Russia co-opts far-right politicians in Europe with cash, officials say

Russia co-opts far-right politicians in Europe with cash, officials say

The Washington Post reports:

When an associate of one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies launched a pro-Kremlin media outlet here in May 2023, Czech counterintelligence officers began keeping careful watch.

For nearly a year, European intelligence officials said, the Czech authorities secretly recorded hours of meetings between several far-right politicians from across Europe and the associate, Artem Marchevsky, who was running the propaganda website, Voice of Europe, including at its offices on a quiet side street in the center of Prague. E.U. and Czech authorities, which have shut down the site, have labeled Voice of Europe a Russian propaganda operation.

The Czech probe rapidly expanded into Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and France, European security and intelligence officials said, as investigators concluded that Voice of Europe represented far more than its official veneer as a pro-Russian website interviewing favored European politicians about ending aid to Ukraine.

The organization was being used to funnel hundreds of thousands of euros — up to 1 million a month — to dozens of far-right politicians in more than five countries to plant Kremlin propaganda in Western media that would sow division in Europe and bolster the position of pro-Russian candidates in this week’s European Parliament elections, according to interviews with a dozen European intelligence officials from five countries. Most of the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing and sensitive investigation.

Officials described the Russian operation as among the most ambitious undertaken by the Kremlin in Europe in its efforts to undermine support for Ukraine and create divisions in the transatlantic alliance. Previous Kremlin-backed covert actions include the attempted union of the far right and far left in Germany, stoking domestic divisions in France and sabotage in Poland, The Washington Post has reported.

Internal Kremlin documents obtained by one of the European intelligence services and reviewed by The Post show for the first time that Voice of Europe was part of an influence campaign established by the Kremlin in close coordination with Viktor Medvedchuk, the Putin ally who until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led a pro-Moscow opposition party in Kyiv. It was later managed by a key Medvedchuk lieutenant who, other documents show, worked closely with a unit of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, responsible for Ukraine and some former Soviet states, otherwise known as the FSB’s Fifth Service. [Continue reading…]

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