By Paul Goble
A new book by French scholar Cecile Vaissie of the University of Rennes-2 describes the ways Moscow has used the media, political lobbying and hidden financing to develop an influence network in France, a network that has been very effective in certain parts of the political spectrum but not on the French population as a whole.
Vaissie discussed her book, “Les Reseaux du Kremlin en France” (ISBN 978-2-36383-212-2), with Anna Stroganova of the Russian Service of Radio France International (ru.rfi.fr/rossiya/20160409-sesil-vesse).
The author points out that “some of these networks have existed already for a very long time.” Some had continued to function right along, while others have been “reactivated” by the Putin regime. Still others, including those involving the extreme French right are relatively new and not surprisingly, these have attracted the most attention.
One can understand this network only by putting it in the context of the fact, Vaissie observes, that “in France Russia has always been admired as a mysterious country and the subject of various kinds of fantasies which are easy to use to attract new supporters” in specific contexts.
One of these notions widespread among the French is that “Russia and its leaders are a single whole.” That is not true as the Kremlin does not represent the Russian people now or at many points in the past. But the willingness of the French to accept this equivalence makes it easier for Moscow to organize support networks.
Lenin did so after 1917. Stalin and his successors followed this up and ensured that the French would ignore reports about Soviet crimes and justify or at least not condemn actions like the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 or the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the French scholar continues.
Prior to the end of the USSR, Moscow relied on the French communist party, but now it seeks support “above all on the extreme right flank” of the French political system by providing loans or other aid to the National Front – although, Vaissie notes, Russian agents of influence have not forgotten the extreme left.
All countries seek to promote their interests abroad. The problem of Russia’s efforts in this regard lies in the fact that “many of the Russians assigned by the Kremlin for the development of Franco-Russian relations are ‘former’ KGB officers. But as Vladimir Putin has said, in this profession, there are no ‘former’ people.”
Moscow has used money to advance its interests, but “one should not think that all of the supporters of the Kremlin in France have been purchased. People sincerely support the policy of the Russian authorities” because of the way Moscow’s agents present Russian goals, as defenders of tradition for the right, as anti-American for the left, and so on.
Vaissie describes the three major public organizations Moscow uses to spread its influence within French elites: the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots in France, the Franco-Russia Dialogue which is headed by a Russian security officer, and the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation headed by Natalya Narochnitskaya.
The French scholar says she was pleased to discover in the course of writing her book that while politicians and business people are often attracted to Moscow’s messages, very few French intellectuals are, at least in comparison with the 1930s and 1970s, and that “85 percent of the French have a negative opinion about the Russian authorities and Vladimir Putin.”