Putin's Secret Plan—Divide And Conquer Europe

Vladimir Putin's ideology is a conservative message, addressed not only to Russian-speakers but to all European citizens. For the Kremlin, it's a closed case: Europe is in a state of economic decline and moral decadence.

Putin believes that hostility towards Islam and the protests linked to same-sex marriage in France are of profound significance. From this a fantastical picture emerges, whereby a small group of ultra-modernists, inspired by American-style theories, are apparently surreptitiously seeking to impose reforms on the population that would lead to major anthropological changes, not least the suppression of reproduction.

For Putin, this represents an important stage in the war of civilizations, and it is vital that Europe should be helped to remain faithful to its Christian roots and traditional values. In the spring of 2014, he claimed to have warned his 'friends' of the rise of populism in Europe, which he attributed to permissiveness with regard to immigration and gay rights: "I have been telling my friends in Europe for years that if you continue like that, without taking into account the mood of the population in your own countries, then nationalism will rise inexorably. And that was what happened."

The Russian conservative turn, then, must be exported, and Putin sees himself as the harbinger of that anti-modernist movement. With this in mind, Russia implanted 'Institutes of Democracy and Cooperation' in New York and Paris in 2007. Their objective is to promote the values of the new Russia. And if they are obliged to respond to Western criticisms about respect for human rights in Russia, why shouldn't Russia in its turn monitor breaches of rights in these hypocritical countries that consider themselves beyond reproach?

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his New Year's address to Russians in central Moscow on December 31, 2017. ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images

The official task of the Institutes is to "study and evaluate the organization of the electoral process and the follow-up of elections; to encourage studies and the creation of efficient programmes aimed at countering xenophobia, racism, extremism and terrorism". Yet they also organize seminars and conferences around the main themes of the Kremlin's new doctrine: defence of a multipolar world against American hegemony, protection of the 'traditional family', and 're-information' on the war in Syria, events in Ukraine and so on. Their spokespeople are regularly invited by the media to provide a 'politically incorrect' counterpoint to 'Western propaganda.'

The war of information that emerged with the annexation of Crimea and the separatist struggle in Ukraine is an essential vector for Russian influence. The Russia Today media group, operating in English, French and German, enjoys an annual budget of tens of millions of euros and in November 2014 launched an international news agency named Sputnik (replacing The Voice of Russia), while the German-language 'magazine for sovereignty' Compact is designed to spread the Kremlin's ideas across the Rhine.

The desire to raise the global profile of Russia as the motherland of conservatism can also be felt in the ever-closer ties established with far-right populist movements, in particular the French National Front. Putin has long wagered on the rise and eventual victory of Marine Le Pen, who is herself a great admirer of the Russian president. Le Pen's former diplomatic adviser Aymeric Chauprade, a great disciple of Eurasianism, was among the 'independent observers' who went to monitor the conduct of the Crimea referendum in March 2014, and led viewers of the Russia-1 TV channel to believe that France officially endorsed this role.

Part of the former UMP (the party of Sarkozy, now Les Républicains) as well as the Front de Gauche (Left Front) have allegedly expressed approval of Putin as a 'strong man' who dares to stand up to the United States. Politicians like Thierry Mariani have not concealed their backing for Putin and the annexation of Crimea. The Russian president's audience in Europe has undoubtedly grown.

Putin awaits the rise to power of populist parties so that he can become Europe's leader—and to make this happen he has committed all necessary resources, financial and otherwise. For Vladimir Putin, anything that could serve to divide or weaken Europe should be encouraged.

As the Trump White House contemplates a disengagement from Europe's defence in a rejection of NATO, Putin dreams of a continent on its knees, worn down by separatist movements and dominated by a new conservative leader: himself. He is lying in wait for the post-Merkel era, when he can make a bigger move. This approach is a subtle one. Instead of directly attacking his European neighbours, Putin encourages European populations to rise up against their leaders.

He is sending a digital Trojan horse into a whole series of democracies, and encouraging their own citizens to make use of them. Even more cunning than Ulysses, the Russian president appears to have convinced the Trojans to overthrow Priam and sack the city themselves.

This is an edited extract from Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin by Michel Eltchaninoff (Hurst Publishers).