Russia: Five independent media outlets accuse the Kremlin of paying European politicians for supporting the annexation of Crimea | International

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In 2016, two years after Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, the national parliaments of several European countries passed resolutions calling for lifting sanctions on the Kremlin and recognizing the borders drawn by President Vladimir Putin. The promoters of these initiatives did not report that they were in direct contact with the lower house of the Russian parliament, where an assistant budgeted these measures at 20,000 euros, plus another 15,000 if they were successful, according to a joint investigation by various Russian, Italian and Estonian media. .

The origin of the accusation comes from the leak of some 20,000 emails between 2007 and 2017 from an assistant to the State Duma. Sarguis Mirzajanián and his collaborators operated under the brand “International Agency for Current Politics” after the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. The first point of his document provided for "the organization of protests in the European Union with the aim of discrediting events or people that contradict the foreign policy of the Russian Federation", as revealed by the research platforms IRPI, OCCRP, Eesti Ekspress, Profile and Vazhnye Istoriithe latter designated an undesirable organization by the Russian authorities.

These media explain that the emails were allegedly obtained by a group of hackers Ukrainians in 2020, and another assistant to Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin politician whom Putin entrusted in 2014 with the management of the Ukrainian territory of Donbas after introducing Russian soldiers there, appears as a direct link to Mirzakhanián.

Italian politician Stefano Valdegamberi has been one of Putin's great defenders in his country. In May 2016, his motion made the Veneto regional parliament the first official European institution to recognize the peninsula as part of Russia. "I have never acted out of interest (...) and I do not submit to what is politically correct," he said a week ago. The leak has now put him against a rock and a hard place.

“It has been a bomb! In the resolution: 1) recognition of Crimea; 2) lift sanctions; 3) Hit to [Federica] Mogherini (then head of European Union diplomacy)!” Mirzajanián wrote to one of her employees in April 2016 after gaining the support of Valdegamberi.

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Northern League and Freedom Party

Later the regions of Liguria and Lombardy would also be added. Another email dated June of that year would appear another action plan entitled "Resolutions from Austria and Italy", which indicated that Paolo Tosato, a senator and Valdegamberi's partner in the Northern League, would present the resolution in the Senate, and was accompanied by mail with a budget of tens of thousands of euros.

That month, both Tosato and Austrian lawmaker Johannes Hübner of the Freedom Party filed motions that were rejected by their respective chambers. Although another one presented in July in Cyprus was more successful, which also included lifting sanctions against Russian citizens and advocating for compliance with the Minsk peace agreements.

Italian and Austrian politicians denied receiving any payment from Moscow. But the son of a Cypriot businessman who donated 15,000 euros to the party that managed to pass the resolution confirmed having acted as an intermediary with Mirzajanián. According to his version, the payment from businessman Sergei Kozlo "was just a thank you" to the political party.

The emails also include the coordination between Mirzakhanián and the deputy and current leader of the populist Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, Leonid Slutsky, to get European politicians and activists to attend conferences in Crimea and act as international observers of several Russian elections, including Valdegamberi.

For example, for the 2016 Yalta International Economic Forum, €21,500 was budgeted under the heading “honors” for nine politicians from Austria, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland.

That same year Valdegamberi not only blessed the Russian annexation of Crimea. The Italian politician also spoke several times on the Kremlin channel, Russia Today, where he defended the initiatives promoted by his regional parliament to promote the autonomy of Veneto in the midst of a separatist wave in Europe, which had the shadow of Moscow's support behind it, including he process; and he supported Putin's axioms by stating that “all EU actions are indicated by Washington”.

The last appearance of alleged pro-Kremlin “foreign observers” took place in September, during the pseudo-referendum on the annexation of the four occupied territories in Ukraine. Despite the enormous irregularities of the process, carried out in the territory of another sovereign country in the midst of war, and which did not even have a voter census, as this newspaper verified in the Tver electoral college, those observers affirmed that it was a plebiscite clean. The spokesman for Foreign Affairs of the EU, Peter Stano, stated that the European citizens who participated in that act could be sanctioned.

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