Russia is financing far-right political parties and critics of the European Union as part of a broader Kremlin strategy to sow disinformation and mistrust on the Continent, according to a member of the European Parliament (MEP). Ivan Stefanec, an MEP from Slovakia, contended that Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is now more closely aligned with the Kremlin than Brussels, writes the Atlantic Council’s Rachel Ansley, reporting on the recent conference – “The Illiberal Turn: Reasserting Democratic Values in Central and Eastern Europe”—jointly hosted by the Atlantic Council, the International Republican Institute, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Center for International Private Enterprise:
The dynamic of internal strife exacerbated by external pressures has led to the realization of the deep fragility of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, said Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy. When considering the issues that challenge the foundation of liberal values, those seeking a solution “can’t divorce the crisis from the broader geopolitical context, a context of growing Russian assertiveness and growing US retreat,” said Gershman….
Though the United States helped to establish a democratic infrastructure in the region after the fall of communism in the late eighties and early nineties, “democracy is not just about institutions, it’s also about habits and values and behavior, and it takes time,” said Jeffrey Gedmin, a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative. The EU soon became preoccupied with concerns other than the democracy of the region, he claimed, and “as we pivoted away, Vladimir Putin’s Russia pivoted back.” …
Maria Stephan, a senior policy fellow at the United States Institute for Peace, emphasized the need to focus on a bottom-up approach, engage citizens, and support the activities of civil society groups that can hold illiberal governments accountable. “Bottom-up coalitions and movements are the most significant drivers of democratic breakthroughs and of consolidating democracies,” she said.