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Other youth groups have been targeted to help boost Russia’s image abroad. While these tactics are reminiscent of Soviet efforts to win the hearts and minds of Western youth, Russia has shown a readiness to work with groups across the political spectrum. This includes working with both the far-right AfD and with the far-left World Federation of Democratic Youth to host a large youth gathering set for later this year.
The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the “Freedom for Europe” conference was held in Germany. The conference was attended by the key European far-right leadership candidates like the Netherlands’ Gert Wilders, France’s Marine Le Pen and Frauke Petry of Germany’s AfD. Russia’s Izvestia provided some of the earliest coverage in the run up to the conference. Izvestia spoke to the leader of AfD’s Youth Wing, Markus Frohnmaier, recently married to a Russian journalist who has written articles for Izvestia on EU and German relations with Russia.
Izvestia suggested the main point of the conference was the “the creation of a road map for the Alliance of Eurosceptics for year 2017”.
But even though the conference was meant to have nothing to do with Russia, Frohnmaier’s connections hint at Russia’s developing relationship with far-right parties, and they show Russia is paying attention to coming elections throughout Europe.
Last December, Frohnmaier had a meeting with Konstantin Petrichenko, head of international links of Vladimir Putin’s party United Russia and leaders from the youth organisation United Youth Front. During the same trip, Frohnmeier also met with Anton Morozov, Russian member of parliament and part of its committee for international affairs. United Youth Front’s Ksenia Shlyamina wrote on her Facebook page that the meeting was about “perspective cooperation between Russia and Germany in terms of sanctions”.
On its website, the United Youth Front outlines its projects. One of these is titled “Europe: a new turn”. This is described as a campaign to have dialogue “between Russian politicians and representatives of youth wings of major European parties which campaign for the repeal of the sanctions against the Russian Federation”.
The United Youth Front describes itself as a “public movement” which “campaigns in support of the policies of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin”. Ksenia and her husband Nikolai Shlyamin, who both run the United Youth Front had a number of meetings with Frohnmaier over the past year. Last July, the couple attended a conference hosted by the AfD’s youth wing in Bingen Am Rhein, Germany. Shlyamina wrote one proposal from the conference was to “create a common security zone with Russia instead of NATO: from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.
But Russian officials have not limited their scope to Germany’s AfD, a similar methodology has been used with the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO). Last December, it was reported that Russia’s ruling party and the Austrian nationalists signed an agreement, pledging to work together on “youth, women, education, aid and other social organisations” with the aim of “strengthening the friendship and education of the young generation in the spirit of patriotism and joy of working”.
Along with members of the OMF, Frohnmaier also met the international secretary of the Young Guard of United Russia, Daria Sharova in December 2016 in Moscow. The Young Guard of United Russia has also been instrumental in fostering links with between Russia and foreign youth movements.
A group of young people who took part in the Generation Next trip to Russia were also invited to a follow-up meeting at the Russian Embassy in the Hague in October 2014 – The meeting was organized by Erik Havenaar, the head of the Expertise Centre of the Russian Federation.
The Expertise Centre has a Facebook group that it generally uses to post pro-Kremlin propaganda. Its mission “is to promote a deeper understanding of Russian affairs in The Netherlands and Belgium”. They are also “cooperating with Rossotrudnichestvo and the Russian Embassy at many projects” and “are also the youth organisation of the Russian Embassy and Rossotrudnichestvo in The Netherlands for people who want to do something with Russia” and “have special programs for Dutch hogescholen and Universitys to collaborate with Russian Universitys”.
In 2017 Russia’s outreach to the young-wings of foreign parties is no trivial matter, given the controversy over Russian interference in US elections. Serious concerns have already been expressed for the Kremlin’s support to “extremist, pro-Moscow candidates”. Russia’s focus on youth groups is therefore amplified in a key year for European elections and as evidence of Russian meddling in US and European politics continues to mount.
Read more: bellingcat - Russia Seeks to Influence European Politics Through Youth Wings of Far-Right and Far-Left Parties - bellingcat