FPÖ-Russia Relations After a Year of War in Ukraine

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: February 22, 2023; 20:54 ♦ (Vindobona)

Traditionally close to the Kremlin, Austria's Freedom Party is currently part of a thriller in parliament. Its party finances and any contracts with the Russian party United Russia are still not largely known, even after a year of war in Ukraine.

The former Austrian Foreign Minister and FPÖ politician, Karin Kneissl, once danced with Vladimir Putin at her wedding. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0

It is clear that the FPÖ has good connections to the Kremlin, which has been confirmed by possible scandals, and the closeness to Russia of right-wing populist parties in Europe is generally considered to be well known.

Research by the news magazine "Profil" had explained how deep the FPÖ's connections to Russia are and suggested that the FPÖ had received money for a pro-Russian motion in the National Council. According to SPÖ research, the FPÖ has tabled 30 pro-Russia motions since the start of the Ukraine war.

Thriller in Parliament

SPÖ federal party leader Christian Deutsch has called on the FPÖ to disclose its party finances and any contracts with the Russian party United Russia.

The FPÖ denies the accusations. According to the FPÖ, FPÖ Secretary General Christian Hafenecker underscored the FPÖ's announcement that "anyone who makes the false claim that the FPÖ, its MPs or officials have received money from Russia will face legal action." As reported by the Austrian newspaper DerStandard, the FPÖ will sue the SPÖ for false accusations. "Even if Mr. Deutsch rehashes these baseless, age-old fairy tales, which have already been denied a thousand times, daily, this does not make them one bit truer," Hafenecker said.

For Deutsch, on the other hand, it is clear that the FPÖ is "trampling neutrality underfoot" with its pro-Russian stance and its motions in the National Council. For him, it is time for the FPÖ to rename itself "Friends of Putin's Austria," Deutsch said. The FPÖ is like a matryoshka in its actions, said Deutsch, who also immediately explained this using the well-known nestable Russian doll. "Social home party on the outside, misanthropy, social dismantling and Putin friendship on the inside."

FPÖ and Russia

Behind the FPÖ's good connections to the Kremlin are former FPÖ politicians Heinz Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus. Within the FPÖ, Strache and above all Gudenus stood for a course of rapprochement with Putin's Russia. As early as 2005, the first contact was made, Strache recounted the night in Ibiza that was his undoing, as the Political Science magazine "InternationalePolitik" reported.

Strache had been appointed FPÖ leader at the time. The journalist Maxim Shevchenko, then one of the Russian head of state's personal advisers, had invited Strache to Moscow. Even back then, he had drafted a plan on how the FPÖ could "strategically cooperate" with Putin's party, Strache went on to say in Ibiza. In general, he admired Russia and wanted to bring Austria closer to the Visegrád group and Moscow. His declared role model, he said, was Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Central to the Russia rapprochement then was Gudenus, at the time of the video Vienna's deputy mayor, later in the government deputy FPÖ parliamentary group leader. Above all, Gudenus is Strache's friend and confidant, and above all, he had the best relations with Russia and its political elite. In 2012, Gudenus traveled to Chechnya to meet with dictator Ramzan Kadyrov. In 2014, he organized a meeting in Vienna between Alexander Dugin and other extremists of Europe's right wing. Like many Putin-friendly right-wing nationalists, Gudenus visited the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula in 2014 to legitimize the annexation. Of course, it was also Gudenus who engineered the friendship treaty between Putin's United Russia party and the FPÖ and co-signed it in Moscow in 2016. Unlike other European right-wing populists, there is still no evidence, only a lot of circumstantial evidence, of financial support from Moscow to the FPÖ. The party always insists that it has not received any funds despite the friendship treaty with United Russia.

Moscow and its allies in Europe.

Right-wing parties in Europe have long been seen as allies of the Kremlin and side with Putin. In Austria, too, right-wing circles and the FPÖ have repeatedly taken a stance since Russia attacked Ukraine, which portrays the Kremlin as a victim of "western aggression". The FPÖ in particular emphasizes Austrian neutrality, but rather as a request not to take a position against the Putin regime.

As reported by "Profil" together with its research partners (OCCRP, Eeesti Ekspress, IRPI), some FPÖ officials have already been seen and photographed wearing clothes on which the notorious "Z", which stands for the Russian war in Ukraine, is shown is.

Some FPÖ officials maintained contact with a man named Sargis M., a man named Sargis M., a man named Sargis M., who was once an official in the State Duma, the parliament in Moscow, as the "Profil" reports. He often invited the FPÖ and other European politicians from right-wing parties to Russia and made visits to Crimea, Moscow and other propaganda campaigns that had a positive impact on PR.

But Sargis M.'s propaganda attempts were not limited to articles in right-wing media. To all appearances, the Kremlin's arm also reached right into the heart of western democracies – into their parliaments. For example, M. made sure that right-wing politicians made motions in their parliaments for money to lift the sanctions against Russia, as "Profile" reports. The costs were therefore estimated at 20,000 euros - if the vote was successful, another plus 15,000 euros.

In Austria, too, the parliamentarian Johannes Hübner is suspected of having received money for such an application that he initiated, as reported by "Profil". Hübner denies the allegations.

Relations after a year of the war

The FPÖ denies all links to Russia and repeatedly states that the friendship treaty between them and Putin's party has expired. FPÖ Secretary General Christian Hafenecker said about the contract, "It has simply expired, finished. This has also been confirmed by the Russian side. From our point of view, it no longer exists." However, as "Kurier" reports, the agreement between the two parties will run until one of the two sides cancels the deal in writing.

With many FPÖ officials still siding with Russia and Putin's general popularity pervasive in right-wing circles, many assume there are still strong ties between the FPÖ and the Kremlin. It can perhaps be assumed that the connections are now cultivated even more secretly unless it is party-political.