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European elections 2019: what are Kremlin’s plans?

The whole international community is waiting for the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections Taking place on 23-26 of May, the elections are expected to be rather complicated for the participants, as far as the traditional balance of political powers is challenged by internal problems and contradictions. However, apart from the internal factors which can affect the results of the future elections, there are external players that also have their own particular interests to promote.

The recent years were characterized by a particular tension in relations between Russia and the EU. Regular human rights abuses and active participation of Russia in the Ukrainian crisis led to a chill in relations between Russia and the Western countries, whereas the EU and the US have taken several restrictive measures against Russia, establishing sets of economic and political sanctions against Russian governing elites. Since these sanctions isolated Russia politically and negatively affected its economy, one of the main objective for Moscow will be ending that regime and normalizing its relations with the European countries, though without modifying anyhow its political attitude of assertiveness.

However, in spite of particular isolation from the mainstream political forces of the West, Russia has still got supporters in Europe. Having in mind the active role the Kremlin usually takes in supporting its ‘friends’ in elections abroad, it is likely that the European elections won’t eschew Moscow’s glare.

These days European politicians and experts are signaling the increasing probability of Russia to meddle in European elections, even though the Kremlin has kept a much lower profile since it was exposed attempting to affect US presidential elections in 2016. In February, during an interview with POLITICO on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that “there is no doubt that Russia will be a major malign actor”. EU member states secret services share this fear, declaring that Russia aims at boosting support for parties that are either eurosceptic or friendly to Russia.

Obviously, Russian attempts to make European parliamentary system more suitable to their interests are nothing new. In addition, nowadays Russia is putting efforts to build a pro-Russian political bloc of Eastern and Central EU member-states, such as Hungary and Bulgaria, which seem to be ready to support Russia even at the expense of relationship with European countries. In case of victory, this bloc will be supposed to promote pro-Russian positions. Some of pro-Moscow European politicians have already mentioned the negative effect that anti-Russian sanctions bring to European countries, hinting at the better option of ending sanctions regime and normalizing relations. So did, for example, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

Right-populist parties, such as Italian Lega, Freedom Party for Austria, Alternative for Germany, French National Rally, competing with the main player, European People’s Party, aspire to get the majority in the upcoming elections, in order to create the largest coalition in the European Parliament. These parties are also well-known for their particularly close relations with the Russian Government. Not all the European countries’ legislations imply restrictive measures against parties that receive financial support from foreign governments. According to the Fiinancial Times, some sources purport that such parties indeed received financial support from the Russian Administration. For instance, the leader of the far-right party National Rally, Marine Le Pen, has taken loans from Russian banks and has repeatedly praised Putin.
Essentially, if Russian-backed parties will acquire support on these elections, Russia will try to use the advantage to reverse the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis and the annexation of Crimea. Moreover, the prospect of a pro-Russian bloc’s victory caused serious concern among Western security officials, as far as they tend to assess such victory as a potential threat.