Back when Russia was still the Soviet Union, it was seen by right-wingers as the godless enemy of all that’s good in the world.
As Russia has changed since the fall of communism, however, some on the far right have come to see Russia not as an adversary, but as a beacon of hope for white people all over the world.
You can see this shift not only in the strange praise that President-elect Donald Trump has regularly showered on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but also with the emerging alliances being formed between Russia and far-right nationalist parties all across Europe.
The most recent example of this alliance came this week when it was revealed that Mike Flynn, whom Trump has tapped as his pick for national security adviser, met with the leader of a far-right Austrian Freedom Party that was founded by former Nazis in the 1950s. In addition to meeting with Flynn, the Freedom Party also recently signed a cooperation agreement with Russia’s ruling party.
And this sort of thing isn’t just happening in Austria, as Putin has worked to cozy up to Marine Le Pen’s Front National party in France, as well as Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party.
Putin’s reasons for supporting these nationalist parties are easy to understand, as intelligence analysts have noted that such movements weaken both the European Union and NATO, two entities that Russia sees as antagonistic to its interests.
But the stranger part of the equation comes from the other side — namely, why do far-right parties and activists seem to have such love for Vladimir Putin?
Many white nationalists apparently believe that Putin — thanks in part to the deep alliance he has formed with the Russian Orthodox Church and his support for laws aimed at repressing Russia’s LGBT community — stands alone as a defender of traditional European Christian values.
“I really believe that Russia is the leader of the free world right now,” white nationalist Matthew Heimbach recently told Business Insider. “Putin is supporting nationalists around the world and building an anti-globalist alliance, while promoting traditional values and self-determination.”
Similarly, notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer — who is married to a Russian scholar who publishes pro-Putin propaganda — has declared that Russia is now “the most powerful white power in the world” that should be seen as a model for other white-majority nations to follow.
And Steve Bannon, who will serve as chief strategist in the Trump White House, has said that even though he believes Putin is a kleptocrat, people who consider themselves part of the “Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what [Putin is] talking about as far as traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism” that he would like to see the United States embrace.
Many white nationalists have also been in regular contact with Russian political philosopher Alexander Dugin, whom The Daily Beast reports has served as something of an informal ambassador promoting the virtues of Putin-style governance to far-right groups throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Taken all together, Russia has done a lot to actively promote its brand of right-wing authoritarianism to white nationalists across the western world — and it’s found a very willing audience among right wingers who ten years ago were extremely marginalized in center-right political circles.
“I’ve always seen Russia as the guardian at the gate, as the easternmost outpost of our people,” white supremacist Sam Dickson recently told the New York Times. “They are our barrier to the Oriental invasion of our homeland and the great protector of Christendom.”