Article by Darya Malyutina, PhD, a human geographer specialising in Russian and post-Soviet migration to the UK.
Photos by Diana Mess.
On 30 March 2015, Andreas Umland and Anton Shekhovtsov spoke at the Ukrainian Institute in London about the Kremlin’s anti-westernist campaign and the European radical right and left.
The speakers are leading experts on Ukrainian and Russian politics, specializing on the extreme right. Andreas Umland is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation (Kyiv, Ukraine), editor of the book series ‘Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society’ at ibidem-Verlag, and co-editor of Journal of Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society. Anton Shekhovtsov is Visiting Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute (UK), Associate Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, and editor of the ‘Explorations of the Far Right’ book series at ibidem-Verlag.
The talk started with a brief historical overview of the right-wing ideas in the Russian politics, from early Slavophiles to 20th century émigrés to Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ultranationalist LDPR party. This was followed by a more detailed discussion of the post-Soviet development of the links between the Russian politics and the European far right. The most recent trends of these relationships, according to Anton Shekhovtsov, are underscored by a failure of Russia’s ‘soft power’ attempts to construct an attractive image of the country, after the 2008 Georgian war. Instead, he argues, the current approach is based on trying to make the West look bad, and employing Western far right politicians and activists critical of the EU, US, NATO, multiculturalism and human rights as opinion makers in the Russian media. The Ukrainian revolution and the subsequent dramatic events, admittedly, increased the demand for right-wing commentators in the Russian media.
Ukrainian far right also received mention, particularly in the light of the Ukrainian Revolution, Russia-Ukraine war, and media representations of the right-wing groups. Although the Ukrainian far right also have a history of connections with the European counterparts, these connections have now predominantly disappeared. Despite the most recent electoral failure of the Svoboda party, and, arguably, marginal part played by the far right during Euromaidan and the Revolution of Dignity, researchers stressed that their visibility plays into the hands of the Russian media and authorities that seeks to portray the revolution as a fascist coup, and justify the annexation of Crimea and the military intervention in Eastern Ukraine. At the same time, such visibility may tarnish the image of Ukraine in the eyes of the Western observers.
The speakers noted that the right-wing groups in Russia itself have been split in their views on the Russian-Ukraine war. While some supported the intervention, others were on Ukraine’s side, and a number of neo-Nazis joined the Azov regiment.
When asked about the role of the Ukrainian media in countering the disinformation produced by the Russian sources like RT and Sputnik, Anton Shekhovtsov strongly supported the idea of a creating a European Russian-language media outlet with qualified journalistic and editorial stuff, along the lines of Russia’s Meduza project (ex Lenta.ru). While Andreas Umland was more cautious about the potential effects of such initiative, he stressed that any project like this should focus on providing reliable information and not become a source of propaganda.
The diasporic audience also asked for advice on dealing with local London-based pro-Russian activists, including the infamous Graham Phillips, the RT propagandist who recently returned to the UK from Donbas, or Thomas Scott-Chambers (British supporter of Хуйло and Russian separatism in Ukraine, head of ‘Za Rossiyu’ group, who recently had his passport seized by the security service for plotting terrorism) and the likes. The researchers suggested to try and ignore the fringe activists who have little if any political weight, but keep an eye on more significant political players.