Media: Kremlin bribed EU officials to recognize Crimea as part of Russia
After the annexation of Crimea, a group of political technologists associated with the Russian government began to "restore" Russia's image abroad and ensure recognition of the "annexation" of the peninsula in the EU countries. Tens of thousands of euros were allocated for bribing European officials, according to a joint investigation of the Important Stories Project, the international Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the Italian Association of Investigative Journalists (IRPI), journalists from the Estonian Express newspaper and the Austrian magazine Profil.
The Important Stories Project claims that European MPs were offered more than 20 thousand euros for introducing pro-Russian resolutions in their parliaments. An additional payment would follow in the case of a "correct" vote.
The resolution on the recognition of Crimea as Russian by the Council of the Italian region of Veneto in 2016 was the result of direct bribery. The resolution, which was planned to be sent to the Italian parliament, also contained a call to lift sanctions against the Russian Federation. The campaign was organized by a PR group headed by an employee of the State Duma apparatus Sargis Mirzakhanian, investigators write, referring to the leak of his correspondence.
Following Veneto, similar pro-Russian resolutions were adopted by two more Italian regions, Liguria and Lombardy. Mirzakhanian's "action plan" entitled "Resolutions in Austria and Italy" states the estimate: "20,000 EUR + 20,000 EUR (bonus), in case of successful voting + 15,000 EUR in each case." The same campaigns were planned for Latvia and Greece, and even for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Mirzakhanian's team achieved the greatest success in Cyprus, where in July 2016 the national parliament voted for a resolution demanding removal of personal sanctions against some Russians.
In addition, the tasks of this group included the organization in the EU countries of rallies, pickets and other protest actions aimed at discrediting events or persons that contradict the foreign policy paths of the Russian Federation. Organization of public actions for the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions, in support of the will of the Crimeans and, in general, the foreign policy of the Russian Federation (including Syrian).
Also, investigators found among in Mirzakhanian emails correspondence with Leonid Slutsky , chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs. It shows that in 2017, Mirzakhanian and Slutsky worked together to bring to the upcoming Russian elections the largest possible delegation of so-called "foreign observers" – consisting of European right-wing deputies. The "imported" observers were paid for their flights, accommodation, and expenses. The inviting party was the Russian Peace Foundation, headed by Slutsky. According to the leak, the project budget amounted to 68 thousand euros.