Belgium Opens Probe into Russian ‘Interference’ in European Parliament

Members of the European parliament during a plenary mini-session in Brussels on April 11, 2024. © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP
Members of the European parliament during a plenary mini-session in Brussels on April 11, 2024. © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP
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Belgium Opens Probe into Russian ‘Interference’ in European Parliament

Members of the European parliament during a plenary mini-session in Brussels on April 11, 2024. © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP
Members of the European parliament during a plenary mini-session in Brussels on April 11, 2024. © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

Belgian prosecutors have opened a probe into Russian “interference” in the European Parliament following allegations lawmakers were paid to spread Kremlin propaganda, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday.

“Our judicial authorities have now confirmed this interference is subject to prosecution,” De Croo said.

“The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference does. As Belgium is the seat of the EU institutions, we have a responsibility to uphold every citizen’s right to a free and safe vote.”

He said a summit of EU leaders next week would discuss the allegations which have been raised just ahead of bloc-wide elections in June to choose a new parliament, AFP reported.

De Croo said Moscow’s “clear” objectives were to “help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and reinforce the pro-Russian narrative in that institution”.

A spokesperson for Belgium’s prosecutors’ office confirmed to AFP that a probe was started on Thursday.

The Czech Republic last month said its intelligence service had discovered a network that used EU lawmakers to spread Russian propaganda through the Prague-based Voice of Europe news site.

Belgium says its own services have determined that some of the lawmakers had been paid to promote Moscow’s propaganda.

“If there would be a type of bribery—and our services indicate that payments have taken place—while you need two sides for that to happen, you have people who organise it, but you also have people to receive it,” De Croo said.

EU lawmakers face strict rules regarding independence and ethics and can face penalties—financial and otherwise—if they violate them.

The Greens grouping in the European Parliament and a Czech daily said the lawmakers under suspicion came from Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Poland.

The political news website Politico said it identified 16 EU lawmakers who had appeared on Voice of Europe, all of them far-right politicians.

The Czech newspaper Denik N and Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine named two top German candidates from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Petr Bryston and Maximilian Krah, as politicians suspected of receiving Russian funds to spread the Kremlin talking points.

Bryston and Krah have denied receiving any payments. Denik N reported that Czech secret services had an audio recording implicating Bryston.

The European Parliament’s main political groups have called for the legislature to also probe the alleged propaganda-peddling.

The revelation comes a year after the “Qatargate” bribery scandal, in which a number of EU lawmakers were accused of being paid to promote the interests of Qatar and Morocco. Both states have denied the accusations.



Putin Warns West Not to Let Ukraine Use Its Missiles to Hit Russia

 Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulates Russian Border Guards troop celebrations their service holiday in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (Alexander Kazakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulates Russian Border Guards troop celebrations their service holiday in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (Alexander Kazakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
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Putin Warns West Not to Let Ukraine Use Its Missiles to Hit Russia

 Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulates Russian Border Guards troop celebrations their service holiday in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (Alexander Kazakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulates Russian Border Guards troop celebrations their service holiday in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (Alexander Kazakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West on Tuesday that NATO members in Europe were playing with fire by proposing to let Ukraine use Western weapons to strike inside Russia, which he said could trigger a global conflict.

More than two years into the deadliest land war in Europe since World War Two, as the West considers what to do about Russian military advances, Putin is increasingly evoking the risk of a global war, while Western leaders play it down.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the Economist that alliance members should let Ukraine strike deep into Russia with Western weapons, a view supported by some European members of the transatlantic alliance but not the United States.

Russian forces have advanced into Ukraine's Kharkiv province safe in the knowledge that Ukraine cannot attack missile launchers being fired deep inside Russia because it cannot use the Western missiles that have the required range.

Meanwhile, Western-made air defenses cannot attempt to down Russian rockets until they cross the Ukrainian border, only 25 km (15 miles) or so from Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv.

"Constant escalation can lead to serious consequences," Putin told reporters in Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

"If these serious consequences occur in Europe, how will the United States behave, bearing in mind our parity in the field of strategic weapons?"

"It's hard to say - do they want a global conflict?"

Putin said Ukrainian strikes with long-range weapons would need Western satellite, intelligence and military help - so the West would have to be directly involved in such attacks.

He said sending French troops to Ukraine would also be a step towards global conflict and that smaller countries considering deeper involvement "should be aware of what they are playing with" as they had small land areas and dense populations.

"This is a factor that they should keep in mind before talking about striking deep into Russian territory. This is a serious thing, and we are of course watching it very closely," Putin said.

RUSSIAN ADVANCES TRIGGER DEBATE IN WEST

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 touched off the worst breakdown in relations with the West for 60 years.

The invasion has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians, driven millions to flee abroad, and reduced neighborhoods and whole cities to rubble.

Putin casts the war as part of a struggle with the West, which he says is exploiting Ukraine as part of a wider plan to encroach on what he considers Moscow's sphere of influence.

The West and Ukraine cast the attack as a simple land grab: Russia controls 18% of Ukraine, and the crisis is now escalating into what diplomats say is its most dangerous phase.

Russian officials say Moscow's patience is wearing thin after Ukrainian attacks on Russian cities, oil refineries and elements of its nuclear early-warning system.

Putin said Kyiv and its Western backers had provoked Russia's offensive on the Kharkiv region by ignoring repeated warnings not to let Ukraine attack the adjacent Russian region of Belgorod.