Europe

EU wants to see US list on Russia financing of politicians

The European Commission wants to know which European political parities and politicians received covert Russian funding.

“We will get to the bottom of it,” Margaritis Schinas, the commission’s vice-president told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday (5 October).

  • Italy’s Matteo Salvini is far-right leader of the League party (Photo: Twitter)

His comments follows a recent US intelligence review that says Russia gave at least $300m [€305m] to political parties, officials and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014.

“Let me assure you that we’re looking forward to receive this information,” said Schinas.

The Russian handouts came as cash, expensive gifts, electronic funds transfers and cryptocurrency, says the document, according to the New York Times.

Recipients include European think tanks and foundations in support of far-right nationalist parties, it said.

The US intelligence review said that the Kremlin and its proxies transferred such funds in order to shape foreign political environments in Moscow’s favour.

It is not immediately clear what the EU commission intends to do with the information, once received.

However, the Brussels-executive will early next year propose a so-called defence of democracy package which will also tackle foreign agents.

“We are fighting disinformation with everything we’ve got. More is yet to come,” said Schinas.

The statements were made as part of a wider debate at the European Parliament on combatting anti-EU and anti-Ukrainian propaganda.

Numerous European politicians have over the years praised Putin.

Among them is Italy’s Matteo Salvini of the far-right League party and Marine Le Pen of the French National Rally group.

Salvini has denied taking any money from the Kremlin, although the League still retains agreements with Putin’s party.

Earlier this month, he railed against Western sanctions on Russia in comments made ahead of a national election, which was ultimately won by Italy’s far-right.

That far-right government will be joined by long-term ally of the Russian president, Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party.

The 86-year old is also an MEP with the European Parliament’s largest political grouping, the centre-right EPP.

Last month he said Putin was “pushed” by Russian extremists into the conflict with Ukraine.

The comment and his alliance with Italy’s far-right is now piling on the pressure for the EPP to drop him and his party from the group.

Schinas, who is himself a member of the EPP, was called out during the debate to publicly denounce Berlusconi.

“Maybe it’s a good moment now to say to your friends in the EPP not to make a coalition agreement with these cheerleaders of Putin in Italy,” said Belgian liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt.

Verhofstadt also faulted the European Commission and the Council, representing member states, for being too soft on Russian propagandists.

He said only six out of some 135 Russian propagandists have been sanctioned by the EU.

The list of 135 was compiled by the Navalny foundation, an anti-corruption organisation named after jailed Russian opposition figure, Aleхei Navalny.

The EU had in March banned Russian media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting in the EU.

It is now working on a so-called EU hybrid toolbox to tackle threats and campaigns affecting the EU member states.




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