Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:
Since Russia launched its brutal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s overseas aggression has reached a fever pitch. Yet Russia can still rely on the occasional friendly voice in Europe: Last November, for example, far-right Italian local legislator Stefano Valdegamberi penned an op-ed decrying the EU’s decision to designate Russia a terrorist state as “a serious mistake” that “foments conflict by denying historical truth.”
But what Valdegamberi didn’t mention was that he had long been collaborating with a secretive Russian lobbying group with a direct link to the Kremlin. Since at least 2014, that group had designed plans to channel cash to European politicians to help it legitimize Russia’s occupation of Crimea and promote pro-Moscow policies inside EU countries.
Details of the group’s activities have come to light via hacked and leaked emails belonging to its coordinator, Russian parliamentary staffer Sargis Mirzakhanian, who ran the “International Agency for Current Policy” in the years following the annexation of Crimea.
The emails suggest his group paid politicians thousands of euros to put forward pro-Russian resolutions in European legislatures, a new investigation by Eesti Ekspress, in partnership with OCCRP, IrpiMedia, iStories, and Profil, has found.
It also helped arrange for political figures from countries including Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland to be flown on expensive junkets to pro-Russia events in occupied Crimea, and paid honoraria for their presence. [Continue reading…]