Putin is weaponizing corruption to weaken Europe from inside

Corruption has lengthy been a favourite weapon in Vladimir Putin’s arsenal. He used it extensively towards Ukraine over a lot of years to assist put together the bottom for the full-scale invasion of February 2022. The Russian chief now seems to be using the identical weaponized corruption ways honed earlier in Ukraine to undermine Europe and weaken the continent’s democratic establishments from inside.

Czech and Belgian legislation enforcement companies reported in late March 2024 that Kremlin-linked Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk was behind a Prague-based Russian propaganda community centered across the Voice of Europe outlet. Medvedchuk is accused of masterminding the distribution of anti-Ukrainian narratives within the European media and paying European Parliament members to advertise Russian pursuits of their legislative actions.

This newest corruption scandal is a painful reminder that the EU and US stay at vital threat of Russian electoral interference within the lead-up to elections later this 12 months. For the EU particularly, the scandal additional demonstrates that it should put its personal home so as whether it is to credibly demand Ukraine do the identical throughout the latter’s ongoing EU accession negotiations.

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The oligarch on the middle of the scandal, Viktor Medvedchuk, has shut ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter. All through the three many years following Ukrainian independence in 1991, Medvedchuk was a outstanding determine within the nation’s political life and a vocal advocate of Russian pursuits.

Medvedchuk’s private relationship with Putin helped earn him a popularity because the Kremlin’s unofficial consultant in Ukraine. This led US intelligence companies to establish Medvedchuk as one among Moscow’s high selections to move a puppet Ukrainian administration within the occasion of a profitable invasion.

When Russian troops crossed the border in February 2022, Medvedchuk initially went into hiding. Nonetheless, he was detained by the Ukrainian authorities two months later, and was ultimately traded for a lot of Ukrainian POWs in one of the controversial prisoner exchanges of the struggle.

No matter his exile and lack of Ukrainian citizenship, Medvedchuk stays an vital ally to Putin. His management of the Voice of Europe affect operation signifies Europe’s continued vulnerability to the Kremlin’s weaponized corruption. Whereas Ukraine, the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all imposed sanctions on Medvedchuk and his associates a while in the past, the European Union didn’t achieve this. Because of this, Medvedchuk was nonetheless capable of do enterprise in Europe.

On account of this obvious oversight, a number of of Medvedchuk’s EU-based belongings are thought to have remained untouched till his involvement with Voice of Europe was uncovered. This gave him a level of maneuverability together with his EU-based monetary belongings that seems to have facilitated his allegedly illicit actions.

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Within the wake of the latest revelations, the Czech authorities have imposed sanctions on Medvedchuk and different Kremlin-linked associates. In the meantime, Belgian legislation enforcement companies have opened probes into alleged bribes paid to serving MEPs from France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and Hungary, with the Polish authorities additionally launching an investigation.

Whereas these measures are welcome, it isn’t clear why EU authorities didn’t act earlier to counter the Kremlin’s weaponized corruption. Many now worry the present scandal is simply the tip of the iceberg by way of Russian efforts to infiltrate democratic establishments and the media all through the Western world. Looming elections on each side of the Atlantic have added a way of urgency to this debate.

In idea, the European Fee’s “freeze and seize” job drive is supposed to coordinate with the remainder of the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) job drive, which options the related nationwide sanctions authorities from G7 member states and Australia. The truth that the EU’s sanctions listings nonetheless don’t absolutely align with that of its REPO allies, particularly on anyone as outstanding as Medvedchuk, raises critical issues over the effectiveness of this coordination.

The European Union must be setting an instance relating to combating corruption. When recommending that the European Council open official EU accession negotiations with Ukraine in late November 2023, Fee Vice President Věra Jourová cautioned that Ukraine nonetheless had an extended method to go in creating anti-corruption laws, at the same time as she praised the numerous progress made by the Ukrainian authorities to date. Inevitably, questions at the moment are being requested concerning the credibility of the EU’s personal anti-corruption insurance policies.

Latest claims of a significant Russian affect operation working within the coronary heart of the EU ought to function a wake-up name for policymakers all through the West. With the Kremlin clearly getting ready for a long-term geopolitical confrontation, the necessity for vigilance will solely develop. In response to this menace, transatlantic establishments ought to prioritize bolstering their skill to withstand Russia’s weaponized corruption, whereas ensuring the Kremlin’s brokers are topic to the utmost out there restrictions.

Francis Shin is a Analysis Assistant on the Atlantic Council’s Europe Heart.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely these of the authors and don’t essentially mirror the views of the Atlantic Council, its employees, or its supporters.

The Eurasia Heart’s mission is to boost transatlantic cooperation in selling stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Jap Europe and Turkey within the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia within the East.

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Associated Consultants:
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Picture: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an prolonged assembly of the Inside Ministry board in Moscow. April 2, 2024. (Sputnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Kremlin by way of REUTERS)

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