Disinformation, media networks, and agents of influence: Russia amplifies its activities in the EU

A synchronized probe by many EU nations into a Russian network of influence that reportedly financed far-right MEPs has aroused alarms in the EU. According to the prominent Spanish media outlet EL PAIS, Russia’s hybrid war in Europe employs a variety of techniques, including espionage, misinformation and propaganda efforts, and influence activities, to cause havoc and destabilize Europe.

Two months before the vital European Parliament elections, the EU has cautioned in many confidential reports, which EL PAIS has seen, that the Kremlin is intensifying its campaigns. The latest coordinated investigation by multiple European intelligence agencies against a Kremlin influence network has raised anxieties.

The probe is looking into whether members of the European Parliament from far-right parties were paid for their “collaborations” with the news platform, Voice of Europe, for disseminating pro-Russian materials and making statements that fit the Kremlin agenda.

Investigators suspect politicians from the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Poland, the Netherlands, and Hungary are involved in this scheme, but they have not ruled out the possibility that the network was also active with MEPs from other EU member states.

“The use of coordinated networks and influential individuals to artificially disseminate and amplify misleading EU-related narratives, support for Ukraine, and other elements on social networks is being amplified,” according to one of the internal memos seen by the Spanish media outlet. 

At the same time, sources claim that Russia is attempting to recreate its spy network in NATO nations, which was severely harmed by the deportation of Russians conducted throughout the EU after Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine in February 2022. 

The use of media, social networks, and agents of influence is essential for spreading Russian propaganda during the most recent probe that has shaken the European Parliament. 

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala announced the dismantling of a Russian influence network that operated through the news website Voice of Europe, which was headquartered in Prague, a city that Russia has long used as its base for spying across Europe, according to the media.

According to its online evidence, the now-closed website distributed interviews, analysis, and news-like items with an obvious far-right leaning, as well as disinformation and populist posts. The Czech intelligence believes Kremlin networks utilized this website to transfer thousands of euros to European lawmakers in cash or cryptocurrencies.

According to Czech investigators, Voice of Europe is run by pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, a close Putin’s ally who is godfather to his daughter. Medvedchuk now lives in Moscow. He was accused of high treason in Ukraine, but he was handed over to Russia by Ukraine in a PoWs exchange.

As reported by Czech daily Deník N, the Czech government has imposed sanctions on Medvedchuk and Voice of Europe for violating national sovereignty.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has also commented on the probe into the pro-Kremlin network in Europe. “It came to light, for example, that Russia approached and paid MEPs to promote Russian propaganda here,” he told the Belgian Parliament. Neither De Croo nor the Czech secret services, which lead the investigation, have made public the names of the MEPs being investigated.

Voice of Europe has hosted debates and conferences, as well as published columns by European politicians and produced interviews with MEPs, targeting European legislators from the far-right parties Alternative for Germany, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, and the Italian League, among others, in the context of the upcoming elections.

The European Parliament is in touch with the national governments examining the case, as well as the rest of the EU institutions, according to its spokesman, Jaume Duch. “We have been observing anti-European Union campaigns from Russia for quite some time. It is not unknown that a part of the ultra-right (and ultra-left) represented in the European Parliament has contacts with Russia and tends to defend their positions.”

Following the Czech and Belgian authorities statements about Russia’s attempts to bribe MEPs to promote its propaganda through the Voice of Europe website, researchers found which European politicians were promoted by this website.

Anton Shekhovtsov, a visiting professor and researcher at Central European University and at the Research Center for the History of Transformations, published a list of European politicians who were promoted by the Russian agents of influence via its recently disclosed front organization “Voice of Europe” on YouTube, starting in August 2023.

The list includes politicians known for pushing pro-Kremlin agendas and making pro-Russian statements, such as German far-right leader Maximilian Krah, French nationalist Thierry Mariani, Slovak right radical Milan Uhrík, and the radical leader of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik.

Following these developments, in Poland, police conducted searches related to the Russian influence case. Jacek Dobrzyński, spokesperson for the Minister’s Coordinator of Special Services, revealed that the Internal Security Agency (ABW) conducted searches to investigate Russian espionage activities.

The alleged espionage actions targeted EU member states and EU institutions. During the ABW operation, EUR 48,500 and USD 36,000 were seized, according to Dobrzyński. He stressed that, in addition to the searches, preliminary interrogations in the case were undertaken, and that additional procedural procedures will be taken in the coming days.

Poland’s National Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that the ABW’s measures, which were carried out at the prosecutor’s request, were part of an investigation into Russia’s operations to influence EU countries.

The “Voice of Europe” case might be just a tip of an iceberg. 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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