RELEASE: Putin Builds 5th Column in Europe to Undermine Democracy, CAP Study Finds

Washington, D.C. — Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election that resulted in the election of Donald Trump was neither an isolated incident nor an ad hoc attempt at electoral mischief. It was part of a deliberate campaign to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies and advance Russian foreign and domestic policy objectives. As the citizens of the Netherlands vote today in an election in which the pro-Russian candidate is neck and neck with the sitting prime minister, Russia’s actions deserve much greater scrutiny and a collective response.

Another component of this effort is the cultivation of a network of far-right parties in European democracies that will undermine the liberal international order from within. The nationalist parties and leaders have adopted pro-Russian positions that are inconsistent with a typical nationalist policy platform and too similar to explain unless they are in exchange for overt and covert Russian support in their home countries.

The Center for American Progress has released a major report identifying seven such parties in six liberal, Western democracies that have either recently held or will hold elections in the coming 12 months. CAP has spent months researching these parties and their stunningly similar positions and messaging on Russian aims, such as dropping EU sanctions and support for the invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s actions in Syria. The report also looks at the ways in which President Trump, his administration, his campaign, and those around him have mirrored the same positions and messages as these far-right, Russian-influenced parties.

“There is compelling evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin covertly manipulated the U.S. election and seeks to do so in other Western democracies,” said Ken Gude, CAP Senior Fellow and author of the report. “One of Putin’s main tools is the cultivation of far-right political parties and their leaders who adopt pro-Russian and pro-Putin policies. Why would Dutch nationalist leader Geert Wilders advocate ending sanctions on Russia imposed after Russian-backed separatists shot down a Malaysian Airlines jet with Russian missiles that killed nearly 200 Dutch citizens? It’s very difficult to explain that and other consistent pro-Russian positions of these nationalist parties in Europe unless it is exchange for overt and covert Russian support. In the United States, President Trump is following the same playbook, using eerily similar language and promoting a policy agenda that would advance Russia’s objectives.”

Among the parties researched are the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the U.K. Independence Party in the United Kingdom, Front National in France, and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland. While the electoral prospects for each of the seven parties differs from country to country, many of them are seeing increases in popularity and influence among voters and signal a relative shift away from liberal democratic values in their countries. With the growth of influence of these parties comes the growth of Vladimir Putin’s influence, leaving Europe and America on a dangerous path toward the same despotism Putin espouses.

Click here to read the report.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at tcaiazza@americanprogress.org or 202.481.7141.