CENTRAL ACCUSATION IN the uproar over "Russian influence" holds that Moscow is covertly in cahoots with the American alt-right, supplying the movement with fake news, memes, and social media talking points. The evidence for this tends to be more speculative than solid, but the general question of post-Soviet Russia's cooperation with Western nationalist and racialist groups is certainly salient.
Such links are at the heart of Anton Shekhovtsov's new study, Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir. Shekhovtsov is a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and his book is exhaustively detailed in its description of Russian relations with the European far right. What impact this may have had on the American right comes up only in the book's final three paragraphs, which mostly raise questions and provide no answers.
Shekhovtsov argues that a range of reactionary groups, largely in Europe, see Putin "as an ally in their struggle against Western liberal democracy and multiculturalism." Moscow, in turn, uses them both "to consolidate the authoritarian kleptocratic regime at home" and "to counteract the growing isolation of Russia in the Europeanised world." And in some cases, the author argues, Russia wants "to disrupt the liberal-democratic consensus in Western societies and, thus, destabilize them."
SHEKHOVTSOV BEGINS HIS survey with an early precedent. In the 1920s, the Soviet Union explored possible cooperation with the Western far right. While this never amounted to much, it did coincide with the emergence in Weimar Germany of an ideology of "National Bolshevism" among fringe-left German nationalists. This tendency saw a later revival of sorts among Russian far-right groupuscules in the 1990s.
During the Cold War, the Soviets sometimes found it useful to provide covert support to far-right actors as a means to stir up trouble for Western liberal democracies. For example, Soviet and East German intelligence agencies funneled funds to former Nazis and other radical rightists in West Germany because they were proponents of German neutrality. One such client was Rudolf Steidl, who received 2,363,000 Deutschmarks during 1951-1954 to publish the Deutsche National-Zeitung propaganda newspaper.
Another campaign, in 1959-1960, involved KGB agents in West Germany who went on a spree "painting swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on synagogues, tombstones, and Jewish-owned shops." The intent was to give a black eye to West Germany and...