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19 December 2016

Austrian pro-White Freedom Party signs deal with Russia, touts Trump ties

Austria's pro-Whitet Freedom Party (FPO) offered on Monday to act as a go-between for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin after signing a cooperation agreement with Putin's party.

Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache and the FPO's recently defeated presidential candidate Norbert Hofer attended the signing ceremony in Moscow, as did officials of Putin's United Russia party including Pyotr Tolstoy, a deputy chairman of the lower house of parliament.

The FPO has long taken a pro-Russia stance, calling for an end to European Union sanctions against Moscow imposed over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It has also denied allegations that it receives funding from Moscow.

On a recent visit to the United States, FPO officials met people close to President-elect Donald Trump, including his pick for national security adviser Michael Flynn, the FPO said in a statement announcing the Russian deal.

"The FPO is further gaining influence internationally," its statement said, without specifying the agreement's content. A spokesman for the FPO - which this year achieved a record election score but failed to secure the Austrian presidency - said he did not know the deal's details.

"It is particularly important to Strache that the U.S. and Russia stand shoulder to shoulder," the statement added, saying that could improve the situations in Syria and Crimea and lead to a lifting of sanctions on Russia.

"The FPO acts as a neutral and reliable intermediary and partner in promoting peace!" it said.

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Austria's pro-White Freedom Party signs Moscow pact

Austria's far-right Freedom Party said it has struck a "cooperation pact" with the party of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is courting populist movements across Europe in an anti-EU campaign.
FPÖ chief Heinz-Christian Strache signed the five-year agreement with senior United Russia officials during a trip to Russia, where he also renewed criticism of international sanctions against Moscow.

"The aim is to work together on various levels, from youth party wings via regional branches to international issues," the eurosceptic FPÖ said in a statement.

Strache also reiterated his call to lift "damaging and pointless international sanctions" against Russia over its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

United Russia meanwhile confirmed the parties had agreed to organise "regular consultations" and organise "conferences, seminars and roundtables".

"There are ancient cultural and economic links between Austria and Russia," said party official Sergey Zheleznyak in a statement.

"We need to reinforce the links between our parties and countries, including in the field of international security... and traditional values."

Photos posted by Strache on his Facebook page showed him and Zheleznyak signing a piece of paper against the backdrop of their parties' flags.

Also attending was Norbert Hofer, the FPÖ's presidential candidate who missed out on becoming the European Union's first far-right head of state after losing a runoff on December 4.

Despite his defeat, Hofer nonetheless reaped 46.2 percent of the vote -- the FPÖ's best result to date.

The outcome is a further boost for the anti-immigration party, which is already leading opinion polls ahead of the next general election scheduled for 2018.

The FPÖ is one of several European populist and eurosceptic outfits seeking closer ties to Russia, including the Front National in France, Jobbik in Hungary and Syriza in Greece.