Putin needs local allies to influence people in the EU – European commissioner

The revelation that a Czech-based Russian influence network paid politicians in various EU countries has made headlines throughout Europe. The European commissioner from Czechia expresses her suspicion about Moscow’s use of such dirty tactics and advocates for the removal of corrupt members from the European Parliament.

Věra Jourová told Czech Radio that one of the few guarantees in today’s unpredictable environment is that Russia will do everything possible to influence the European elections. She explained that Russia would accomplish this by tailoring its advertising to specific nations.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala made a shocking announcement last week: the Czech secret service had uncovered a Russian network trying to influence the European Parliament, where elections are due in two months.

Pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk led the group, which allegedly funneled payments to anti-establishment lawmakers in EU nations, including Petr Bystron and Maximilian Krah of Alternative for Germany, a hard-right German party.

Věra Jourová, a Czech member of the European Commission, addressed the issue in an interview with Czech Radio this week.

“I gave interviews around en of March in which I stated that, in addition to utilizing disinformation, Russia most likely acted through other political actors who were on Russia’s payroll. So it turns out I was right; I just didn’t have the data.”

Věra Jourová, vice president of the European Commission for values and transparency

Ms. Jourová explained how she sees Russia’s efforts to influence politics throughout the European Union.

“Vladimir Putin cannot directly influence public opinion in European countries by himself. He can’t implant anything from the Kremlin in the brains of Czechs, Slovaks, or Germans. He needs local language and allies; they either believe that Russia gives us a better future, or this includes financial transactions or possibly corruption.”

Věra Jourová, vice president of the European Commission for values and transparency

The Czech commissioner believes that the European Parliament should respond to the crisis before the elections on June 6 and 9.

“The Parliament has two more sessions before the elections, and it should issue a statement condemning the matter. It should clearly state that such acts are unacceptable to the Parliament.”

Věra Jourová, vice president of the European Commission for values and transparency

Ms. Jourová stated that efforts may be taken to strengthen oversight and that she should be involved given her values and openness mandate.

“I think that in these discussions we will hear various proposals for tightening up the mechanisms in such a way that only people with clean reputations enter the European Parliament. Naturally, it will be impossible to obtain 100 percent. It is true that MEPs must now declare their property and conflicts of interest, but the Parliament may impose tighter requirements.”

Věra Jourová, vice president of the European Commission for values and transparency

Katarina Barley, the Vice President of the European Parliament, has also expressed concern over recent reports of Russian influence in Europe. In an interview, the German lawmaker stated that it is in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests to weaken the European elections. 

The Czech authorities have dismantled the Czech-based Russian influence network, implicating only two individuals and one media organization. It was reported that pro-Russian network utilized the Voice of Europe news websote to incite opposition to aid for Ukraine in country’s defense against Russian war aggression. The Czech government then imposed sanctions on the website’s owners, as well as tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk, a close ally of Russian president Putin.

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.

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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