While the Russian leadership has promoted itself as a standard-bearer of conservative values, European and American conservatives do not uniformly embrace the Kremlin. Nevertheless, there is hope that shared conservative values can be a basis for future cooperation.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves after giving an economic policy speech to the Detroit Economic Club, August 8, 2016, in Detroit. Photo: AP

The ongoing discussion of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia has once again raised the question of how foreign conservatives view the Russian leadership, which sees itself as a defender of conservative values.

The West’s ideological victory in the Cold War can be attributed for the most part to the most important conservative leaders of the day —  former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. And today, a quarter of a century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this “moral victory” is confirmed by the fact that Russia's current leaders embrace conservative ideology and worldview.

Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, defines itself as right-of-center, and President Vladimir Putin has called conservatism “extremely important.” According to Russia's well-known journalist Alexei Venediktov, “If Putin lived in America, he would have been a member of the Republican Party’s right wing.” Putin expressed the importance of conservative values in his 2013 State of the Nation address.

“In order for society to exist, it is necessary to maintain some of the basic things that mankind has accumulated over the centuries,” Putin said. “This is a caring attitude towards mothers and children, this is respect for one’s own history and its achievements, respect for one’s own traditions.”

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The plurality of friendly conservatives

However, not all of the world’s conservative parties see themselves aligned with the domestic and foreign policies of the Russian leadership. All attempts by United Russia to integrate into the leading international center-right associations – the International Democrat Union and the European People’s Party – have met with failure, and foreign conservative parties remain deeply divided over Russia at the national level.

While Trump promises to build a “great relationship” with Putin, fellow party member Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) has been described as the planet’s main Russophobe by Russian TV. Likewise in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has confirmed the need to maintain economic sanctions on Russia, while her main ally, the Minister-President of Bavaria and the leader of the Christian Social Union, Horst Seehofer, supports the development of multilateral relations with Russia.

The prominent and influential conservative European politicians who are friendly to Moscow make no secret of their personal connections to the Russian president. These politicians include former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of the French center right. These figures are “old school” politicians, who do not have any Russophobic complexes and, on the contrary, are generally positive about the role of Russia in the modern world. As a rule, Moscow’s right-wing European allies are politicians who, while in office, took steps towards the personification of power and are therefore not bothered by the concept of “sovereign democracy” in Russian conservatism.

Politicians and parties that are generally favorable to Russia are by no means anti-American or anti-European. However, they do generally feel that the United States exerts undue influence and believe that there should be a counterweight to its authority. These forces are also in favor of a gradual, but fundamental abolition of anti-Russian sanctions.

Finally, there is another set of conservatives whose positive opinions of Russia are based in pragmatism. One example is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

“I am convinced that Russia is not the enemy of Hungary, but a Hungarian partner," he said during Putin’s recent visit to Budapest. "Russia does not threaten our country, our homeland, and proposes good partnership relations.”

Sarkozy can also fit into this category, with his comment: “We need Russia to combat terrorism.”

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The conservatives in opposition

There are those in the international conservative camp, however, who may agree with Russian conservatives on social policies but take a different view of the country following after the absorption of Crimea and the outbreak of violence in Eastern Ukraine. For example, relations between Russia and the conservative governments of Canada and Australia broke down in 2014. Additionally, in the recent collapse of relations between Russia and Turkey, the conservative leaders of the UK and Poland were among the most vocal supporters of Ankara.    

It is important to remember that most European conservatives tie the security of their countries to military commitments to the United States, primarily through NATO. In this context, their reaction to the Ukraine crisis is hardly surprising. To give one example, Polish President Andrzej Duda has said that in recent years, Russia has intensified the implementation of its “imperial policy,” and therefore NATO countries “need unity, strength and the ability to provide collective defense.”

A similar view is shared by British Defense Minister Michael Fallon, who favors the modernization of his country’s nuclear arsenal and believes that the United Kingdom can be protected from external, and above all Russian military threats, only by a “new nuclear shield.”

The conservatives in the European Union who are critical of Moscow are also characterized by their extremely negative attitudes towards the domestic policies of “Putin’s Russia.” They firmly and regularly accuse the Russian government of human rights violations, persecution of the opposition, refusal of pluralism and the rule of law. These European conservatives are morally sympathetic to the Russian liberal opposition.

The dynamics of Russian-Turkish relations in the past year clearly show how countries led by conservatives can quickly move from the level of strategic partners to enemies before turning friendly once again. It is possible, therefore, that Moscow’s relations with European conservative governments will also evolve — hopefully not due to such “apocalyptic” circumstances.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.