Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

Suspected Russian agent MEP is 'not the only one', MEPs warned

  • The debate came in the wake of allegations against Tatjana Ždanoka, a Latvian MEP who has been reportedly working directly for the FSB, the Russian intelligence service (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)
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MEPs from all political groups bar the far-right ID have voiced concerns about the EU's vulnerability concerning the large-scale interference and disinformation campaigns waged by Russia against the EU — a phenomenon which some branded as 'Russiagate'.

The groups, without ID, tabled motions expressing their concern over foreign interference in the EU in a resolution to be put to a vote on Thursday (8 February).

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The debate earlier this week came in the wake of allegations against Tatjana Ždanoka, a Latvian MEP who previously was a member of the Greens/EFA party grouping. Ždanoka allegedly worked for the FSB, the Russian intelligence service, for at least over a decade, according to a recent investigation by the Russian newspaper The Insider.

The news of an MEP possibly being a direct asset for foreign intelligence has heightened concerns over the EU's vulnerability to foreign interference. Ždanoka's party, the Latvian-Russian Union, has subsequently been suspended by the EFA, while Ždanoka herself was already expelled by the Greens/EFA group in 2022, due to her refusal to condemn Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Though the charges against Ždanoka mark an alarming new low, MEPs and EU officials voiced a widespread concern over the EU's vulnerability to Russian disinformation and interference ahead of the EU elections.

"The Kremlin's war of ideas is a multi-million euro weapon of mass manipulation. It is used to mislead and deceive our citizens, to divide, polarise and exploit the vulnerabilities of our societies," said EU Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas, mentioning German reports on Russian misinformation campaigns on X (formerly Twitter), Russian "denazification" propaganda in the war against Ukraine, but also alleged ties between the Catalan independence movement and Russian officials as examples of threats.

Sandra Kalniete, Latvian MEP and initiator of the debate on behalf of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), even dubbed the allegations against Ždanoka as unsurprising.

"More alarming is that she is not the only one who freely pursues Russian interference policy," she said, blaming amongst others former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and former French prime minister François Fillon for having acted for Russian interests.

The motions tabled expressed concern over the allegations against Ždanoka, with most groups also declaring their worries over ties between Russia and far-right parties like the National Front in France and the Austrian FPÖ, and far-left and far-right MEPs allegedly promoting Kremlin propaganda.

Renew, the EPP and the ECR also emphasised the vulnerability of the EU parliament itself, citing concerns over access to the parliament buildings and its resources by Russian nationals and sympathisers.

"We have to enhance the security culture in this parliament," French Renew MEP Natalie Loiseau told EUobserver, emphasising the need for security clearances in the parliament.

Despite the widely shared concerns over the EU's vulnerability, MEPs also ended up trading barbs with each other over turning a blind eye to corruption and interference.

However, while emphasising the particular danger posed by the far-right and far-left, the threat is not limited to parties on the extremes, argued Loiseau. "I would advise every single political group to ensure everything is crystal clear in their own group", she said.

During the debate on Tuesday, Ždanoka herself remained defiant. "Yes I am an agent, an agent for peace," she said, claiming to be working for "Mir", a word that means both "world" and "peace" in Russian.

The draft resolution set to be voted on Thursday by no means restricts itself to the Ždanoka case. Notably, the first case of interference cited by the resolution concerns Kremlin funding for far-right parties, in particular a €9.4m loan from a Russian bank to the party of Marine Le Pen, who has subsequently pro-Russian views on several occasions.

Last year, EU commission vice president Vera Jourová warned that the risk of disinformation coming from Russia was particularly "serious" in the context of national and European elections.

EUobserver previously unveiled some of the most Russia-friendly MEPs in the EU parliament. Spoiler: Zdanoka was part of the list.

Author bio

Piet Ruig is a Brussels-based journalist who previously worked for the Dutch public broadcaster VPRO.

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