Kremlin Condemns Ukraine Protests, Flirts With Russia’s Far Right Friends
Italian think tank brings together neo-Nazis, cranks and diplomats from authoritarian states
It’s no secret the Kremlin aids ultra-nationalist groups inside Russia—mainly as means to co-opt anti-immigrant groups, extremist political parties and skinheads gangs.
But in recent years, Russia’s flirting with the far right has extended beyond its borders to include an obscure Italian think tank staffed by committed neo-Nazi ideologues.
The group, known as the Mediterranean Center for Eurasian Studies, has hosted conferences with officials from Russia and friendly authoritarian states. It has also produced books in collaboration with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which comprises the governments of Russia, China and several Central Asian countries.
This is despite an argument—advanced by Russian diplomats—that the West should refrain from supporting the Euromaidan protests because of the presence of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists.
On Feb. 1, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated this position at the Munich Security Conference in Germany. “Why don’t we hear condemnation of those who seize and hold government buildings, attack the police, torch the police, use racist, anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?” Lavrov asked.
But listening to Lavrov, one might assume the Kremlin has taken a principled stand against the far right. If you thought that, you’d be wrong.
Flirting with the far right
The Mediterranean Center for Eurasian Studies, or CeSE-M, describes itself as representing a shift from a “unipolar system whose center is the United States’ hegemony, to a multipolar one” represented by a proposed Eurasian Union. Established in 2012, the obscure group brought together two similarly little-known extremist publications.
There’s a Internet magazine titled State and Power, which regularly issues condemnations of NATO, the European Union and considers Kiev to be Russian territory. According to Anton Shekhovtsov, a researcher of the far right at University College London, the group is an “allegedly socialist, but intrinsically fascist neo-Eurasianist sect.”
In addition to State and Power, the CeSE-M publishes Eurasia, an academic-style journal headed by Claudio Mutti. (Mutti is also a regular contributor at State and Power.) “An admirer of Islamic fundamentalism and Franco Freda’s brand of armed right-wing terrorism to provoke revolution, Mutti styles himself a ‘Nazi Maoist,’” wrote the late historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, in his book on esoteric Nazi cults.
CeSE-M and Eurasia also regularly put on conferences. On Nov. 6, 2010, Eurasia hosted an event with former editor Tiberio Graziani and Alexei Paramonov, the consul general of the Russian Federation in Milan. On Oct. 24, 2013, at an event in Rome titled “The Eurasian Union in the Multipolar World,” Mutti spoke alongside Andrian Yelemessov, Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Italy, and Dmity Mironchik, the commercial counselor of the Belarusan embassy.
Alexander Dugin was also present at the Rome gathering. Dugin is a prominent Russian intellectual, columnist and TV commentator who espouses a vision of an authoritarian, autarkic and imperialist Russia in a state of existential conflict with the United States.
Russia scholar Jeffrey Mankoff described Dugin’s world-view in his book Russian Foreign Policy as a “bizarre, occasionally paranoid philosophy that bears more than a whiff of Nazism.” Dugin has also been credited with contributing to Russia’s national security blueprint published in 2000, as well as having ties to senior military officers and Federal Security Service officials.
The gathering of Russian, Kazakh and Belarusan officials with an outfit linked to Italian Nazis and Russian ultra-nationalists might sound bizarre—and it is. But the links between CeSE-M and authoritarian states extends beyond talk.
The organization’s publishing house, Anteo Edizioni, serves as a platform for state propaganda produced with foreign assistance.
The group published one book, The Great Wall: Political Thought, Territory and Strategy of China and Its People, with assistance from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an economic and diplomatic group comprising the governments of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The book, according to a description at the publisher’s Website, focuses on “the fundamental contribution of China in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”
Another book, Ideology of State Youth Policy of the Republic of Belarus, was the result of a collaboration with the Belarus State Economic University, and describes the country’s mustachioed, autocratic Pres. Alexander Lukashenko as “demonstrating how it is possible to preserve the achievements of the past and enhance the scientific and political significance for the challenges of the future.”
Other titles include An Ideological Fortress, a text glorifying the 40-year-reign of Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha; Justice and Spirituality: The Political Thought of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; and County, People and Medals, a history of North Korean athletics published in association with the Italian branch of the Korean Friendship Association, a pro-North Korean outfit.
Other books published by Anteo Edizioni include texts lauding former Ivorian dictator Laurent Gbagbo, Hezbollah, Syrian Pres. Bashar Al Assad—and a book celebrating the Soviet nuclear weapons program thanks to which “Putin’s Russia [is] regaining its role as a world power,” according to a product description. The group has also republished a 1935 book by the Italian fascist writer Ettore Ovazza.
At the same time, CeSE-M has sought to build ties with far right extremists in Russia. Aside from Dugin, who is regular contributor to State and Power, CeSE-M lists the Academy on Geopolitical Affairs—a crank outfit that promotes 9/11 conspiracy theories and led by retired ultranationalist Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov—as an official partner.
There’s a caveat, however. Dugin is a highly influential ideologue in Russia. Dugin’s ideas are evident in the pages of State and Power and Eurasia. His ideas have likewise been credited with influencing Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s shift to the authoritarian right.That shift has been reflected in a crackdown on opposition political parties, independent media and the scapegoating of gays and lesbians.
But Dugin doesn't make policy—and flirting with the political fringe doesn't mean the fringe is running the show. “Dugin’s talk of an almost apocalyptic confrontation between Russia and the United States is not realistic, as most Kremlin officials seem to understand,” Mankoff noted in Russian Foreign Policy.
But that doesn't mean the Kremlin won’t flirt with him—and extremists like him abroad.