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Marcel de Graaff, a Dutch MEP was heckled during a speech last week when he suggested reports of Ukrainian children kidnapped into Russia were propaganda.

Barry Andrews Watch as Russia interferes with European politics ahead of the elections

The MEP says there are a number of representatives in the European Parliament who regularly parrot Russian propaganda.

ONE OF THE most shocking speeches ever given in the European Parliament occurred last week. Dutch MEP Marcel de Graaff caused uproar when he took to the podium and spouted utter nonsense about Ukraine and Russia at a plenary session, his words straight out of the Kremlin playbook.

The session was underway to discuss ways for the EU to address the urgent concerns surrounding Ukrainian children being forcibly deported to Russia. Over 19,500 children have been deported or forcibly displaced since the war began, but only 388 have been returned, according to the Ukrainian National Information Bureau (NIB). Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, were issued with arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court in March 2023. The Independent Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, set up by the UN, has stated that it found “additional evidence concerning the unlawful transfer of children to areas under Russian control”.

Yet de Graaff started his speech by saying, “All these reports about Ukrainian children being deported to Russia are pure propaganda”. He was rightly met with protests from all in attendance.

I could go through the entire speech and demonstrate how brazenly untrue the claims are. Let me just mention the worst one. He said, “Ukraine is the largest supplier of children for paedophile networks, human trafficking and organ trafficking. It has child kennels with surrogate mothers for this purpose”. This claim is so bizarre that there is neither evidence to prove it nor evidence to disprove it.

This speech feels like the anti-matter of all intellectual enlightenment. His overall analysis of the war in Ukraine is that it is all a NATO plot driven by the US military-industrial complex and that the best path to peace is negotiation.

Putin’s supporters

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Russia. Just 13 far-right and far-left MEPs voted against the motion. De Graaff was one of them. Also voting against the motion was Latvian MEP Tatjana Zdanoka, now under investigation by the European Parliament accused of working with Russian intelligence.

Another of the 13 was Ioannis Lagos a neo-Nazi MEP of the Greek Golden Dawn. This was one of his last votes before being extradited to Greece where he is currently serving a 13 year sentence including for orchestrating the stabbing of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas.

The remainder includes anti-vaxxers, communists and Mick Wallace and Clare Daly. At the time of the vote, Clare Daly explained that “throwing more weapons into the situation simply puts petrol on the fire”. Both Daly and Wallace protested in Lithuania alongside MEP Zdanoka at the court hearing in support of Paleckis before his conviction for spying and his six-year sentence.

meps-mick-wallace-and-clare-daly-left-attend-the-consultative-forum-on-international-security-policy-at-university-college-cork-picture-date-thursday-june-22-2023 Wallace and Daly Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The latest revelations regarding Wallace and Daly’s connections with Russian spy Algirdas Paleckis raise further questions about the extent of Russian influence in the European Parliament.

An investigation by the Sunday Times and the Dossier Centre shows that Paleckis “provided Clare Daly with briefing documents outlining issues she should raise when speaking publicly about his prosecution”.

It’s not completely unusual for far-left and far-right politicians to share a political outlook. It is a demonstration of the so-called ‘horseshoe theory’ which is frequently on display in votes in the European Parliament. This is the idea that the far left and the far right frequently resemble each other.

Wallace was in attendance at a wine reception hosted by far-right Italian MEP Alessandro Panza when he made claims about owning restaurants in Dublin despite bankruptcy in 2016. Wallace had to explain how he claimed to own restaurants but didn’t explain why he thought it was appropriate to be supporting a political event organised by the far-right.

Democracy matters

Russia’s ties with the European far-right are well documented and Russian influence is too often downplayed. It emerged last month that two MEPs, members of the defence subcommittee, had their phones hacked by spyware.

The Russian modus operandi is summed up best by Timothy Snyder of Yale University in his book ‘The Road to Unfreedom’. He says that Putin has to show Russians how pointless democracy is by characterising European democracy as decadent, failing and artificial. There is a particular focus on migration, vaccinations and the LGBTQ movement.

The version of democracy that delivered 87% of the vote to Putin in this weekend’s Russian election involves suppression, incarceration and a fair amount of Novichok.

2024 will see democracy on steroids with elections bringing four billion people to the polls across the globe. The European Parliament elections in June are especially important. It is naive in the extreme to expect Russia to stay out of it — the Kremlin will look for ways, turbocharged by artificial intelligence, to support candidates and narratives that are most likely to deliver Putin’s agenda.

Barry Andrews is MEP for Dublin.

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