3rd Feb 2023

Russia-influence debate leads to MEP mudslinging

  • European politicians are distancing themselves from Russia's president Vladimir Putin given his war in Ukraine (Photo:
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A debate on Russia's ties to EU political forces degenerated into finger-pointing among various MEPs.

Over 30 speakers took to the floor of the Strasbourg plenary at the European Parliament earlier this week.

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  • Italy's far-right leader, Matteo Salvini (Photo: Twitter)

Some had voted against an EU parliament resolution last December, less than two months before the invasion of Ukraine.

The resolution demanded Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine borders and voiced support for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The naysayers of that resolution largely belonged to far-left and far-right parties.

Among them were Dutch-far right Marcel De Graaff, Slovakia's Milan Uhrik, Italy's Francesca Donato, Greece's Lefteris Nikolaou-Alavanos, and Ireland's left-wing MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, as well as France's left-wing Manon Aubry.

All had taken to the plenary floor, with some refuting any links to Russia's president Vladimir Putin, while others admonished the European Union and Nato for war-mongering.

"I'd like to put to you to produce any evidence that I or my colleague have been supportive of Putin in any way," said Ireland's left-wing MEP Daly.

Her challenge was levied at Poland's centre-right Radosław Sikorski, who had earlier accused the left of pro-Putin sentiments.

"I hope you remember how the Russian church justified the launch of this invasion. That the people of Donbas need to be protected from gay parades," Sikorski said.

Ireland's left-wing Wallace said Wednesday's debate was a demonstration of EU authoritarianism, noting that diplomacy needs to be used to resolve the war in Ukraine.

The Netherland's far-right de Graaff and Italy's Francesca Donato made similar arguments, claiming that the EU and not Russia was undermining democracy.

But France's left-wing Aubry drew the line, slamming people for equating her party with the far-right.

She accused France's liberal MEP Nathalie Loiseau of "weaponising" the issue by linking the two sides.

"It is the far-right in Austria and Germany that has close ties with Putin, as do the National Rally Party in France," she said.

Loiseau had earlier accused French far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon of parroting Putin's propaganda prior to the war in Ukraine.

She also directed her ire against France's far-right Thierry Mariani, a pro-Kremlin MEP, who had rubber-stamped a bogus election in the Russian-held territories of Ukraine.

No Russian ties here

The mudsling continued among Italian, Spanish and Swedish MEPs, which all sought to show how their national counterparts had cosied up to the Kremlin regime.

Italy's centre-left Pierfrancesco Majorino said Italy's far-right leader Matteo Salvini recently went to Moscow on a trip financed by the Kremlin.

"Matteo Salvini tried to create a channel of discussion with Putin behind the backs of the Draghi government in Italy," he said.

But Marco Dreosto of Salvini's far-right League countered it, claiming it was Italy's socialist Democratic Party and anti-establishment Five Star Movement that voted in favour of pro-Russian proposals.

The Spanish also took turns, including Spanish liberal Jordi Canas, who accused separatist Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont of working with Putin to undermine the rule of law in Spain.

Charlie Weimers, a conservative MEP from the far-right Sweden Democrats, said his home party "was one of the most anti-Putin parties in the whole of Europe."

But Evin Incir, a Swedish socialist MEP, countered by saying the Sweden Democrats have direct ties with Russian oligarchs.

"It is not enough to say that you are voting in a certain way. You also need to cut that umbilical cord," she said of the Sweden Democrats.

Other conservative MEPs faulted Germany's prior ambiguous stand on Russia, as well as France's failed attempts to negotiate with Putin.

A serious problem

"We can summarise this debate in a sentence. We have a serious problem in Europe," said EU commission vice-president, Věra Jourová.

Jourová noted two EU proposals would help increase transparency on political advertising, as well as overhaul funding rules on European political parties.

The overhaul on political party funding aims to forbid donations from countries outside the EU.

She also cited a new "EU toolbox" to tackle foreign information manipulation and interference.

Mikulas Bek, speaking on behalf of the Czech EU presidency, said they have made the issue a top priority.

"Any interference in our political processes is unacceptable," he said, noting the 2024 European Parliament elections.


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