European Parliament 2024: Five Parties Sympathetic to the Kremlin

Written by Anastasiia Ratieieva, UCMC/HWAG analyst

On June 6–9, EU countries held elections for the European Parliament. The new composition of the EU legislative branch is a slice of the current political dynamics of united Europe. The results witnessed a significant shift in the political landscape of Europe. On the eve of the polls, analysts predicted an increase in the number of mandates for representatives of Eurosceptic parties, which raised concerns about the possible consequences for European unity and everyday politics. The vote results confirmed these predictions: the right-wing forces received significant support, strengthening their positions in the parliament.

We selected five parties that received mandates in the European Parliament and whose rhetoric could play into the hands of the Kremlin. Their growing influence is a cause for concern because of the possibility of strengthening pro-Russian narratives in European politics, which could lead to a change in the EU’s course in foreign policy, security and energy dependence.

League for Salvini Premier, Italy 

League for Salvini Premier, or just the League party, is a right-wing populist political force led by Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister of Italy. Compared to the 2019 European Parliament election, in 2024, the League lost over 25 percentage points but still won 8 seats. The League has established significant connections with Russia over the past several years. 

In 2017, the League signed an agreement to collaborate with United Russia, the ruling party in Russia led by Vladimir Putin. The accord was disavowed in 2024 as League leader Matteo Salvini faces mounting pressure over his historical ties to the Kremlin. This move came amid growing scrutiny and geopolitical pressures, especially following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting shifts in European political dynamics​​.

In 2019, members of the League were accused of attempting to secure illegal funding from Russia. Although Salvini denied receiving any money, this scandal raised concerns about Russian influence in Italian politics​​.

Salvini has repeatedly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin before the war in Ukraine. Although the League leader has condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, he has also stated that he opposes Italy sending any additional weapons to Kyiv beyond what has already been supplied. 

Salvini has consistently criticized Western sanctions against Russia, arguing that they harm Italian economic interests more than they affect Russia. This position aligns with his broader pro-Russian and Eurosceptic views, suggesting a preference for closer ties with Russia over alignment with EU policies. 

The Freedom Party, Austria 

The Freedom Party (FPÖ), whose representatives criticized sanctions against Russia, won 25.7% in Austria. In December 2016, the FPÖ signed a cooperation agreement with United Russia, the ruling party in Putinʼs Russia. This agreement aimed to “strengthen the friendship and education of young generations of Austria and Russia, in the spirit of patriotism and of finding joy in work.”

The FPÖ has consistently taken a pro-Kremlin stance, advocating for the lifting of EU sanctions imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. This stance has been a significant part of their political agenda and public statements​​.

The FPÖ’s ties to Russia were highlighted during the Ibiza scandal in 2017 when party leaders Heinz-Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus were caught in a sting operation involving an individual posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch. This incident led to a significant political fallout and scrutiny of the party’s close relationship with Russian interests​.

The leader of the Freedom Party, Herbert Kickl, who replaced Strache, demanded that “Relations with Russia must be normalized.”

Karin Kneissl, selected as foreign minister by the FPÖ, gained attention for her pro-Russian stance. Kneissl personally invited Putin to her wedding, where he appeared with an entourage of bodyguards and danced with the bride. After leaving the ministry, Kneissl joined the supervisory board of the Russian petroleum company Rosneft. In June 2023, it was revealed that she would lead a state-related think tank in St. Petersburg.

The FPÖ has consistently urged the Austrian government to maintain a neutral position, criticized Western sanctions on Russia, and characterized Ukraine as a corrupt state. 

Vlaams Belang, Belgium

In Belgium, the right-wing party “Flemish Interest” took first place (14.5%). The attraction to the idea of separating Flanders from Belgium contributed to the support of Putin’s ideas regarding separatism in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Party members attended the so-called referendums in Crimea and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) elections. Russian propaganda media outlet Voice of Europe has reportedly published interviews with Vlaams Belang’s MPs.

Representatives of Vlaams Belang were present as “observers” at the “elections” in the “LNR” (Luhansk People’s Republic) and “DNR” (Donetsk People’s Republic). In 2018, Philip Devinter, a member of Vlaams Belang, worked on opening a representative office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Brussels. The same year, he co-authored the resolution on lifting sanctions against the Russian Federation, which was submitted to the Belgian parliament.

Another member of the party, Frank Kreyelman, in an interview with the Russian channel Sputnik News, spoke out against providing weapons to Ukraine, comparing the Russian invasion to NATO bombings of Serbia on social media. He claimed that the war was “partially provoked by foreign forces with geopolitical and financial plans that have no respect for Ukraine” and that the conflict arose due to the “continuous movement of EU and NATO borders eastward.”

The Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), Netherlands

The PVV is a nationalist-populist party that has opposed ruling coalitions in the Netherlands since 2012. In 2018, its leader, Geert Wilders, visited Moscow and met with various Russian parliamentarians and officials. Those meetings included Leonid Slutsky, a figure sanctioned by the West for his role in the annexation of Crimea. This visit seemed controversial in the Netherlands, especially given the strained relations following the downing of flight MH17 by Russian-backed separatists​. 

The world media referred to the victory of the PVV in the Dutch parliamentary election in 2023 as the “worst nightmare for the EU.” Russian state media and Kremlin propagandists celebrated the win of Wildersʼ party, highlighting his Russia-friendly stance. Wilders has been known to praise Vladimir Putin and has called for more pragmatic relations with Russia​​. He visited Russia, where he advocated for friendly ties with it, and appeared on the main Kremlin propaganda channel, Russia Today. 

Wilders and his party have consistently opposed Dutch support for Ukraine, advocating for the cessation of military aid and financial assistance. This stance aligns with the Kremlin’s interests, as reducing European support for Ukraine benefits Russia’s strategic goals. Even though Wilders has changed his position about military aid for Ukraine against the background of attempts to form a coalition, the party and its leader continue to play Russian rhetoric in general. For example, Wilders said the Netherlands was “Europe’s fool” for accepting too many Ukrainian refugees. 

These connections illustrate the complex and often controversial relationships between specific Dutch political figures and Russia, reflecting broader geopolitical dynamics and the influence of Russian interests in European politics​. 

National Rally, France

In France, the party of President Emmanuel Macron lost the election to the far-right National Rally (formerly known as the National Front) of Marine Le Pen (31.4% of the vote). Le Pen has always been considered a pro-Russian politician, but recently, she criticized Russia for invading Ukraine and expressed respect and support for the Ukrainian people. However, this does not negate that the National Rally has had notable connections with Russia over the years.

Le Pen has made several public statements that reflect a pro-Russian stance. She has criticized sanctions against Russia, claiming they harm European citizens more than they impact Russia. Additionally, she has called for a peace conference instead of continued support for Ukraine. These positions have been interpreted as aligning with Kremlin interests​​.

In 2014, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally received a €9.4 million loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank, which later went bankrupt. The loan was subsequently transferred to a Russian company. This financial tie has been a source of controversy and criticism, especially after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. The party has recently paid off this loan before the 2024 European Parliament elections to distance itself from accusations of being influenced by Russia​.

The National Rally has been accused of promoting Russian interests in France. According to a Washington Post investigation, Kremlin strategists have allegedly used political figures, including those from the National Rally, to push narratives that align with Russian interests, such as opposing sanctions against Russia and questioning support for Ukraine​.

The French government and other political figures have highlighted these connections. During the 2022 presidential debates, Emmanuel Macron accused Le Pen of being financially dependent on Russia, referring to her party’s loan. Furthermore, a French National Assembly committee report described the National Rally as a conduit for Russian influence in France​​.

According to political analysts, Czechia’s high turnout—over 36 percent – was a broad vote against the government. Political scientist at Prague’s CEVRO University, Ladislav Mrklas, says that: “The more people who vote, the greater the potential for opposition parties to gain support, regardless of their political beliefs.”

Political scientist Jan Kubáček told Czech media outlet “I think it’s a huge cold shower for the government coalition. If you look at the results, it is a huge debacle for the Pirates, because they had fewer votes in Prague than the ANO movement, which is a warning.”

Success for Czechia’s right-wing parties echoes developments in Germany and France, where in the latter, President Emmanuel Macron called for a snap parliamentary election after the right-wing Rassemblement National Party got almost one-third of the vote. In Germany, the rightist Alternative for Germany party gained a huge seven seats and received the second-highest vote share. Right-wing parties also performed well in Austria, with the Freedom Party accruing the highest vote share.