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EU parliamentarians on the Kremlin's payroll? Investigators say that's a reality

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

European Union Parliamentarians on the Kremlin's payroll? Investigators say that's a reality. Reporter Teri Schultz reports the EU Parliament is expected to pass a resolution tomorrow aimed at punishing those members who are helping Moscow ahead of European elections in June.

TERI SCHULTZ: The ominous warnings evoke the high tension of the Cold War.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER ALEXANDER DE CROO: We cannot allow this type of Russian menace in our midst.

SCHULTZ: Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo launched a criminal investigation after his intelligence service, working with its Czech counterpart, identified a Russian network based in Prague which allegedly paid EU lawmakers to push pro-Kremlin policies.

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DE CROO: The objective is to help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and to reinforce a certain pro-Russian narrative in that institution. A weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield, and that is the real aim of what has been uncovered in the last weeks.

SCHULTZ: Moscow considers that a good investment, says Ivan Klyszcz, with the International Centre for Defence and Security in Tallinn, Estonia.

IVAN KLYSZCZ: They often focus on sabotaging the logistics and the infrastructure that would actually let that support to Ukraine arrive in the country. In a way, it is a type of calculation, and this is what will have the most impact to further their aggressive foreign policy.

SCHULTZ: In addition to the Belgian and Czech probes, Poland, Germany and other countries are looking into Russian interference campaigns. Latvia has opened a criminal investigation against parliamentarian Tatjana Zdanoka. She was recently fined by the European Parliament for breaching rules related to declaring private interests and receiving gifts. But Zdanoka has defended her connections to Moscow, saying she is an agent, an agent of peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TATJANA ZDANOKA: It will be impossible to solve the conflict around Ukraine if the EU works against Russia.

SCHULTZ: Her seeming lack of remorse sparked outrage from some of Zdanoka's fellow EU parliamentarians like Marcel Kolaja, who even suggested her alleged collaboration amounts to war crimes.

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MARCEL KOLAJA: If you are an agent of peace, maybe the best for peace is that you ask your friend and ally Putin to remove his presence from Ukraine, and personally, maybe he could arrive in the Hague.

SCHULTZ: As investigations by national governments continue, EU lawmakers are pushing for additional controls in a toughly worded resolution expected to get approval Thursday. It specifically names some lawmakers, even noting that far-right German parliamentarian Maximilian Krah has been questioned by the FBI on suspicion of taking Kremlin payments. Nathalie Loiseau is one of the resolution's authors. She demands the European Parliament take a number of steps now, even though this legislature's mandate ends with Europe-wide elections in June.

But you only have two more months.

NATHALIE LOISEAU: And so what? What I heard from the Belgian prime minister is that some people were paid who are already members of the European Parliament, but also candidates and parties. We need to know who we are voting for. If there's a request for lifting parliamentary immunity of some of our members coming from the judiciary, let's meet in an emergency meeting, and let's do it.

SCHULTZ: As lawmakers were still negotiating the final language on this resolution, a new bombshell burst. German police arrested a parliamentary aide of Maximilian Krah, accusing him of spying for China.

For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS JOSS' SONG "TUNE DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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