With the Kremlin now seemingly guilty of war crimes after the reports of civilian killings in Bucha, radical ideologues of different complexions continue to band against Ukraine’s defiant and courageous president Volodymyr Zelensky.
This anti-Zelensky coalition is brought together by a myriad of factors – one being his Jewish identity. Antisemitism is the “one ring of racism” that brings together hard-left, hard-right and Islamist ideologues – and that dynamic has again come to the surface during the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has denounced Zelensky as “disgusting, corrupt and faithless”. Sharing conspiratorial beliefs over Jews having a disproportionately high level of influence in international politics, antisemites of various ideological shades have instinctively sided with the Kremlin over its military invasion of a neighbouring, sovereign nation-state led by a Jewish politician. Indeed, the Kremlin’s campaign to “de-Nazify” Ukraine has been welcomed with open arms by anti-Jewish ideologues.
The cross-ideological anti-Zelensky coalition is also defined by its anti-West and anti-democracy characteristics. Zelensky has expressed his desire to lead Ukraine’s integration into the western world’s political and security architecture – primarily through European Union (EU) accession. Looking to free Ukraine from the Kremlin’s gravitational pull, in favour of integrating his country into post-Cold War western political-security order, Zelensky has antagonised the hard-left, hard-right and Islamist ideologues who side with foreign regimes that challenge western alliances.
Whether it is hard-left revolutionary desires, hard-right accelerationist tendencies or Islamist support for sharia-inspired governance, the shared hostility to liberal democratic structures mean Zelensky is vilified.
There is no doubting that anti-NATO sentiments are also bringing together a variety of ideological activists. The argument that the eastward expansion of “warmongering” NATO was itself an act of hostility towards Russia has been peddled by Kremlin apologists of varying ideological types.
This is evident in the French presidential election. While hard-right candidate Eric Zemmour has championed Putin as a courageous nationalist defending his country against NATO (even expressing his longing for a ‘French Putin’), his hard-left ‘rival’ Jean-Luc Melenchon has essentially blamed NATO for ‘stirring trouble’ in the lead-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Leader of the centre-right liberal-conservative Les Republicans, Damien Abad, has taken aim at France’s anti-NATO presidential candidates and their ‘unhealthy fascination’ with Putin.
And there is a view among select Muslim figures of NATO as a corruptive militaristic endeavour. This includes Salakh Mezhiev, an Islamic scholar based in the Chechen capital of Grozny, who has declared the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a ‘jihad’ – arguing that Kremlin-aligned Chechen soldiers were fighting to save both the Russian Federation and Islam from the ‘filth’ spread by the North Atlantic Alliance. From a classically Western-Islamist perspective, the Russian invasion of Ukraine can be portrayed as one between NATO (incorporating the US-UK alliance and the ‘Islamophobic’ French Republic) and Russia – a country where Islam is recognised under law as one its traditional religions. However, this anti-NATO Islamist narrative conveniently excludes cases of North Atlantic Alliance intervention in response to violence against Muslims in the Balkans, along with the rampant persecution of Tatar Muslims in the Kremlin-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
The anti-Zelensky coalition – finding common ground based on their shared hostility to western liberal democracy, opposition to NATO and anti-Jewish sentiments – further underscores how major international events can bring together radical ideologues of different shades. Western governments – including the UK – must be aware of the potentially destabilising impact of such propagandist coalitions that seek to undermine liberal democratic structures and heighten support for hostile foreign regimes.
It carries political and social risks that have to be taken more seriously in our societies.
Dr Rakib Ehsan is an expert in social cohesion and institutional trust