While the news cycle is still abuzz with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s interview of Russian President Vladimir Putin, flying under the radar are new details about Russian intelligence’s role in cultivating ties with political parties in Europe. Using money as a primary form of leverage and influence, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has sought out agents of influence throughout Europe who are sympathetic to the Kremlin’s worldview, particularly on divisive issues like the war in Ukraine or the EU’s continued utility. What is especially troubling now is that many of these parties are on the rise in their respective countries, lending Russia even greater influence over political decision-making on the issues it cares about.

That Russian state actors and their proxies use money to maximize political leverage and subvert civil society in democratic nations is nothing new. The Alliance for Securing Democracy’s (ASD’s) Authoritarian Interference Tracker contains a multitude of such cases in Europe, the United States, and Canada. Although Russia seeks out leverage across the political spectrum, its primary targets of opportunity tend to manifest in far-right or nationalist parties, given ideological affinities on geopolitical and cultural issues.

Clear, Malign Financial Ties

Prominent examples of Russian operations have surfaced in Germany and Italy. The FSB and other Russian state actors have cultivated ties with the far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party, including, most recently, by giving direct instructions to a staffer of an AfD member of parliament (MP) to derail or delay deliveries of German battle tanks to the Ukrainian military. In Italy, new details have corroborated what was long suspected in a scandal involving the right-wing populist Lega party, namely that the FSB was ready to facilitate the laundering of millions of dollars to finance the party. 

Other salacious examples of this type of behavior include Russia’s financing of France’s Marine Le Pen’s presidential campaign in 2014 and its courtship of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). While a formal friendship treaty between the FPÖ and Putin’s United Russia party has now officially expired, Austrian press recently revealed that, in 2016, the far-right party had discussed receiving money from a Russian spin doctor in exchange for introducing certain proposals in the national parliament. Former FPÖ party leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was forced to resign after the 2019 “Ibiza Affair”, when video surfaced showing him appearing to accept a proposal from a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece that would exchange Austrian government contracts for favorable press coverage of the party.

Increased Influence in European Politics

The aforementioned four parties belong to the same grouping in the European Parliament, Identity and Democracy (ID), giving Russia a conduit to influence European legislators. While the grouping openly opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and even suspended its Dutch member when he came out in support of the Kremlin’s war in 2023, several of the ID’s eight current parties have cultivated ties in some way. For example, Belgian press reported that ID member Vlaams Belang sent members to observe the 2014 referendum on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and one of its leaders has had meetings with several prominent Russian officials.

What is concerning is that these parties are on the rise throughout Europe, giving Russia opportunities to increase its leverage across the continent—with potential implications for continued European support of Ukraine. In Germany, the AfD entered the Bundestag in 2017 and, despite a slight sip in 2021, has been steadily gaining ground in local and regional elections. The vast majority of AfD MPs voted against the provision of heavy arms to Ukraine in April 2022, and its leader echoed Russia’s threatening talking points when Germany sent Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv in January 2023. In Italy, the Lega is part of the current governing coalition, although coalition head and current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has not been particularly receptive to Russia’s positions and interests. In Austria, where elections will be held later this year, the FPÖ is leading polls. The same is happening in Belgium, where the Vlaams Belang is predicted to draw around a quarter of the vote in upcoming federal elections. In France, Le Pen’s Rassemblement National is the country’s largest opposition party.

After the upcoming European elections in June, the individual parties of ID and the bloc as a whole are likely to gain strength if they pick up even more seats in the European Parliament, as anticipated. To ID’s left, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) could also become more amenable to Russian positions. The ECR is already home to Geert Wilders’ party, currently the largest in the Netherlands, whose leader visited Moscow in 2018 to meet with several Russian officials. In early February, French far-right party Reconquête! joined the grouping. Their founder and current leader, Eric Zemmour, used to “dream of a French Putin”. Finally, ECR is considering whether to allow Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz join their ranks. Hungary’s stance towards Ukraine and NATO is so amenable to Moscow that Czech and Swedish ECR members have threatened to exit the group should Fidesz be allowed in.

It’s Not Just the Far Right

Yes, far-right parties have been involved in brazen acts of Russian interference in European politics. AfD, the Lega, and Rassemblement National have all been caught red-handed receiving financial assistance from Moscow. But the Russian government is an opportunist across the political spectrum. Media have recently revealed that Latvian MEP Tatjana Ždanoka was an “asset of Russian intelligence since at least 2005”. Ždanoka was affiliated with the Greens until April 2022 when her position on the war in Ukraine finally got her kicked out of the party. In France, a center-right former senator is under investigation for corruption and money laundering in connection with a French-Russian friendship group. In Germany, a new far-left party is now echoing AfD rhetoric and opposing Russian sanctions and support for Ukraine.

This February, ahead of this summer’s major elections, the European Parliament just passed a resolution calling on European institutions to increase their efforts to counter Russian interference in the continent’s democracies. The text notably asked that “the numerous loopholes in EU party financing legislation” be closed and condemned “all types of elite capture” such as the provision of “lucrative jobs in companies linked to governments”. While the vast majority of MEPs supported the resolution, only a single ID member and less than half of the far-left grouping The Left backed the text.


In parallel to its kinetic war in Ukraine, Russia is waging a vast interference campaign in Europe. It has found willing partners in the continent’s far right, happy to work against their countries’ interests in exchange for money. With these parties’ newfound popularity, the Russian government might have a chance to gain more influence in European decision-making after this summer’s European election. This prospect is even more concerning when considering the many other political forces that echo Russian talking points, even without obvious financial ties to Moscow. With the man most likely to be the Republican candidate in the US presidential election now threatening to let Russia do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO countries that allegedly do not pay their fair share, the post-Cold War order hangs in the balance. Expect Russia to seize the opportunity to further divide allies.