BRUSSELS – If Russia has occupied and annexed Crimea, it’s the European Union’s fault for offering closer ties with Ukraine, according to Euroskeptic parties of the far left and nationalist right.
European governments and mainstream politicians may have united in condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula against Ukraine’s wishes. But the populist movements vying to make big gains in European Parliament elections in May reckon Brussels is mostly to blame.
Inside Ukraine, the right is already seeking to consolidate its strength. A far-right paramilitary group that played a key role in protests that ousted pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych last month said Saturday it had formed a political party.
“The Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) political party was created today,” member Andriy Denissenko said in a YouTube video after a meeting held behind closed doors for security reasons. “The party will be an instrument in the political field in the same way that a Kalashnikov is in the military field.”
Delegates elected Dmitry Jarosh as the party’s leader, and also announced that he would run in Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election on May 25.
The Pravy Sektor party will absorb other already registered Ukrainian nationalist formations.
Also Saturday, elite Russian troops stormed a Ukrainian air base in Crimea as Russia’s defiant march across the peninsula rolled on despite sanctions and growing global isolation. A group of armed men meanwhile seized control of one of the last navy ships in Crimea still flying Ukraine’s flag, a government spokesman said.
As for the Euroskeptics, whether their sympathy for Russia will help or harm them at the polls remains unclear. Elections rarely turn on foreign policy, and protest parties tend to score best on the kind of low turnout widely expected in this vote.
Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, which opinion polls suggest may top the European poll in his country, has been most open in siding with Putin. “The EU and United States should respect the result of the Crimea referendum,” he said of the vote organized under Russian occupation. “The sanctions that have been announced in the meantime are a farce.”
Strache said he had met Putin in Vienna and “found him to be a highly correct and interesting statesman.”
Some of his Euroskeptic political allies on the far right are slightly more uneasy about associating themselves so openly with Russia’s strongman.
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s resurgent National Front, acknowledged that Putin was “a bit rough” and called for a negotiated solution in Crimea. But she too was clear that the EU deserved most of the blame for provoking the crisis.
The far right opposes further EU enlargement to the east as a bottomless pit for taxpayers’ money and a source of uncontrolled immigration. The Euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany said the EU must stop its “crazy rescue reflexes” in Ukraine and recognize it could not provide a solution to the country’s problems.
Le Pen’s Dutch political partner, Geert Wilders of the anti-EU Freedom Party, distanced himself from Russian military actions, while saying that the EU had made the first mistake and was wrong to engage in confrontation with Moscow.
“Russia must of course take its hands off Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, but by awakening this the EU has shown its bankruptcy,” Wilders said.
The far right is united in opposing collective EU sanctions against Moscow, which could harm Europe’s national economies.
The U.K. Independence Party, which wants to pull Britain out of the EU, has mostly been content to attack European diplomacy without supporting Putin.
“What the EU in particular has done is the reverse of what Theodore Roosevelt recommended as the key to effective diplomacy. It has spoken loudly while carrying a very small stick,” said William Dartmouth, a UKIP member of the European Parliament. “The result was eminently predictable: annexation of Crimea and a long Russian shadow cast over the rest of the Ukraine.”
On the post-communist hard left, some parties openly endorse part of Putin’s justification for military intervention.
Greece’s far-left Syriza party, expected to top the European poll, accused the EU of having legitimized the abolition of democracy in Ukraine and abetted “fascists,” echoing its argument that Brussels has imposed austerity undemocratically on Athens in the eurozone debt crisis.
Gregor Gysi, parliamentary leader of Germany’s The Left party, said it was outrageous that the EU was offering a political deal and financial support to an interim government in Kiev that “was not democratically elected and includes fascists.”