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Kremlin-linked lobbyists paid European politicians to legitimise annexation of Crimea

Friday, 3 February 2023, 17:29

The Russian-funded lobbying group International Agency for Current Policy has been working with European politicians to push for the lifting of EU sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea since at least 2016.

Source: Investigation by OCCRP and partner media IRPI, Important Stories and Profil; European Pravda reports

Journalists gained access to the electronic correspondence of the Russian media technologist Sargis Mirzakhanian, who worked as a Russian State Duma staffer. The leak was published by hackers who call themselves CyberJunta [Ukraine-based hacking group – ed.] in 2016-2017.


Journalists found in the correspondence a draft project of the lifting of sanctions against Russia for Cyprus, which describes the sanctions as "fundamentally contrary to the norms of international law" and also emphasises the economic damage caused to Cyprus due to the loss of business with Russia. It turned out to be almost identical to the final version signed a few months later by the Cypriot parliamentary faction AKEL.

The documents also detail separate projects for Latvia, Greece, and even the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). However, there are no indications that these motions were ever proposed.

According to data from the correspondence, representatives of the far-right parties Paolo Tosato from the Italian Lega Nord and Johannes Hübner from the Austrian Freedom Party were supposed to introduce resolutions on the lifting of sanctions against Russia to their legislative bodies. Each project had a budget of 20,000 euros, and another 15,000 euros were reserved for each "in case of a successful voting result".


In one of the leaked letters, Mirzakhanian reports that he received information "regarding the price tag for the vote" from an unnamed European politician. Tosato and Hübner eventually presented the respective projects in their respective parliaments.

In 2016, Mirzakhanian's organisation worked with Italian MP Stefano Valdegamberi from the Veneto regional parliament: it was the first region of the country of the European Union to pass a resolution on lifting sanctions against Russia. "It’s the bomb! From the point of view of the media, this will most likely be our loudest informational operation," Mirzakhanyan reacted in one of the letters. Then, local councils in Liguria and Lombardy followed Veneto's example and passed their own resolutions, "recognizing" Crimea as part of Russia.

Cooperation was also established with an invitation to the Yalta International Economic Forum, which was held annually from 2016 to 2019 with the participation of Mirzakhanyan's team. The correspondence contains a list of the names of nine European politicians from Austria, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland who were invited to Yalta, and their fees in the total amount of 21,500 euros. These payments are likely to be outside the scope of reimbursement, as transport costs were discussed separately.

The letters, dated 2017, show that Mirzakhanyan's organisation worked with the team of Russian MP Leonid Slutsky to invite prominent European figures to observe the September 2017 elections in Russia.

The invitations were sent through the Russian Peace Fund founded by Slutsky, and the budget for paying expenses for 2017 was at least 68,000 euros, including travel and accommodation, according to emails.

There were three members of the European Parliament among the observers: Jaromír Kohlíček from the Czech Republic, Dominique Bilde from France and André Elissen from the Netherlands, as well as Aldo Carcaci, a member of the House of Representatives of Belgium, Marek Krajčí, a member of the National Council of Slovakia, Rumen Gechev, a member of the People's Assembly of Bulgaria, and Pavel Gamov, a member of the Riksdag of Sweden.

Stefano Valdegamberi also worked as an observer in Crimea during the 2018 presidential elections and the 2021 parliamentary elections.

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