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Austria's far-right party cozies up to Russia

Austria’s far-right party signs pact with Putin’s party after meeting with Trump’s national security advisor

The leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party said his party had signed a friendly pact with the Russian government in Moscow on Monday and vowed to be “a neutral and reliable intermediary and partner in promoting peace” between the United States and Russia.  

FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache also revealed in a statement that he’d traveled to New York a month earlier to meet with Ret. Gen. Mike Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser.

Monday’s announcement sought to establish Austria’s growing populist party on the world stage, but it served the dual purpose of signifying Russia’s growing ties to Europe’s far-right movement.

“The FPO continues to gain international influence,” the statement said, although it did not not elaborate on the contents of the agreement with Russia.

Monday’s meeting in Moscow was also attended by the FPO’s recently defeated presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer, and members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party.

Originally founded by Nazis shortly after World War II, the FPO has become one of Europe’s leading platforms against migration. Like many of Europe’s rising far-right populist parties, it also supports scaling back the European Union and cutting down on sanctions against Russia, which were imposed by the EU and U.S. governments in response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea region in Ukraine.

Russia’s recent meddling in European domestic politics has stirred plenty of anxiety among EU leaders, who accuse Russia of funding these populist movements in an effort to weaken Western democracies. The issue was a major preoccupation among EU leaders during a summit in October.

Monday’s meeting is hardly the the first time Russia has been linked with Europe’s far-right populist parties.

  • France: The National Front Party (FN) borrowed 9.4 million euros from Russia to help fund its reelection campaign in 2014. FN’s leader, Marine Le Pen, has made her admiration of Russia well known — she famously supported Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and opposes the EU and U.S. sanctions. Earlier this year, Le Pen sought a 27 million euro loan from a Russian-owned bank to finance her presidential bid. 
  • Hungary: In May 2013, leaders of the far-right party Jobbik met with members of Russia’s parliament at Moscow State University. A member of the same party was accused in 2014 of acting as a Russian spy.   
  • Bulgaria: The leader of the neo-Nazi Ataka Party, Volen Siderov, traveled to Moscow in 2012 for Putin’s 60th birthday party and expressed support for the Russian president.
  • Slovakia: The far-right Our People’s party is an ally of Moscow. Leader Marian Kotleba sent a letter of support to Ukraine’s pro-Russia leader, Viktor Yanukovych, just before he was ousted in a popular revolution in 2014.

The meeting between Strache and Flynn took place at Trump Tower, where, according to the statement, they discussed ending the United States’ and EU’s “harmful and ultimately useless sanctions” against Russia. It is the latest indication that historically chilly relations between the U.S. and Russia will warm under the incoming Trump administration.

Several key members of Trump’s Cabinet have shown close ties to Moscow in the past, most notably Trump’s pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has a history of friendly relations with Putin. Flynn has also expressed an openness to working with Moscow, and once sat next to Putin during an event.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter @oliviaLbecker.

Cover: (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

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