Even communities of people with the most legitimate claims to moral high ground by and large let themselves be deceived by basic intellectual fallacies. Russian liberals are not an exception: they relish Barack Obama’s words as he tries to justify his failed foreign policy of inconsequential action by painting Russia as a weak regional power in international isolation. What they forget is that a problem cannot be solved unless it is recognized. Denial of Putin’s danger to the free world has already cost Western countries a lack of serious policy of deterrence and, consequently, further emboldenment of Putin’s regime.
It is undeniable that at this moment in time Putin’s Russia is successfully challenging the US-dominated post-Cold War order and claiming the right to a sphere of influence around its border. It is in the process of disrupting European political consensus regarding Putin’s military aggression in Ukraine and spreading propaganda through his media proxies. The Russian autocrat, having correctly felt the pulse of trends in Western politics, made a bet on the “anti-establishment” forces both of the populist right and the far-left. Some of them openly cooperate with the Kremlin. Both Russia Today and Sputnik appeal to the anti-elite sentiment in the West by criticizing globalization and “neo-liberal policies” from the left and Europe’s handling of the migrant crisis from the right. According to the paper “The Russian Connection” of the Political Capital Institute, out of 24 European far-right parties they analyzed 15 were strongly committed to supporting the Putin regime internationally, while only 3 were categorized as hostile to it. A recent report by the Atlantic Council also highlights the support the Putin enjoys from the forces of the far-left, particularly in Britain, Germany and Greece. France finds itself particularly vulnerable to the Kremlin’s siren call. The arguments against “bowing to Washington” have considerable weight in French discourse both in light of the legacy of General de Gaulle’s independent foreign policy and the “anti-imperialist” ramble heard in some circles within the French left.
After the election of the (so far) pro-Russian Donald Trump as president of the United States, French presidential elections of 2017 are extremely likely to deal another blow to Western unity against Russian aggression. François Fillon, the decisive winner of the primaries “of the right and centre”, has been described as a “friend of Putin” and criticized heavily by his main opponent during the primaries, Alain Juppé, for his proposed appeasement policies towards Russia, such as dropping the sanctions introduced in response to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. It is now widely suggested that the second round of the presidential election may turn out to be between Fillon and the strongly pro-Russian Marine Le Pen, whose party — the far-right Front National — has probably the most publicized and well-known financial connections to the Kremlin among Putin’s European supporters.
One of Fillon’s ideas is that it is necessary to ally with Russia, Iran and Assad in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. Some politicians have voiced similar proposals. “Why fight Assad when the priority is to defeat ISIS?”, so the logic goes.
By this moment in time, however, it is legitimate to suspect the disingenuous nature of such policy proposals. Ever since the very start of the revolution in 2011, the regime has painted everyone who protested the totalitarian system as a jihadi and a terrorist, all the while trying to actually make it so. In 2011 the government released jihadis from its prisons while continuing to jail and murder secular oppositionists, and has been involved in oil trade with ISIS throughout the ongoing civil war. Russia, a member of the pro-Assad axis, has prioritized targeting the opposition’s forces over those of the Islamic State, even in places where the rebels are in a position to only target the jihadi organization.
Assad himself has a clear understanding of the conditions under which he would be considered in Western capitals as the “lesser evil” - if the only alternative to him would be the likes of Al-Qaeda. As the situation gradually moves in that direction and the window of opportunity to depose him closes, Assad is on the verge of setting a dangerous precedent: you can use rape as a means of war, adopt a tactic of indiscriminate extermination , repeatedly use chemical weapons against your civilians, get support from the terrorist organization Hezbollah and preserve your power as the West will stands by and expresses “grave concern”.
Russia and Iran share the principal goal of Assad — preservation of his regime — and have adopted his means. Both the Shi’ite proxies of Iran and the Russian air force have been decimating the moderate opposition groups who fight both Assad and ISIS. On October 21 of 2015, Reuters published an article estimating that “almost 80 percent” of the air strikes conducted by Russia were in areas not held by the IS jihadis.
Much has been said about the rise of authoritarian forces of the far-right in Europe. What has been missing in much of the analysis of the matter, however, is an admission that the core concerns that drive the electorate to the anti-immigration far-right are legitimate and justified.
A quick glance at the Islamist threat to the French society’s integrity, its liberal values of secularism, free speech, and even as basic a feature of centralized government as the state’s monopoly on violence, shows that the far-right European populists are able to capitalize on widespread and valid grievances of the French public.
In its paper “European 'No-Go' Zones: Fact or Fiction? Part 1: France”
The Gatestone Institute has accumulated massive evidence of the existence of the so-called “no-go zones” in France, “Muslim-dominated neighborhoods that are largely off limits to non-Muslims due to a variety of factors, including the lawlessness and insecurity that pervades a great number of these areas”. The early hopes about integration espoused by politicians who facilitated mass migration from Muslim countries have been empirically proven to be illusions, and quite dangerous ones. According to the French magazine Valeurs Actuelles, there existed at least 750 “areas of lawlessness” as of 2014, where the police can no longer enforce the law of the land without expectations of being assaulted. Many of these zones are social realms where regressive, traditionalist interpretations of Muslim holy texts are upheld as de-facto legal norms by gangs that see violence and the threat of it as a legitimate means to enforce Sharia.
There are now numerous  incidents of Muslims attacking female representatives of the wider French public because their clothes were too revealing, or their behavior too libertine through the lense of a barbaric set of beliefs.
What certainly does not help is France’s post-colonial syndrome, resulting in a predisposition towards claims of victimhood by a religious or ethnic minority. Past occupation of Muslim lands appears to excuse any Muslim wrongdoing in the present, and critics of it are sometimes described as having secret prejudices against non-whites, the act itself “having nothing to do with Islam”. This is where the ultimate paradox the political left has to deal with manifests itself: Adoption of both the values of human liberation from compulsion and of a collectivist view of social dynamics reliably leads to overlooking the former when the latter involves siding with the regressive “indigenous” values of a “historically marginalized” minority.
It seems that even after a dozen or a couple of terrorist attacks on European soil in recent years committed by devout followers of the Religion of Peace the main concern still remains “the rise of Islamophobia”.
François Fillon may be one of the few politicians who are both willing to pay attention to the Islamist threat in Europe and come from the place of liberal concern for European values and not a desire for society’s homogeneity and authoritarianism. In this respect, politicians like him can break the monopoly on anti-Islamization voters currently enjoyed by the far-right.
In his book “Fighting Islamic Totalitarianism” Fillon compared Islamism’s appeasers to those who underestimated the threat posed by Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s: “...let there be no mistake. These are the same people who bleated for pacifism and collective security in the 1930s when Hitler began re-arming a Germany still weak. These are the same people who cowardly celebrated the sinister Munich Agreement and claimed that peace had been saved”. It is tragic, amusing and terribly ironic that the same argument can be used with the same validity against Fillon himself, but with respect to his position on Russian aggression in Europe, as well as Iranian expansion in the Middle East. Rightly pointing out that people with Islamist beliefs cannot be appeased by receiving concessions from leftist politicians, he fails to notice that the political projects of both Russia and Iran are not compatible with the current international security system and thus are as well — if not more — impossible to appease by Western conciliation. Geopolitical successes of the former would diminish Europe’s influence, its hard and soft power around the world, while the latter would further destabilize a Sunni-majority Middle East by an aggressive imposition of Shiite Islamist imperialism.
If elected president, François FIllon is likely prove himself to be an incompetent leader internationally but a necessary and badly needed one domestically. He may intensify the domino effect of European capitals falling to Russian soft power one by one, but is also likely to undermine the Russian regime’s propaganda line about Europe’s decadence through reasonable anti-Islamist measures and liberalization of an over-regulated economy.