortable ally of Armenians, who have always claimed the genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire against them during the First World War is analogous to that of the Holocaust. Zemmour supports the rehabilitation of war-time French collaborator Marshall Philippe Pétain and claims that the collaborationist Vichy regime “saved” French Jews. Zemmour also believes the Nazis were less intolerant than Muslims.
The central themes that unite the European mercenaries and politicians who have travelled to Armenia and Ukraine are their anti-American and pro-Russian stance regarding international relations. France’s far right National Rally (formerly the Front National), like all of Europe’s extreme right populists and fascists, has strongly supported Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Armenian nationalists and governments have also supported Crimea’s “self-determination” and used it to justify their claims that Karabakh should become part of Armenia.
Zemmour is even more pro-Russian than Le Pen. Zemmour has a “natural affinity” for Russia: “My first reflex is to defend Russia… I am for alliance with Russia. I think that it would be the most reliable ally, more than the Americans, more than the Germans, more than the English.” “When we were with Russia, we won wars, when we were against Russia, we lost wars.”
Russia’s goal of undermining NATO and the EU by encouraging division is the same strategy that was pursued by the Soviet Union. In order to advance this goal, Russia has developed an alliance between its proxies in Armenia and Donbas and an eclectic mix of fascist, racist, antisemitic and Stalinist politicians and mercenaries in Europe. Given the Kremlin’s promotion of the cult of Stalin in Russia, as well as far right nationalism both at home and abroad, it is clear that the Kremlin is the real supporter of fascism and Stalinism in Europe.
Taras Kuzio is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society think tank in London and a professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy. His book Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War is published next month by Routledge.
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