By C. R.
According to the international NEWS website OCCRP, a secret interest group from the Russian Parliament has been influencing the European Union’s policy towards the occupied parts of Ukraine for several years. According to the media outlet, leaked emails show how the group operates and provides European politicians with bribes and other favours to advance the Russian agenda within the EU.
The leaked emails allegedly show that the propaganda network of individuals from the Russian Duma also includes analysts and media outlets that spread Kremlin propaganda and look after Russian interests abroad. The group offered money to European politicians in exchange for proposing pro-Russian proposals in local legislation and allegedly paid activists to publish pro-Russian articles in European media. In addition, it is said to have organised trips to occupied Crimea for European businessmen and politicians, with travel and hotel costs covered by Russian government-funded organisations. An interest group headed by a Duma member was also to bring European political figures to Russia as election observers, and €68 000 was earmarked for this project.
Although there has been a stream of condemnations of Russia since the beginning of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, Russia can still rely on some friendly voices in Europe who claim that it is a great mistake to label Russia a ‘terrorist state’ or to ignore historical truths in what is happening in Ukraine. However, such pro-Putin voices do not mention that they are working with a Kremlin lobby group which, since at least 2014, has allegedly been paying EU politicians to help legitimise Russia’s occupation of Crimea and to promote pro-Moscow policies within the Member States of the European Union. Recently, the activities of this interest group have come to light through the hacking of the emails of its coordinator Sargis Mirzakhanian, a Russian parliamentary staff member who headed the International Current Policy Agency in the years following the occupation of Crimea. His email inbox was allegedly hacked by Ukrainian hackers and the emails were made public. These allegedly show that his group paid thousands of euros to politicians who proposed and supported pro-Russian resolutions in European legislation.
Sargis’ group also helped to organise the arrival of political figures from Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland to attend pro-Russian rallies in Crimea, for which they were allegedly paid. It also brought political figures to Russia to act as official election observers.
The leaked emails are said to have revealed examples of Russian lobbying in Cyprus and Italy in particular. Mirzakhanian is said to have strong links with government officials there, and through these links he is said to have got pro-Russian proposals passed in both countries, with both the Cypriot and Italian parliaments, as well as many regional committees, demanding an end to sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Crimea. Although previous reports have already hinted at links between the European Union and the Kremlin, this case was the first clear insight into how campaigns are being run from Russia within the European Union. In addition to politicians and analysts, Mirzakhanian’s network includes academics, journalists and activists.