Kremlin-affiliated group bribes European politicians to support pro-Russian motions
The international investigative journalism group, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), released its report on a secret Russian organization with links to the Russian Federal Assembly.
Parliamentary staffer Sargis Mirzakhanian is at the helm of the secret lobby group named “International Agency for Current Policy.” Ukrainian activists hacked and leaked Mirzakhanian’s emails, which date from March 2007 to September 2017. The leaked emails, in addition to their attached documents, reveal the organization’s scope of activity and the extent of its international influence.
The organization outlined projects, some of which were put into motion, targeting actors in Turkey, Latvia, Greece, Italy, Austria, Cyprus, Germany, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,
The emails read that the organization fostered a “closed association of professionals” to be able to “cooperate with leading EU parliamentary parties and individual politicians.” The group’s activities included offering significant bribes to EU politicians to interfere with policies, foster a pro-Kremlin stance, and legitimize its invasion and occupation of both Crimea and Ukraine. The lobby reached out to academics, journalists, and activists.
Speaking to the OCCRP, the Centre for Democratic Integrity’s Anton Shekhovtsov said that the leaked emails “represent one of the most important sources of our knowledge of how particular engines of the Russian political war machine works.”
The massive volume of emails between Mirzakhanian and state officials evidences a direct link between the group and the Russian Federal Assembly. Mirzakhanian and Inal Ardzinba traded 1,000 emails between the years 2014 and 2017. Ardzinba is a department head who at the time worked under Vladislav Surkov, former Deputy Prime Minister and Assistant to the President of the Russian Federation from 2013 to 2020. Mirzakhanian also corresponded with other Russian politicians, such as Leonid Slutsky, member of the Duma and Chair of the Committee on International Affairs. The communications with Slutsky shows that the lobby group collaborated with the Duma to “bring prominent Europeans to observe local elections in Russia, covering their travel and accommodation costs.”
According to OCCRP’s analysis, the leaked emails provide evidence that payment was offered for politicians to “put forward pro-Russian resolutions in European legislatures,” and that arrangements were made 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.”
One successful method of normalizing the occupation of Crimea was the organization of the annual Yalta International Economic Forum, at which European politicians were funded to attend and hosted at a luxury hotel. The Forum was jointly organized by “state-backed and private banks,” some of which were later sanctioned by the U.S. The leaked emails regarding the conference outline how much participating politicians would be paid beyond mere travel expenses.
Other propaganda efforts funded by the Mirzakhanian-led lobbyist group included “coordinating protests, placing media articles, and preparing parliamentary resolutions across Europe, while organizing ‘fake’ election observation missions.” The efforts towards influencing national parliaments concerned “resolutions to end anti-Russian sanctions and recognize Russia’s claim to Crimea.” Mirzakhanian described payments for these endeavors as “the price tag of the vote.”
The OCCRP reports that “These ties paved the way for pro-Russian motions to be passed in both [Italy and Cyprus], with both the Cypriot parliament and multiple Italian regional councils calling for an end to sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Crimea.”
Other analysts remark that through the lobbyist group, “Russia was extremely successful in its efforts to soften the response to its various campaigns by putting former and current politicians on its payroll.”