A scandal over Kremlin hybrid war operations supporting nationalist, Euro-skeptic platforms across the continent widened on Tuesday with pro-democracy agencies identifying two dozen European populist officials, and 14 European far-right political parties, by name, as direct beneficiaries of Moscow promotion.

The purported Russian agents, meanwhile, said it was an attack on free speech and democratic principles.

Ukrainian political scientist and radical right expert Anton Shekhovtsov, Director of the Centre for Democratic Integrity, in an April 1 post on X (formerly Twitter) identified 24 European politicians that “the Russians decided to promote through their resources” via the Kremlin-financed and Prague-headquartered Voice of Ukraine information agency.

European parties to whom those politicians belong, and identified by Shekhovtsov as benefiting from Russian Federation promotion via the Voice of Ukraine platform, included the Dutch Forum for Democracy (FvD ), Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD), Belgium’s Vlaams Belang (VB), Italy’s Christian Democracy (DC) and Forward Italy (FI), Croatia Party of Rights (HSP), Slovakia’s Social Democracy (SMER), the Czech Republic’s Trikolara, France’s National Rally (RN) and Spain’s VOX.

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Image from InformNapalm/Insight News deep dive on Kremlin-run influence networks messaging through European far right and populist information platforms.

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All political parties named by Shekhovtsov support closer relations with Moscow at Ukraine’s expense if necessary, and nationalism and local values, ahead of European unification. Many of the politicians named by Shekhovtsov are outspoken in support to far-right platforms and immediate and substantial Ukrainian concessions to Russia.

The pro-democracy European information platform Insight News on Tuesday reported the politicians identified in Shekhovtsov’s list had all benefited directly from access to the Kremlin-financed Voice of Ukraine platform and singled four senior far-right politicians – in Germany, France, Slovakia and Serbia – as “politicians known for pushing pro-Kremlin agendas and making pro-Russian statements.”

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Ukrainian political scientist Anton Shekhovtsov makes a point at a human rights conference in Vienna. RFI Romania image from March 15, 2024.

Russian Federation agents had, aside from facilitating that messaging, attempted to bribe other European Parliament members to make pro-Kremlin propaganda statements on the Voice of Ukraine platform, and were now being investigated by Czech and Belgian law enforcement, the Insight report said.

A Voice of Ukraine Monday statement countered: “We are all unfairly and relentlessly smeared as Putinists by increasingly unpopular globalist ‘elites’; their discredited lackeys in the lying, mainstream press; and Soros-funded NGOs. We at Voice of Europe will not be intimidated by globalist thuggery or kneel to this witch-hunt which is reminiscent of the darkest days of McCarthyism.”

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AfD member Petr Bystron, the second politician named by Shekhovtsov and Insight News as a witting or unwitting Kremlin operative, in an April 1 statement to the Forum for Democracy information platform said: “The closure of the Voice of Europe is a blatant attack on press freedom which I strongly condemn. The goal of this campaign of slander is to damage opposition politicians in several European countries and to silence critical journalists. Anyone who stands for peace and against the continuation of the war in Ukraine is defamed as a Russian agent… As in many previous election campaigns, those in power are trying to push back against the high opinion poll ratings of the opposition, using campaigns of slander carried out with the help of the secret services.”

AfD member Petr Bystron in an April 1 image published on the information platform Forum for Democracy. In a statement, he said allegations Voice of Europe was a Kremlin hybrid war information are unfounded, and that recent European security agency allegations of Russian influence-buying with European politicians is a bait-and-switch operation designed to reduce European voter support to nationalist, right-wing political parties.

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On March 27 the Czech national internal security agency Bezpečnostní Informácien Služba (BIS) announced it had uncovered a Russian-organized network attempting to influence elections to the European Parliament in various European countries, using mostly far-right politicians and where possible promoting anti-Europe, pro-Moscow views in continental media.

Subsequent statements by senior Czech officials said that Voice of Europe operatives paid bribes to individual German, French, Polish, Belgian, Dutch and Hungarian politicians to influence upcoming EU parliamentary elections.

Kyiv Post April 1 screen grab of a Voice of Europe report on Dutch politician Thierry Baudet denying having every received Russian bribes to promote anti-Europe/pro-Kremlin positions. He is a founder of the far right Forum for Democracy (FvD), one of 14 political parties named by pro-democracy groups as having received direct support in Kremlin-sponsored media operating in Europe. He has been a member of European legislature House of Representatives since 2017.

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Neither Shekhovtsov nor Insight News stated any of the 24 officials benefiting from Voice of Ukraine promotion had received payments from Kremlin agents.  

Poland’s Internal Security Agency (ABW) on March 27, conducted searches targeting Russian “espionage activities” that had sought, via Voice of Europe, to undermine European Union member states and their institutions, Jacek Dobrzyński, spokesperson for the Minister’s Coordinator of Special Services, said according to a TVP World Report.

Dobrzyński said the Kremlin financed Voice of Europe to publish articles, statements, comments, and interviews with a biased, pro-Russian tone related to the current international situation, including Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Police in Poland’s central Mazovia district seized €48,500 ($52,155) in euros and $36,000 in US dollars, and electronic devices including mobile phones, he said. The raids followed from an investigation completed in January leading to charges against Polish citizen for engaging in espionage on behalf of Russia, the TVP report said.

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According to the Ukrainian volunteer group InformNapalm, which put together an interactive map on Kremlin influence networks, Voice of Ukraine content produced in the Czech Republic is only a small piece of a massive Kremlin information manipulation and hybrid war operation aiming to undermine opposition to Russian state goals in European states, by flooding those states’ media with pro-Russia, anti-Western information reports.

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Comments (5)

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SMC
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Voice of the Kremlin more like it. Throw the book at them.

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Nope
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Typo at the start of the 9th paragraph. The statement was made by Voice of Europe, not Voice of Ukraine.

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John
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Thanks for bringing this online Russian media network to our attention. The interactive map by InformNaplm show compelling links between these russian proganda outlets. Each cross referencing / linking to build traffic amongst each others international fake news outlets. I noticed from the map that 7 sites are active in my nation (Canada) albeit so far with very modest monthly traffic. I will bring this to our National, Global Affairs, CSIS and CRTC leadership's attention this week in case they were not already aware. I also have a few contacts in credible Canadian news that might be interested.

Note that Canada's CRTC has already banned state-controlled Russian television network RT from Canadian airwaves for the exact same reasons these online portals should also be blocked.

The MRGA trolls will squawk loudly about their favourite tool being gimped...they will squawk about the resurrection of US style McCarthyism.

However times have changed and sowing hate and false information to raise domestic dissent is a known Russian state funded hybrid war tool. The seriousness of the threat overrides the 'freedom of speech' that is now abused to our disadvantage by our enemies. It's no different in my mind than not being allowed to bring potential weapons on a plane post the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The democratic world owes Ukraine a world of thanks for all they do to take out the russian source of the angst spreading through our democracies.

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JMiguel
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In Ukraine you can prossecute pro-Russia voices, but in Europe, wrong as they maybe, people are entitled to have their opinions. Go do Mccarthyism somewhere else.

John
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@MRGA troll JMiguel,

I see you are using the same MRGA troll name as on Newsweek's Ukraine article forums.

Web analysis tools like Seranking show massive links between these pro-Russian websites. This russian funded international disinformation network:

* Always describes themselves as free and independent, yet in messaging exactly match putin's own propaganda in his russian media.
* Have a standard set of narratives justifying russia's its full-scale invasion and war against Ukraine: fakes narratives about “Nazis in Ukraine,” and “self-defense” against “NATO’s eastward expansion.”
* Claim that Russia will inevitably win and defeat Ukraine.
* Blame the West and NATO for all the world's troubles.
* Criticize mainstream media in an attempt to discredit it and improve sowing putins' disinformation
* Promote conspiracy theories and disseminating the opinions of “pseudo-experts” about the decline and imminent fall of the United States, the European Union, and the Western world
* Positively cover and even encourage protests in Europe and other democratic nations.
* Praise particularly Donald Trump whose statements directly align with the Kremlin’s interests (...now why would that be.....duh).

So pretty much the exact same message as the MRGA trolls on Kyivpost

The 75 nations funding Ukraine's defence are all now at war with russia. These russian fake news sites are some of putin's key tools in his disinformation war.

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Hope
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Such wars do benefit the Western capitalists including real estates, stock markets in the west as some Russian money is smuggled to the west also . Oil companies and weaponry manufacturing corporations make more revenues ...Hopefully , the war stops and the west could have helped Ukraine much earlier reducing oil prices if they were not benefiting ...
Russia should have not started the war and invested in its people and infrastructure instead ...

John
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@Hope,

Not sure if you realize this, but your message also pushes one of the known debunked messages of putin's propaganda networks as listed above.....that the west is at fault for everything bad in the world

Albeit some in the 'west' have had their moment of shame, data shows more socially minded initiatives are generally spearheaded & primarily funded by established democracies.

For example in a 2023 GRIP / CIRIGHTS research study of UNHRC vote data, of the 20% of global nations that received a score above 80%, all but one (Monaco) were well established democracies. Meanwhile the 60% of nations that had a failing grade (below 50%) only one democratic nation (India) was included. In the report's 'Freedom from enforced disappearance' category, russia was one of 17 nations that dubiously earned a ZERO. Not something to aspire towards.

Interesting while the USA passed the UNHRC's vote data 'pass threshold' ( 64%), mostly for its last decades voting record, its grade dropped to "D" resulted in the Center for Systematic Peace recently downgrading the U.S. from a full democracy to an "anocracy" (a middle ground between full democracy and autocracy). Still it remains a net a contributor towards voting to improving global human rights..

From a human rights perspective, a functioning Democracy its something to aspire towards.

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