Russia has accused the West of organising a fascist plot in Ukraine. All those masked men in black hanging around Kiev, looking sinister. When I was in Crimea a few weeks ago, at exactly the point of the Russian takeover, the local state TV channel suddenly switched from covering normal news to running endless documentaries about Hitler and how the Soviet armies defended Ukraine from Nazism.
And it is certainly true that there are some hardline right-wing elements in Kiev and western Ukraine, though it appears some steps are being taken to get them out of the picture if the new government there is going to get the European Union to take it seriously.
But here’s something interesting that’s just started to emerge: across western Europe, where hardline right-wing, ultra-nationalist parties are in the ascendency in opinion polls, it’s turning out that many of them are hugely supportive of what Putin’s organised in Crimea.
To the naked eye it appears parties often accused of being neo-fascist are supporting a Russian plan which is ostensibly designed to stop fascism.
To name a few: Jobbik in Hungary, often accused of anti-semitism. They hope to come second in national elections on Sunday. Our Slovakia, run by Marian Kotleba, best known for his outright hostility to the Slovak Roma community. Marine le Pen of the French National Front, who was quoted favourably on Voice of Russia radio as supporting Russia’s rights in Crimea. And in Britain, the UKIP leader Nigel Farage has spoken admiringly of Putin in recent days, though not directly in relation to Ukraine.
Why do all these parties like Putin so much? Because they despise the European Union, want their own countries to abandon it, and are delighted that Russia has taken a stand against what Moscow would see as aggressive expansionism, backed by NATO and the US, to Russia’s western doorstep.
And certainly it must suit the Kremlin for parties across western Europe, which are doing extremely well in polling as EU elections in May come closer, to be sowing discontent and destabilising a common position on Ukraine.
As yet nobody’s asked the Russian government what they make of their supporters in western Europe. It would be interesting to see what they say in reply.