AfDler mit Russland-Fahne
Supporters of the AfD with a Russian flag / picture alliance

Russias support for the European right - Agitprop – a combination of agitation and propaganda

There have been several stories that Russia supports the European right. Indeed it may be supporting anti-immigration groups, but it will make no difference to geopolitical forces in Europe


George Friedman, 73, ist einer der bekanntesten geopolitischen Analysten der Vereinigten Staaten. Er leitet die von ihm gegründete Denkfabrik   Geopolitical Futures und ist Autor zahlreicher Bücher. Zuletzt erschien „Der Sturm vor der Ruhe: Amerikas Spaltung, die heraufziehende Krise und der folgende Triumph“ im Plassen-Verlag.

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There have been several stories in the media asserting that Russia has been funding anti-immigration groups in Europe. Over the weekend, The New York Times published a story detailing how Russian money supported anti-immigrant forces in Sweden, which has accepted more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe, according to the Times. The story also linked these groups to other anti-immigrant organizations in Europe and the United States. The idea that Russia is supporting such groups, particularly in Europe, is not new; it has been accused in the past of supporting similar organizations in Austria, Italy and other countries. The question is whether it is true and what effect it will have.

In evaluating these stories, it is important to remember that the Russians regard the United States as responsible for the so-called color revolutions in former Soviet Union states that resulted in the installation of pro-U.S. governments around the Russian periphery. (It's also worth noting that Beijing’s top official on Hong Kong affairs has said the recent protests there bear “obvious characteristics of a color revolution.”)

Not many options

The Russians were particularly alarmed at the 2014 Ukrainian uprising, given Ukraine’s geographical significance to Russia. The United States openly supported the revolution there. The undersecretary for European affairs handed out cookies to demonstrators in Kiev. There may well have also been less visible support, but either way, the U.S. made no bones about wanting to see what it claimed were repressive regimes replaced by liberal democracies – oriented away from Russia.

Russia rejected the Western presentation of the movement as a spontaneous uprising of the Ukrainian people, and though it needed to respond, it didn't have many options. Using military force to block the new government in Kiev would have been too difficult and risky. Declaring Crimea part of Russia and attempting to wage a separatist rising in eastern Ukraine wasn’t enough to bring the new regime down. It resorted to a strategy of destabilization.

Creating unrest, confusion and dissension

Russia has a long tradition of such operations, going back to the founding of the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks created a special name for such operations: agitprop – a combination of agitation and propaganda. Agitprop went beyond simply supporting communist parties around the world. It was designed to weaken adversaries by creating unrest rising out of the left, and confusion and dissension in the rest of the nation.

The entire concept eventually merged with the operations of the Russian intelligence service, which was charged, as many services are, with both collecting intelligence and shaping public opinion in all corners of society, from the intelligentsia to the working class. Over time, the goal of these operations was more to destabilize geopolitical rivals than to foment revolution.

Kidnapping and murder

One example of such a destabilization campaign was Soviet support for elements of the European new left in 1980. These groups collaborated with other Soviet-backed groups, particularly Palestinian organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Abu Nidal Organization. They carried out attacks in France, Germany, Italy, Austria and other countries. The campaign lasted several years and even included the kidnapping and murder of NATO’s head of logistics. (Notably, Vladimir Putin was in East Germany during this period working for the KGB, although it isn’t clear whether he was working with these groups.)

What is most interesting about these attacks is that they achieved no strategic goal. Certainly, there was enormous fear and uncertainty, and the governments’ inability to stop the attacks raised questions about their competence. But no government fell, the sense of insecurity did not translate into paralysis, and in the end, the Soviet Union collapsed anyway. It was never clear what the Soviets wanted. They might have wanted to move NATO members to want to leave the alliance, but overall, it was merely an irritation and not a significant challenge.

Small and disruptive factions

This was true of many Soviet campaigns. During the Korean War, the Soviets conducted a disinformation campaign meant to persuade the world that the United States was conducting germ warfare. They undoubtedly hoped that it would trigger enough opposition to the conflict to cripple U.S. operations. But the only ones who believed the disinformation were people who wanted to believe it: those on the far left. The effort had no effect on the war, beyond irritating the United States and giving communist sympathizers something to talk about.

The point of these campaigns is to limit a nation’s ability to act by strengthening a group that could significantly disrupt political life. But making small and disruptive factions important enough to be destructive is tough. The United States tried to create opposition forces in Cuba during the 1960s, but it failed to build enough support to counter Fidel Castro’s power. In Poland, the Solidarity organization was successful in countering communist forces but not because of U.S. backing.

Paralyzing the state

Russia’s support of anti-immigration groups in Europe is similar to the Polish case. The anti-immigration groups arose not because of a Russian campaign but because opposition to immigration already existed in these countries. So, too, did support for immigration. The idea behind agitprop and related concepts is that in places where substantial support for two diametrically opposed movements already exists, the weaker should be strengthened and bitterness between them maximized by encouraging mutual demonization and actions that drive a wedge in society to the point of paralyzing the state.

In the case of immigration, substantial division on this subject already exists both in Europe and in the United States. Neither side of the debate needs external support, though an outsider could certainly increase the degree of vicious rhetoric and actions by one side against the other. An otherwise civil dispute could turn ugly with some external encouragement.

But what would the Russians want to gain by carrying out such operations? The end goal of agitprop is to weaken the state so it can no longer act inside or outside the country. That has certainly not happened in Sweden. Nor has it happened in any European country, at least not to a greater extent than would have happened without Russian assistance. This is the problem with agitprop. If you select an issue where external money and assistance is critical, it is probably not an issue that will agitate society regardless of funding. If you select an issue for which outside backing is unnecessary, your ability to control it is limited.

They did not create the anti-immigrant movement

During the 1980s, a Soviet campaign of murder, kidnapping and bombing troubled Europe greatly but did not have any strategic effect. In the 1950s, an American campaign to split European trade unions from communists went nowhere. The idea that a few million dollars can generate a civil war in a country of tens of millions is dubious. You can irritate society, and you can create significant unpleasantness, but unless the state is already tottering, you can’t achieve a strategic goal.

I don’t doubt that the Russians are supporting the European right. And I don’t doubt that the European right is happy to accept the money. Russian operatives are likely reporting to their superiors that their work is causing all the unpleasantness over immigration. And their superiors likely believe them. But they did not create the anti-immigrant movement, and they are not the cause of its growth. At most, they are creating more unpleasantness than existed before. But they are not changing the correlation of forces in any way.

Albert Schultheis | Mi, 14. August 2019 - 13:18

Friedman may believe that Russian money influences the European anti-immigration movements, but he has not the least proof for it. The same with the alleged influencing of the recent US presidential election. All fairy tales - no proofs.
What we do know however for sure is that the US did support the colloured revolutions in various ex-Soviet republics with the declared goal of Regime Change. This was highly successful in the Ukraine, only with the collateral damage of a little civil war, the separation of the country and several tens of thousands of people killed.
By the way, in Germany it is the group of the Russian immigrants with German roots from Kasachstan and other ex-Soviet republics who had a very decisive stance against Merkels immigration campaign from the start. Out of good reason: These people grew up in Muslim societies and they know what to expect.
Russia needs to be strong and at least as unscrupulous as the West in order defend themselves against Western aggression

So the West is the aggressor, and Putin has to defend himself? That is an interesting interpretation, given the fact that Russia has not only occupied Crimea, supports separatists in the Eastern part of Ukraine (a souverain country!), and shields those who are responsible for the crash of a civilian aircraft and the death of almost 300 civilians, including 80 children, from being sentenced?
No one who takes the subject of Russians interference in Western politics serious would claim that there is no proof. On the contrary, there is plenty. Le Pen has evidently received financial support for her party. Strache and others of the Austrian FPÖ, Italy’s Salvini, even Nigel Farage and, last but not least, members of the German AfD have been repeatedly welcomed as guests in Moscow. AfD-politicians have also been present in Ukraine on election day as pseudo-election supervisors – whereby the term “supervised” in this context is a mere mockery.

Interesting, that you only recollect the visits of politicians of the AfD in Russia. Your memory seems to be a bit selective. Have you forgotten that various prime ministers (of e.g. Lower Saxony, Bavaria and Saxony) also traveled to Russia? And what about the German social democrats and members of the German left party? Did they not visit Russia quite frequently?

There is certainly a slight, nonetheless, crucial difference between an official visit of a prime minister for, say, economic cooperation, and one which is intended to strengthen strategic and ideologic alliances and - no doubt - to obtain support (by whatever means), which was presumably the motiv of the journey of AfD representatives to Moscow. Besides, official visits ended when necessary sanctions towards Russia were agreed on in the Western world - needless to say that the AfD not only rejected those sanctions but even itensified contacts to Russia. It is true that there are parts of the "Linke" that in some form of highly absurd nostialgica continue to misunderstand Russia as "friendly" power, ignoring the fact that today's Russia is anything but politically on the left, but rather a ultra-conservative, increasingly repressive dictatorship. Yet I cannot recall when those "frequent visits" of members of the SPD should have taken place - so thank you for refreshing my memory.

Da wir unsere Englischkenntnisse zur Genüge unter Beweis gestellt haben und hier nur deutsche Namen im Forum auftauchen, mach ich mal mit Deutsch weiter.
Offenbar geht Ihre Argumentation so: Putin muss der Aggressor sein, "given the fact that Russia has not only occupied Crimea, supports separatists in the Eastern part of Ukraine ..., and shields those who are responsible for the crash ...". Die Annexion der Krim war nicht Ursache der Aggression, sondern deren Folge - Sie vermischen da was! Und diese Annexion war für jeden Geschichtsinteressierten mit Realschulbildung vorauszusehen. Angesichts des schamlosen, schrittweisen Heranrückens der NATO an den Grenzzaunn Russlands, blieb Putin gar keine andere Wahl. Auch die Unterstützung der Separatisten im Osten (warum heißen die eigentlich "Separatisten" und nicht die Faschisten Poroschenkos?), war eine Folge des Bürgerkriegs, nicht dessen Ursache. Im Übrigen, das sind mehrheitlich Russen. Schließlich zum Crasch: Ergebnis der Kommission: 0!

Gerhard Lenz | Fr, 16. August 2019 - 10:14

In reply to by Albert Schultheis

Keiner dieser Staaten wurde zum Eintritt in die NATO gezwungen - dieser entsprach dem Sicherheitsbedürfnis der Völker. Sollen diese etwa Herrn Putin um Erlaubnis fragen?
Man stelle sich vor, Deutschland wolle in irgendeiner Sicherheitsorganisation Mitglied werden, soll aber vorher Russen (oder Amerikaner) um Erlaubnis fragen! Da möchte ich mal die Reaktion all der guten "Patrioten" erleben.
Zweitens: Ebenfalls einfach zu beantworten: Auch der Osten der Ukraine gehört zur Ukraine! Daran ändert auch die dominierende russische Sprache nicht - man stelle sich vor: Die Bundeswehr rückt in Ostbelgien ein, um die deutschsprachige Minderheit zu schützen!
To sum up: There can't be the slightest doubt about who really is the aggressor: It is Vladimir Putin! Not to speak about his meddling practically everywhere in Europe when elections are carried out - to strengthen Pro-Russian, far-right parties.

"... Keiner dieser Staaten wurde zum Eintritt in die NATO gezwungen." - Aha. Aber die NATO und der Westen haben in der Ukraine massive Lobbyarbeit geleistet und Millionen spendiert, die berüchtigte Dame Victoria Nuland war einfach zu blöd, ihre Under-Cover-Aktionen professionell genug durchzuführen. Desweiteren waren dort stetige Reisende: Das Ehepaar Clinton und viele andere hochrangige US-Regierungsvertreter und führende Grheimdienstler. Besonders um die Zeit des Massakers auf dem Maidanplatz waren diese Herrschaften gemeinsam mit Steinmeier in der Stadt Kiew zugegen. Für die Erschießungen hat es bis heute nicht einmal eine Anklage gegeben.
Dagegen wäre Ihr angebliches "Meddling" der Russen bei westlichen Wahlen ein Pups - hätte es überhaupt wie behauptet stattgefunden.
Am perfidesten Ihre Beschuldigung wegen des Abschusses von MH15: Die tolle westliche Untersuchungskommission war bis heute nicht einmal bereit, ein Protokoll der Aufzeichnungen der Black Box zu veröffentlichen.

sie wären nur wegen westlicher Einmischung in der NATO. Die würden nur den Kopf schütteln, und zwar unabhängig von politischer Einstellung, Rechtskonservative miteingeschlossen.
Ebenso die Balten - die sind alle heilfroh, dass sie in der NATO sind. Aber nein, alles nur wegen den Clintons und ein paar US-Regierungsvertretern?
Das glauben Sie doch wohl selbst nicht.
Und was den Abschuss der MH15 angeht: Manchmal hilft es, Nachrichten zu schauen, und zwar abseits von RT (Russia Today). Dann hätten Sie vielleicht mitbekommen, wen die Untersuchungskommission als Schuldige identifiziert hat.
Aber die liefert Putin natürlich nicht aus. Stattdessen lässt er lieber Demonstranten zusammenknüppeln.
Ein feiner Herr residiert da im Kreml...

In leaked communication, a present member of the AfD-fraction in the Bundestag has been named (by Russian sources) as their willing “puppet”. Numerous troll-factories have been detected which interfered in several elections, including those in the US, and in the Brexit referendum. Russian involvement in the last presidential election in the US has clearly been proofed over and over again by Mr. Mueller
Yet not everyone in Russia seems happy with Putin’s eager support for the far right extremists and populists. Earlier this year, Weronika Kraschenikowa, a senior member of the governing party “United Russia”, expressed strong concerns and demanded that Russia should halt support for those parties which, for obvious historical reasons, could never be a genuine ally of Russia. Yet, so far, Putin seems to have a different opinion.
So why is Putin so aggressively supporting European populists and extremists on the far right? There are, basically four reasons.

Firstly, Putin hates the EU, which he considers to be a big obstacle in his effort to widen his influence in Europe. Currently Hungary’s Orban seems Putin only reliable ally within the EU (since Strache and Salvini had to resign). Which might explain why Orban does (almost) everything to disrupt the functioning of the EU. Secondly, forces close to Putin fantasize about a future EurAsian Unit, which, dominated by Russia, shall replace the EU. Thirdly, Putin wishes to weaken the pro-Western, democratic parties in Europe, which he considers to be hostile to Russia. And, last but not least, Putin shares many views and values with those on the far-right, for example his hatred of homosexuals, his very conservative and illiberal family policy, and his drastic measures against any open opposition, visible just recently when demonstrators where battered and arbitrarily imprisoned. No wonder, while such violence was clearly condemned by the German democratic parties, but not by the AfD.

Die VS unterstützten offen die Ukraine- Revolution, a little support von 5 Milliarden Dollar (five billion dollars!), wie es die Frau Nuland nach Verteilung von Keksen in Kiew erwähnt hat... „Und es mag auch weitere weniger sichtbare Unterstützung gegeben haben...“,- das Glaube ich...
Und Märchen von Hans Christian Andersen sind auch viel glaubhafter als Friedmans- Märchen hier.

The USA supported pluralistic, law-based democracies where the fundamentals for a law-based democracy already existed, or had some roots - like in Germany after 1945. Since the Philippines or Cuba, and anywhere else, they never succeeded with " helping the establishment " of a pluralistic, law-based social contract from which a representative democracy can develop. They followed geopolitical interests with " we know they are crooks, but they are our crooks " in the Western Hemisphere, in Africa and elsewhere. In the case of Ukraine they, and Europe, supported the establishment and entrenchment of an oligarchic kleptocracy with forever rigged elections to fool the population. When talking about democracy Americans should concentrate on the USA.

im Übrigen hat der US-Expräsident und oberste Kopf des Putsches in Kiew, Barack Obama, seines Zeichens Friedensnobelpreisträger, die "kleine Einmischung" in der Ukraine längst als quasi jovialen Männerscherz in einem veröffentlichten Interview zugegeben, aber davon war natürlich in deutschen Qualitätsgazetten nichts zu lesen.

You fail to grasp the gist of Friedman's paper. In his concluding paragraph he points out that Russia's attempts to destabilize its Western adversaries are limited both in scope and impact.
The author does refer to a NYT article that indicates Russian interference in Sweden. You may well not consider this to be a sufficient or conclusive piece of evidence but with regard to the 2016 American presidential elections, no man in his right mind can possibly deny the facts as outlined in the Mueller report.
As for Russian foreign policy, I think it is unfortunate to mistake hybrid wars, conquest and disinformation for self-defense but I guess any RT viewer might beg to differ.

Gisela Fimiani | Do, 15. August 2019 - 13:44

Smilingly I find it confirmed again: „Amerika, dich hasst‘s sich besser“ (Andrei S. Markovits). Therefore Mr. Friedman is damned if he does and damned if he doesn‘t. Not what he says seems to matter, but what some commentators presage, using it as their opportunity to „unmask“ his presumed „perfidious“ lies. Perhaps Friedman wants to convey: Stop the blame game. Blaming agitprop for political problems only diverts the attention away from the problems which came into being not because of agitprop, but because of political „shortcomings“ i.e. the absence of political self-criticism and responsibility of governments , should not be conveniently and cowardly excused by blaming some scategoat, coming from the in- or the outside. Let‘s face our problems, not escape from them.

Thomas Neumann | Fr, 16. August 2019 - 23:39

Ich finde es ja eigentlich auch cool, mal wieder in englisch zu kommunizieren. Ich lebe aber in Deutschland und wenn George in den USA oder auf der austretenden Insel lebt und arbeitet, dann lässt man seine Texte einfach von einem Programm übersetzen und druckt sie dann in ein DEUTSCHES BLATT. Dank Internet können wir alle englische Artikel ohne Ende lessen - auf US- oder GB-Seiten. Das ist doch wirklich kindisch, dass hier Leser in englisch antworten und diskutieren. Bei erinnerlich um die 65.000 Leser in vermutlich hauptsächlich Deutschland eher lächerlich, hier neue, intellektuelle Leser für den Cicero zu gewinnen zu wollen. Also ich liebe Cicero. Und wenn ich englisch lesen oder diskutieren will, dann gehe ich auf die NYT,COM oder oder (ooops, die ist ja übersetzt!?). Schön, wenn ihr das alle versteht, aber diskutieren doch dann bitte in "Amtssprache". Das langweilt sonst wirklich in einem deutschen Magazin. JA!

but I don't mind. To the contrary. Why feeling offended by less than one article in English per week, on average?

Moreover, it gives those Englisch speaking non-German natives who don't feel fit to communicate in German an opportunity to engage in political discussions.

I don't want Cicero to degenerate into an "Echokammer", in which members of AfD remain largely among themselves. Moreover, it is very often that very same group (members of the AfD) who complain about the German press and encourage others to consult foreign papers to get a better, more comprehensive picture. And I assume they do not only mean "Russia Today"?

"um ein besseres und umfassenderes Bild zu erhalten" wäre doch auch für Sie sehr empfehlenswert Herr Lenz. А почему бы и нет? И почему вы против RT? Ведь это абсолютно не логично...Nicht nur „Bild“ machst möglich.
Man knows it all is truly a lie. Oder fast.
...Rechts Gras und Korn, links Gras und Korn,
wie knurrt es ihm im Magen!
Und immer wieder geht's von vorn,
er mag die Wahl nicht wagen.
So zwischen beiden bleibt er steh'n
und fällt vor Hunger um –
Rechts freie Presse, links Zensur,
rechts Wahrheit, links die Lüge –
Was stehen wir und grübeln nur
und haben's nicht Genüge?
Wir horchen rechts, wir horchen links
und fragen fern und nah –
O Buridan, o Buridan,
wär' doch dein Esel da!
Die Freiheit rechts, links Sklaverei,
wer könnt' es sich verhehlen!
Wir aber steh'n und steh'n dabei
und wissen nicht zu wählen.
So sind wir doch weit ärger noch
und dummer noch fürwahr,
o Buridan, o Buridan,
als wie dein Esel war!
Robert Eduard Prutz (1816 - 1872)

Ihre permanente Referenz auf Russia Today - quasi als universelles Totschlagsargument - nervt drastisch! Falls Sie diese Gazette brauchen, um sich sozusagen mit umgekehrten Vorzeichen zu informieren - bitteschön, aber behalten sie Ihre infamen Unterstellungen für sich. Ich werfe Ihnen auch nicht vor, dass Sie sich beim ÖR-Rundfunk rundum bilden. Sie sollten aufhören, Ihre politischen Gegner als unmündige und hörige Vasallen oder gesteuerte Bots zu betrachten.