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16th Apr 2024

Voting data reveals Russia-friendly MEPs in EU Parliament

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A European Parliament special committee recently described the Kremlin's methods of interfering with democratic processes.

One of the targets of the Kremlin's efforts is the European Parliament, the committee's report said last March, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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This is where MPs loyal to Moscow can both publicly adopt pro-Russian positions in official sessions and lobby the Kremlin's interests on the sidelines.

It is possible to track 'Putinist politicians' in the European Parliament by using open data — just study how each MP votes when it comes to resolutions related to Russia and its allies.

Novaya-Europe has collected data based on vote-results in the European Parliament over the past four years. Here is our insight into who defends the interests of the Kremlin in Brussels, how, and why.

In one instance, the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding to recognise Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism by a majority vote in late November 2022.

The decision was backed by 494 MEPs (members of the European Parliament) out of 705. The remaining MEPs, especially those who were present at the session and either voted against the resolution (58 votes) or abstained (44 votes), found themselves in the spotlight of media attention.

Various media outlets tried to identify a group of MEPs loyal to the Kremlin, and some of those indeed turned out to be connected with Russia.

But the November resolution is far from being the first occasion to reveal which MEPs support Russian president Vladimir Putin's regime.

Novaya-Europe has studied data on voting results in the European Parliament over the past four years and has managed to distinguish several behaviour patterns of numerous MEPs.

The rift resolutions

The current convocation of the European Parliament has been active since 2019. From that time until January 2023, its members voted on a total of 22 resolutions directly connected with the Kremlin's human rights violations, the Ukraine war, or anti-Russian sanctions.

Another resolution was adopted both in 2019 and 2020, seven in 2021, 12 in 2022, and one was voted on in January 2023. One more resolution calling on Russia to set free political prisoners was adopted by the European Parliament on 16 February 2023, although its results were not included in this investigation.

The European Parliament started considering resolutions connected with the poisoning of politician Alexey Navalny in 2020. The so-called European Magnitsky Act, the EU alternative for the eponymous US law adopted in 2012 that condemned permanent human rights violations in Russia, was adopted in July 2021.

The first resolution regarding war crimes committed by Russian mercenary force PMC Wagner appeared in November 2021.

Sometimes the European Parliament would include several Russia's violations into its resolutions at once in a package: for example, in June 2021, the MPs condemned both the recognition of several European and American public organisations as undesirable in Russia at once, as well as the detention of opposition politician Andrey Pivovarov, all at the same time.

After 24 February 2022, 10 out of the 12 adopted resolutions were on the Ukraine war and its aftermath.

The EU condemned Russia's aggression, endorsed the adoption of additional measures to ensure food security and protect families with children fleeing Ukraine, and also recognised Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the Holodomor as a genocide.

MEPs voted in favour of creating a tribunal to investigate the crimes of Russia's aggression against Ukraine in January 2023.

Out of 705 members of the European Parliament, an average of 531 (75 percent) supported the anti-Russian resolutions we analysed. An average of a little over 40 (6%) voted against, and the same proportion (6%) opted to abstain.

Apart from choosing between these three options, an MEP may also simply not participate in voting by either not attending a sitting or not "pressing the button", leaving their stance unrevealed. In the total package we obtained, only 4.3% of MEPs used these two methods between 2019-2022.

However, Novaya-Europe's calculations show that the share of non-voters was three times larger when it came to anti-Russian resolutions. Such a deviation could hardly be an accident and means that some of the MEPs deliberately chose a strategy not to vote on documents related to Russia.

Parties: populists or Putinists?

Novaya-Europe's calculations indicate that parties with populist or radical policies vote against resolutions critical of Putin more often than others. Some of those Putinist parties include France's National Rally, Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD), and Greece's Syriza.

However, the "output factor" of each of those parties is different. In the first place, it depends on how many seats those parties have in the European Parliament, and the second most important feature is how decisively the MEPs in question are willing to support Moscow's interests. For instance, some openly vote against resolutions, while others use a more cautious approach and prefer to either abstain or not to vote at all.

Also, while it might sound controversial to include Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in a list of "pro-Putin" parties, given Poland's support for Ukraine in the war, the data nevertheless bears out that one of the most frequent abstainers were MEPs from PiS.

(Photo: Novaya Gazeta)

From this perspective, the National Rally and Alternative for Germany parties remain the most useful for the Kremlin: they have 28 seats in the European Parliament together, and their MEPs often vote clearly "against" anti-Russian resolutions.

The National Rally party has been formally led by Jordan Bardella, 27, since November 2022.

There is no doubt, though, that Bardella is loyal to his predecessor, Marine Le Pen, and it is apparent that she is the one watching the discipline of her party's members in the European Parliament.

Le Pen's party had been accused of both fellow feelings and financial connections with the Kremlin before the Ukraine war. And although after 24 February, Le Pen condemned Russia's aggression during her presidential campaign and even destroyed campaign leaflets that showed her photo with Putin, at the European level, MEPs from her party vote in the interests of Moscow more often than others. For example, Jordan Bardella abstained or voted against on 17 of the 22 occasions we analysed.

MEPs from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party used to vote in solidarity with the Kremlin's position even more often than their French counterparts before the war.

Tino Chrupalla, the co-chair of AfD, visited Russia numerous times, meeting with Sergey Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister. Chrupalla spoke against anti-Russian sanctions and military aid for Ukraine even after 24 February.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine influenced the behaviour of AfD representatives at the national level as the number of "Putinverstehers" ["Putin-understanders" in German], at least rhetorical ones, decreased in the first months of the war. But at the European level, every AfD MEP did not support anti-Russian resolutions at least several times after 24 February.

There is also a group of MEPs "useful" for the Kremlin among members of smaller parties.

Two MEPs from the Communist Party of Greece and the Communist Party of Portugal almost always vote against anti-Russian resolutions. Two MEPs from the Czech nationalist, anti-immigration party Freedom and Direct Democracy also often stand up to defend Moscow's interests.

Such actions performed by small parties cannot affect the final decision in any way, but at the same time, they give the Russian state media an opportunity to declare that there is a lack of unity in Europe.

MEPs from Greece's far-left Syriza and the far-right Freedom Party of Austria act more cautiously, but also do the Kremlin's bidding. Members of these parties rarely vote openly "against" anti-Russian resolutions, but often abstain from voting.

Among the most frequent abstainers are MPs from the Law and Justice (PiS), currently the ruling party in Poland.

Novaya-Europe has found out that every one of the 24 representatives of this party in the European Parliament opted to abstain at least once, but at the same time, no one ever explicitly voted against between 2019 and 2023.

And although there were no such "setbacks" from PiS, whose leadership now takes an extremely tough stance towards Moscow after the start of the Ukraine war, party members occasionally used to take an indistinct position on Russian issues before 24 February.

Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, MEPs from Hungary's ruling party Fidesz and Italy's biggest right-wing party Lega also preferred to abstain from voting on anti-Russian propositions.

Founders of these two parties, Viktor Orbán and Matteo Salvini, are often accused of having informal ties with the Kremlin.

Putin's backers

MEPs who can be suspected of sympathising with the Kremlin often do not stick to one particular tactic when voting on anti-Russian resolutions but combine votes against, abstentions, and refusals to take part in ballots. They sometimes even support these documents.

In order to avoid confusion, Novaya-Europe has created a ranking of MEPs whose votes were used to prop up Russia's interests in one way or another.

(Photo: Novaya Gazeta)
Tatjana Ždanoka (Photo: Facebook)

Tatjana Ždanoka, a member of the Latvian Russian Union known for her openly pro-Russian stance, tops the list: she rejected 20 out 22 analysed resolutions.

Ždanoka is very forthcoming about her views. In 2014, she approved Crimea's annexation and travelled to Russia in 2018 to observe the presidential election. She then admitted that there were violations but added that in her view they were "few and far between". On 11 March 2022, Ždanoka and her fellow party members held a rally in front of the EU mission in Riga to show support for Russia. The event was attended by about 200 people. Tatjana Ždanoka cannot be elected to Latvia's national or city parliaments because she worked in the Latvian Communist Party after 1991. However, it does not stop her from regularly making it to Strasbourg, where the European Parliament is located, since 2004.

Gunnar Beck (Photo: Facebook)

AfD's Gunnar Beck, another public supporter of the Kremlin, rejected 18 out of 22 resolutions about Russia and the Ukraine war.

Much like Ždanoka, Beck does not shy away from speaking out about his pro-Putin views. In September 2021, he observed Russia's legislative elections. "I arrived in Russia without a warning. So far, I can see that the elections are organised well," he then told Izvestia. Media reports suggested that he visited Russia at the invitation of Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament. The lower chamber paid for his flight to Moscow and a room in the central Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel. One suite night in this prestigious downtown Moscow hotel can cost you up to €310.

The usual radicals

However, not everyone who often votes against anti-war and anti-Kremlin resolutions can be automatically regarded as "pro-Putin" MEPs.

The Novaya-Europe list contains names of people whose political stance can be widely described as radical. Their views can vary from far-left to far-right, depending on the parties they represent. What does unite them is the fact that their positions are drastically different to the European mainstream outlook.

Some MEPs are truly consistent in their radicalism: they indiscriminately oppose condemnation of Russia's aggression in Ukraine or human rights violations in Turkey and China.

Marcel de Graaff, an MEP for the Dutch Eurosceptic Party for Freedom, leads the ranks here.

He methodically voted against all 20 milestone resolutions and against 16 out of 22 anti-Russian documents, opting to miss sessions in other cases. De Graaff's radicalism saw him leave the far-right Identity and Democracy faction in the European Parliament, which particularly unites Alternative for Germany and France's National Rally, in October 2022. De Graaff then announced that he wanted to create his own faction in the parliament.

Czech MEP Ivan David, as well as Konstantinos Papadakis and Lefteris Nikolaou-Alavanos from Greece, and Slovak Milan Uhrík are regarded to be just as radical.

Despite being at the top of our list of "pro-Putin" votes, these MEPs also voted against most milestone resolutions selected by Novaya-Europe. All four politicians represent smaller populist parties whose influence on national-level politics is negligible.

Novaya-Europe sent 43 requests for comments to the MEPs who most frequently reject anti-Russian resolutions.

Milan Uhrík (Photo: Facebook)

At the time of publication, we received just two responses. One of them was from Slovak MEP Milan Uhrík.

Uhrík explained that he cannot support EU Parliament resolutions which "condemn only one side but whose authors remain blind to even bloodier acts committed by Western countries or their allies". Uhrík believes that Europe should treat equally all cases that he sees on par with Russia's war on Ukraine. "I don't get the impression that some world powers listen to others, but rather interfere in their internal affairs and try to control them," he adds. "[The] only thing what I want is just a fair approach."

Miroslav Radačovský (Photo: Twitter)

"I will never follow the crowd," another MEP, Miroslav Radačovský, from the Slovak Patriot party responded to our request. When Novaya-Europe asked him later whether he believed that the notorious Wagner Group did not commit human rights violations, he admitted that he did not study the issue prior to the vote.

Raphaël Glucksmann

From the other side of the aisle,Raphaël Glucksmann, French centre-left MEP and chair of the special committee on "Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation" which specifically analyses the Kremlin's meddling in EU politics, told Novaya-Europe that "these votes of the far left and far right parties [against anti-Russian resolutions] confirm that there are ideological forces in the European Parliament that are opposed to Ukraine's freedom and European principles".

Glucksmann believes that the MEPs identified by Novaya-Europe for their pro-Moscow votes can be split into two categories: "useful idiots and henchmen of Vladimir Putin".

The former can be ascribed to the group of radical politicians we reviewed earlier who oppose the European mainstream policies in principle.

The latter have likely formed a special relationship with Moscow. "Which of them do so out of conviction or interest, that remains to be established," Glucksmann added.

A new position or a change of tactics?

Meanwhile, several MEPs who backed Russia in their votes in 2019-2021 have reviewed their approach following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. It's not that they now support anti-war documents but opt to abstain or skip sessions altogether.

One of them is Giorgos Georgiou (Progressive Party of Working People, Cyprus).

He has not backed a single anti-Russian resolution since the war began a year ago.

After the very first document was adopted on 1 March 2022, Georgiou explained that the resolution needed work still because it did not factor in Nato's "eastward expansion as a destabilising factor".

Nevertheless, as 2022 moved on he switched to abstaining, refusing to vote, or missing those sessions where similar documents were debated. As of now, Georgiou is still yet to approve a single resolution that condemns Russia's actions.

Jérôme Rivière (Photo: Facebook)

Jérôme Rivière (far-right Reconquête, France) has also altered his modus operandi.

In pre-war times, just like Georgiou, he did not support any Russia-related resolutions. In 2022, however, his voting records show many abstentions or refusals to attend EP sessions.

Frenchmen Gilbert Collard and Jean-Paul Garraud as well as Greek Ioannis Lagos also adapted their voting tactics along with several other MEPs, including Tatjana Ždanoka (Latvian Russian Union), who we discussed earlier. They chose to back a few resolutions but often skipped the sessions where documents condemning the Kremlin were voted on.

It is possible that a new group of MEPs who had second thoughts is forming in the parliament — as before the war they used to vote against anti-Russian resolutions but have backed most of them after 24 February.

These include, Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (left-wing Unidas Podemos, Spain), Helmut Scholz (The Left, Germany) and five French MEPs from the National Rally: Gilles Lebreton, Jean-François Jalkh, France Jamet, Catherine Griset, and Jean-Lin Lacapelle.

In 2022, all of them supported most resolutions, very rarely opposing any Russia-related documents.

It is difficult now to understand how consistent this trend of declining MEP votes for the Kremlin will be. A change of tactics does not always mean a change of position.

Moscow's most ardent supporters in the European Parliament likely learnt in 2022 to act with more caution, not just openly opposing anti-Kremlin resolutions but resorting to other means. It is also possible that they have abandoned efforts to lobby for Russia's interests in the EP halls, switching to other forums instead.

These MEPs have something to learn from Silvio Berlusconi, a close friend of Putin's.

Berlusconi, Italy's former prime minister, now occupies a seat in the European Parliament along with his fellow Forza Italia members.

Since the last European Parliament elections, the ex-Italian leader voted for anti-Russian resolutions only on two occasions. Nevertheless, he would have never made it to our list of "pro-Putin" MEPs.

The reason is that Berlusconi does not cast opposing votes, abstain, or refuse to vote when he gets a chance.

In 15 out of 22 cases, Putin's pal didn't even show up at EP sessions focused on the "Russian question".

We could surmise that the former Italian PM is a "truant" and rarely attends EP meetings.

But this is only partly true: in 2019-2022, Berlusconi missed about 30 percent of parliament sessions, while the share of Russia-related sessions that he missed exceeds two-thirds.

This text was originally published by Novaya Gazeta Europe. You can follow them on Twitter and subscribe to their weekly newsletter.

Author bio

Andrew Zayakin, investigator in Novaya Gazeta Europe, labeled as "foreign agent in Russia" for his investigations. Co-founder of Russian NGO "Dissernet", which focuses on detecting plagiarism in the dissertations of Russian officials and politicians.

Mikhail Komin, political scientist, R&D director at Novaya Gazeta Europe, research director at the Moscow-based think tank "Center for Advanced Governance" (2019-2022).

Olesya Avilova is data-investigator in Novaya Gazeta Europe.

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