From Russia with love
On Monday, the leaders of Austria's far-right Freedom Party traveled to Moscow and signed a "working agreement" with Russia's ruling United Russia party. In announcing the pact, Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache mentioned that he also met with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's designated national security adviser, in Trump Tower a few weeks ago. "Internationally, the Freedom Party continues to gain in influence," he wrote. Norbert Hofer, the Freedom Party candidate who recently lost his bid for Austria's presidency, traveled to Moscow with Strache.
The Freedom Party, founded by ex-Nazis in the 1950s, is one of several far-right, anti-immigrant parties gaining popularity throughout Europe. After signing the cooperative agreement, Strache offered to act as "a neutral and reliable intermediary and partner" between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin. Sergei Zheleznyak, the United Russia official who signed the pact for Moscow alongside Pyotr Tolstoy, the party's deputy chairman in the lower house of parliament, suggested Europe's "migration crisis" as a point of cooperation, while Strache said on Facebook that another goal would be "to get rid of the sanctions that damage the economy and are in the end useless."
Zheleznyak is barred from traveling to the U.S. under 2014 sanctions America and Europe levied against Russia for seizing Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. Trump is widely expected to drop the sanctions once he gets into office, and he and some key advisers and Cabinet picks have advocated closer ties to Moscow. Although Austria's Freedom Party is part of the trend of European anti-establishment parties making common cause with Moscow, it is also apparently drawing on a very Austrian form of wistfulness, The New York Times notes. "Austria jealously guards its neutrality, adopted after the allies withdrew from the country in 1955, and there is considerable nostalgia for the Cold War role played by Vienna as a venue for United States-Soviet summits."