Czech Republic exposes Russian bribery scheme targeting EU politicians

The Czech government claims to have discovered Moscow’s scheme to spread Russian propaganda in Europe and bribe European politicians.

The German newspaper Der Spiegel and the Czech newspaper Denik N published details of the scheme on March 27, along with the statements from the Czech authorities. The German government also expressed its concern over the revelations from Prague, DW reported.

“Russian-funded influence network”

At the center of a new scandal involving the bribery of European politicians is the Voice of Europe news website, (voiceofeurope.com).

Today, the page is no longer available, but before, its visitors could find among the republished articles from other media about politics, economics, and various non-political topics, pro-Russian posts. It featured many interviews with European politicians, primarily from right-wing populist parties favorable to the Kremlin.

The Czech Security and Information Service (BIS), according to its own data, managed to find out that it was not just a website but a disguised resource of a Russian-funded influence network in the Czech Republic. According to Der Spiegel, several other European intelligence agencies assisted the Czechs.

The Czech authorities are convinced that the former leader of the pro-Russian Ukrainian party “Opposition Platform for Life” and Vladimir Putin’s ally, Viktor Medvedchuk, was at the center of this network. On March 27, the Czech government imposed personal sanctions against Medvedchuk, who was accused of treason in Ukraine but later allowed to leave for Russia during a prisoner-of-war exchange. 

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala declared, “We have successfully identified the activities of a Russian-funded network of influence in the Czech Republic.”

Fiala said that the purpose of this network was to try to influence the politics of European countries to fit the Kremlin’s agenda. The Czech government considers Ukrainian producer Artem Marchevsky, former general producer of the 112 Ukraine news channel, to be Medvedchuk’s assistant and de facto manager of the website. Sanctions were also imposed against Marchevsky.

What did the Voice of Europe network do?

The website voiceofeurope.com published calls from European politicians to stop helping Ukraine. In addition to publications, various seminars and conferences were held under the auspices of this “outlet,” where participants spread pro-Russian narratives, said Jan Kovář, director of the Prague Institute of International Relations, in an interview with DW.

According to the Czech newspaper Denik N, some of those who were published on the website or interviewed were paid for this, in some cases, comparable to the cost of campaigning for the European Parliament elections to be held in June.

Der Spiegel reports that the recipients received the money either in cash during personal meetings in Prague or via cryptocurrency. The Czech newspaper Denik N reports that the “pool” of recipients included politicians from six countries: Germany, Belgium, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Poland. The Czech newspaper cites sources in the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Link to far-right politicians from the German AfD party

The Czech journalists do not name the specific names of the recipients of the funds, but note that, in particular, the website published interviews with politicians of the right-wing populist German party “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), including MEP Maximilian Krah and Bundestag member Petr Bystron, both known for pro-Russian narratives.

Krah has maintained ties with Medvedchuk in the past; he was invited to his birthday party and visited him in Kyiv after he was charged with treason and placed under house arrest. 

Meanwhile, when asked by Der Spiegel, Maximilian Krah denied suspicions of bribery and said that “of course, I did not receive money for myself or for the party” and that he paid for the hotel in Prague himself. Bystron did not respond to Der Spiegel’s request for comment. Krah and Bystron are first and second on the AfD’s list for the European Parliamentary elections.

The exposure of the Moscow-funded Voice of Europe website shows Russia’s “illegal influence” on the European Parliament, the German government said in response to Prague’s decision and press reports. “The network used politicians from several European countries to allocate significant funds at their disposal,” a representative of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior said in a statement. 

In our investigation we discovered pro-Russian news websites networks in Europe. Find out more in this article:

Pro-Russian websites network in Europe that serves Russia’s information warfare
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