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Doubling down on Russian influence: ally of Latvian MEP Tatjana Ždanoka calls allegations against her a “witch hunt”

On January 29, The Insider revealed that Tatjana Ždanoka, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Latvia, has kept up an active correspondence with suspected Russian intelligence officers for nearly two decades. The European Parliament (EP) has opened an investigation into the matter, and Latvia’s State Security Service (VDD) has expressed its intention to “assess the information regarding Ždanoka’s possible cooperation with Russian intelligence and security services.” In response, the co-chair of Ždanoka’s Latvian Russian Union political party, Miroslavs Mitrofanovs, has begun spreading conspiracy theories — and Kremlin talking points.

Written by Sanita Jemberga.

On February 1, Latvia’s Delfi TV published an interview with Latvian Russian Union co-chair Miroslavs Mitrofanovs. That talk took place just days after the party’s other co-chair, MEP Tatjana Ždanoka, was revealed to have been in close contact with Russian intelligence officers for a period of nearly twenty years. Unsurprisingly, Latvia’s VDD has taken an interest in the revelations regarding Ždanoka.

“It is not a secret that in the coming days Tatjana Ždanoka will be invited to [VDD] to talk about one of the e-mails which was sent in 2017,” Mitrofanovs said in his interview with Delfi. “There will be conversation about this letter and maybe some investigation.”

The VDD had not responded to The Insider’s request for comment. However, the security service has stated that it intends to look into the questions raised by the leaked correspondence: “VDD assesses that T.Ždanok’s status as the deputy of European Parliament and her legal immunity ensured by her status, was a significant aspect that contributed to her activities to support Russia’s geopolitical interests,” the VDD said in a press release on Jan. 29.

However, the VDD has noted that Ždanoka’s communications with Russian intelligence officers in the years 2005-2013 would not subject the MEP to criminal liability, as the Latvian statute prohibiting cooperation with a foreign state was only introduced in 2016.

Ždanoka herself does not deny that she knew both of the Russian figures whom she spent years keeping informed about her various pro-Russian activities. Instead, she claims not to have known that the Russian nationals were working for FSB.

Mitrofanovs, for his part, did not deny that much of the leaked correspondence between Ždanoka and her suspected FSB handlers is indeed authentic. However, he argues that the messages were innocuous: “You can see from the content of the letters that they are not about some kind of secrets, [not about the] work of Latvian state institutions or happenings within the Latvian political elite, which could be interesting for Russian secret services. The letters are devoted to the events which we are organizing ourselves, and we are open about them to the media and to our conversation partners in Russia.” Mitrofanovs added that the sole motivation for Ždanoka’s relationship with these Russian “conversation partners” was to prevent the potential outbreak of war.

However, Mitrofanovs also argues that two of the emails in question were forgeries. In one of the correspondences that the Latvian Russian Union party co-chair has called into question, Ždanoka asks her Russian contacts for $6000 to help promote the commemoration of “Victory Day” in Latvia (the May 9 holiday, which marks Nazi Germany’s defeat in the Second World War, is still widely celebrated in Russia). He also said that a second correspondence was suspicious, as it was written using the Latin rather than the Cyrillic alphabet.

“[The two emails in question] are not letters which have been received with the help of hackers. They are old printouts without a clear origin which have been printed on home printers somewhere 20 years ago. And for all these years these papers were waiting for their glory day on some shelf in some secret service,” Mitrofanovs said. He went on to claim that the release of Ždanoka’s correspondence was motivated by a desire to intimidate the minority of European politicians who oppose supplying additional aid to Ukraine. He also suggested that a “witch-hunt” aimed at rooting out opposing views was underway inside the European Parliament (EP).

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov used the same phrase — “witch hunt” — to characterize the allegations against Ždanoka.

In connection with reports of multiple MEPs’ potential ties to Russian intelligence, the EP will meet on February 6 to debate the topic: Russiagate: allegations of Russian interference in the democratic processes of the European Union. Latvian MEP Roberts Zile, a member of the National Alliance party, told media outlet Re:Baltica that the body would then vote on a resolution later that week.

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