Europe's Extreme Right And Left United In Support Of Putin

The Russian leader's propaganda machine attracts all sorts of extremist movements in the European Union, on both sides of the political spectrum.

Vona Gabor, leader of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party
Vona Gabor, leader of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party
Richard Herzinger


BERLIN — It is something George Orwell himself never would have imagined. Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine justified Russian aggression in Ukraine by saying they had to defend themselves against Kiev’s “fascists” and anti-Semites. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov even recently condemned the European Union for what he claimed were rising racist tendencies among member states.

In reality, the Kremlin maintains excellent relations with far-right groups in these very same states. From the National Front in France to the Belgian Vlaams Belang and the neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic Jobbik Party in Hungary, all have firmly come down on Russia’s side in the Ukraine crisis. And Putin is demonstrating how to effectively, and utterly without scruples, use nationalist politics against hated supranational powers such as the United States and the EU.

What’s more, the Russian leader is presenting himself as the protector of the “Christian West” from Western “immorality.”

Putin’s annexation policy in the name of reclaiming Russian territory closely follows the ideology of “Neo-Eurasianism” developed by the “national Bolshevik” Alexander Dugin. This theory was directly inspired by the ethnic and nationalistic ideas of the Western European “New Right” — an extremist school of thought that started in the 1970s, finding its bases in the traditions of the German Weimar Republic’s “Conservative Revolution.”

It dreamed of an alliance between German nationalism and Bolshevism — a sort of nationalistic uprising against the advances of Western liberalism and universalism.

Joining extreme forces against the West

Putin’s combination of ambition, ethnic nationalism and a Soviet cult revival shows how the old dream of the left and right joining forces against the West is becoming reality. Even fringe Western European far-right extremists are following the lead, sensing an opportunity to realize their goal of “re-nationalizing” Europe — this time with the political and ideological backing of a major power.

Germany’s right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD) wants very much to hop on that bandwagon.

This could have been a source of disaster, since it forged ties last year with the radical and nationalist Swoboda Party in Ukraine. But the group is now markedly pro-EU, going over to the pro-West Ukrainian interim government after the collapse of the Yanukovych regime in February.

Paying lip service to the “national identity and sovereignty” of Ukraine, leaders of the NPD had to wriggle out of the bond, only to speak out all the more vehemently against Ukraine’s potential EU — not to mention NATO — membership. “A spiritual and national renaissance of Europe can only be built on the foundation of strong Russo-German friendship,” they insisted.

The NPD has unreservedly swung over to the Russian propaganda line. It now castigates “criminals” in the “illegal” Ukrainian regime, and condemns the “escalation strategy of the West.” It now calls itself the “Peace Party 2014,” playing on the widespread fear of war in Germany.

By announcing an “across-the-board new German opposition movement,” the NPD wants to be perceived as a “decent, but visible” force. Their agitation against “NATO war politics” is actually quite indistinguishable from the old leftist “anti-imperialist” stance. Loyalty to Moscow was never affected by the collapse of Soviet communism.

In the same boat for Putin

Putin’s “nationalist and bolshevik” double track makes it possible for both fascists and anti-fascists to identify with his propaganda. Germany’s leftist party often likes to call itself the spearhead of the fight against “extremist right and right-wing populist parties,” but when it comes to Putin, they’re all in the same boat.

Of course, the left doesn’t take any side in the Ukraine crisis — rhetorically. In the end, it is opposed to every attempt by the West to stop the Russian annexation policy. The ultimate goal remains the dissolution of Western alliances.

The EU, according to German left-wing politician Katja Kipping, should adopt “the role of a non-aligned power” and free itself “from their vassal’s loyalty to the United States.”

Kipping, on Germany's far-left flank denounces EU policy on Russia — Photo: Die Link

This new neutrality perspective is attractive in the context of the Ukraine crisis, not only to extremists but also to those in the middle of the political spectrum. Yet it is not accurate to lump moderate people who have a certain “understanding” of Putin’s strategy yet still believe in democracy together with those espousing extremist ideologies.

These people in the middle should, however, pay more attention to one fact. Putin is not only following “sober-minded” geopolitical demands — he is now serving up a new ideological brew that not only enforces conformity in Russian society, but also fuels anti-democratic forces in the West.

Russian propaganda is trying to disguise authoritarian policies as nobles motives. Putin is to use the anniversary of the end of World War II to compare his current annexation campaign with the fight against Nazi barbarism — possibly with a triumphant appearance in Crimea.

It is in this context that a Russian law now makes Holocaust denial punishable. This decision would be a welcome idea to fight anti-Semitism if the same law didn’t also forbid “wrong representations of the role the Soviet Union played in the Second World War.” This opens the door for quashing any voice criticizing the myth of Soviet anti-fascism.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!