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MEP belonging to same political group as Plaid Cymru accused of being Russian agent

30 Jan 2024 6 minute read
Tatjana Zdanoka

Luke James, Brussels

The European political party to which Plaid Cymru belongs has been accused of having “protected” Latvian politician Tatjana Zdanoka, who is now under investigation over reports she is an “agent of Russian intelligence”.

Rebecca Harms, a former German MEP and chair of the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament, said her ex-colleagues “were warned” about Zdanoka “not only once” but failed to take action.

The intervention comes after leaked correspondence between Zdanoka, an MEP for the Latvian Russian Union party since 2004, and two FSB agents was published yesterday by investigative news website, The Insider.

The exchanges, which took place between 2004 and 2017, included details of her work as an MEP and the organisation of meetings with her “handlers” in Moscow and Brussels.

Zdanoka, who denies the allegations, was a member of the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament during that time.

Russian invasion

She was asked to leave the group in April 2022 following her support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Her party’s membership of the European Free Alliance (EFA) party, which represents pro-independence and regionalist parties across Europe and is separate from the parliamentary group, was also suspended for one year.

Zdanoka now sits as an independent member in the European Parliament, but remains listed as an EFA MEP on the party’s website.

In a statement, EFA said: “We wish to express our deep concern upon learning of this news. The integrity and independence of EU democracy is of paramount importance to EFA.”

“EFA strongly condemns Putin’s regime in the Russian Federation. EFA has consistently stood in solidarity with the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression and has steadfastly advocated for EU autonomy. Any actions that threaten EU independence from foreign influences are deeply concerning to us.”

‘Further action’

The party’s bureau, which includes former Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans, will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to “take further action” over the reports.

The European Parliament has also opened an investigation into Zdanoka’s conduct.

In 2014, Zdanoka served as an observer to the internationally-condemned referendum on the integration of Crimea into Russia which followed the illegal annexation of the peninsula.

The Latvian security services subsequently opened an investigation into whether she was a Russian agent.

In 2015, it was reported her party had received money from a fund established by Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

And in 2016, she travelled to Damascus to meet Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad despite his regime being subject to EU sanctions for its Russian-backed attacks on civilians in the country’s civil war.

Pro-Putin

Speaking to Nation.Cymru while on her way to visit Ukraine, Harms said: “It was known before that she had worked in a pro-Russian, pro-Putin party in Latvia.”

“But after 2014, when she volunteered as an observer in the referendum in Crimea, it was crystal clear she had nothing in common with the Greens.

“After her visit to Syria, when I also tried to make this an issue in the group, she was simply tolerated and the excuse was always the same: it’s an EFA problem and not a Green problem.

She added: “The Greens were hiding behind this argument that she is not a Green, she’s with EFA and we have no impact.

“When we had serious talks with EFA board members, they promised to work on the case but they didn’t change anything. She was protected by EFA.

“I see it as one of my failures that I was not able to convince the Greens and also partly EFA colleagues that she was incompatible with our values.”

Harms, who stood down as an MEP in 2019 and is now vice-chair of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, said this week’s revelations reflected a deeper problem of naivety in western Europe about disinformation.

“Putin’s organised disinformation, the whole idea of hybrid warfare, was not properly understood,” she said.

“They only really woke up to it in 2022. This was the moment when nobody could underestimate the moral and political problems [of Zdanoka’s membership].

“The Greens should be much less naïve in their reactions. I’m not sure everyone has understood the threat.”

Harms said all political groups in the European Parliament often make compromises over who is allowed to be a member in order to maximise their speaking time and funding.

“It is a general problem in the European Parliament that each and every group, after each and every election, tries to make itself stronger and richer,” said Harms.

“On the one hand, they have members who are elected because they belong to the political families of the Greens or the Social Democrats etc.

“But then there are lots of single players, small parties or single candidates who make it to the European Parliament, and every group tries to get as much as possible out of those independents in order to get more money and more speaking time.

“It’s about power, wealth and impact in the European Parliament. The compromises behind this often, from my point of view, go too far. Not only in this case.”

Scandal

Harms said the rules on the formation of political groups should be tightened in the wake of the latest scandal.

The FSB handlers with which Zdanoka is accused of working with were not the only Russian agents to target the European Parliament in recent years.

Nation.Cymru reported last year how former Welsh MEP Nathan Gill met pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine and Moldova on multiple trips organised by men now accused of being Kremlin agents.

He made three visits to Ukraine and one to Moldova between May and November 2018, which were paid for or arranged by an organisation run by Janusz Niedźwiecki, a Polish national now in pre-trial detention on espionage charges.

At least one also involved Oleh Voloshyn, a Ukrainian considered an “FSB pawn” by the US Government and suspected of high treason by Ukraine.


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Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Well, putin had the Tory party in his back pocket.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

I reckon what was far, far worse was, when the uk was still a member of the EU, the tories joined a bloc in the European parliament which included far-right fascists!

Clive Bradley
Clive Bradley
1 month ago

Come on folks, surely we can do better than “Yeah…But”
That’s what the right always does

lufcwls
lufcwls
1 month ago

Why the hell is a company called the Latvian Russian Union party in the European Free Alliance??

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