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How European “Friends of Russia” visited Crimea

European delegations to the Crimea. Who are these friends Putin’s “friends”?

Editor note. Perhaps they thought they will not be noticed. Well, they were wrong.

“A friends of Russia”. That means, Russia’s voluntary or involuntary acolytes, genuine or recruited. Kremlin spends a lot of money to support their network around the globe. They are needed to legitimize Kremlin’s crimes and to justify all the cases of Russia breaking the international laws. And in particular, to manifest the “irreversibility” of Crimea annexation to the world community, and to proclaim the “international identity” of the puppet regimes of Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics”.

Kremlin often uses a simple trick: a visits to Crimea by a supposedly independent (and in truth, completely loyal to Kremlin) delegations of foreign politicians, experts, public activists, etc. These visits are covered by a media as a visits by high profile representatives of the foreign countries, supposedly stating the recognition of Russia politics and Crimea annexation by the other countries. In just 10 months of 2018 we could find a whole chain of events in the open sources, which show how the ideas of Kremlin propaganda were spread.

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February 3rd to 9th a group of nine German members of nationalist right-wing populist “Alternative for Germany” party, which represents the federal lands of Berlin, Brandenburg and North Rhine-Westphalia, visited the occupied Crimea. The goal of this visit is to create an illusion of official Berlin recognizing that the “peninsula is a part of Russia Federation”, and to convince of lifting of anti-Russian sanctions.

February 15th to 17th in Yalta a so-called “Fourth International Agrarian Forum ‘AgroExpoCrimea’” was held, which was attended by a delegation from Veneto province (Italy), led by the head of Italian company “AgroVenice” Eliseo Bertolazzi.

This event was more of a propagandist nature than of any practical, as the meeting sides did not achieve any specific agreements, they merely declared their intents to develop cooperation. The only “international” agreement signed was a memorandum of cooperation and sharing of experience between the two Russian Federation-controlled companies: an illegally registered in Crimea “ExpoCrimea” and the Russian-Italian joint venture “Veneto Russia”, in fact a mere agreement between two Russia-affiliated companies, which makes this agreement even more negligible.

February 16th the visit of Benin delegation (that would be a country in Western Africa) ended. During the visit a representatives of the occupational government, including the “Minister of Agriculture of Crimea Republic”, and the members of delegation (including Abomey-Calavi city mayor Georges Bada) “reached the agreement about the further negotiations regarding the securement of trade of Crimean grain and floor in exchange of coconuts and pineapples  from Benin”. Still, in almost a year after the agreement the people of annexed Crimea have seen neither the coconuts, nor pineapples.

April 19th to 21st Crimea was visited by a delegation of German regional deputies from “Alternative for Germany” and “The Left” parties. A few members of Bundestag from “Alternative for Germany” were also present. Aside from those, some German businessmen were also present, who took part in the Yalta International Economic Forum, an event hosted instead of Ukrainian YES (Yalta Economic Strategy).

All in all, according to European media, Fourth Yalta International Economic Forum apparently visited over 600 of foreign delegates from 70 countries.

May 14th, the territory of temporary annexed peninsula was visited by a delegation of French city Marignane, headed with a former mayor Eric Le Dissès. Another members of delegation were: a vice mayor of Marignane in questions of education and young children raising Véronique Pradel, and a head of “Donetsk People’s Republic office in France” Hubert Fayard. During the visit “the head of Yevpatoria city council” Olesya Kharitonenko and the former mayor of French city Marignane Eric Le Dissès signed the agreement of inter-municipal cooperation.

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In August 2018 Crimea was visited by a “Slovakian delegation” headed by a member of Slovakia parliament Petro Marchek. The goal of delegation’s visit was to “study the situation in Crimea and to develop the cooperation between Slovakia and Crimea in the trade, political, cultural and humanitarian spheres”.

At August 4th approximately 50 members of the “Berlin-Moscow car rally of friendship: reached the temporarily annexed Crimea and met the “head of the State Council of Crimea Rupublic” Konstantinov. The organizer of the rally, a head of the non-government organization Rainer Rothfuß stated, that “Auropean media are stormed by the information of how Russia annexed the Crimea”, while he wants to “travel to Russia every year, and bring more and more people along”. He also stated that the is sure that “Russia will be perceived as a friend state, not the enemy of Germany”.

September 6th to 9th 2018 the territory of the temporary annexed Crimean peninsula was visited by a delegation of public activists from USA, consisting from 4 representatives of the US organiztion “Public Initiative Center”. During the visit, “delegates” visited Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol, also had a meeting with the representatives of “Crimean parliament”.

September 30th to October 5th Crimea was visited by a so-called “Norway delegation” to examine the social and political situation in the region. Delegation consisted from ten people headed with a Hendrik Weber, a head of public organization “Norway People’s Diplomacy” (who in truth is a businessman, in building materials trade). During the visit the “guests” from Norway visited Yelta, Sevastopol, met the deputy corpus of Crimea State Council, also had a meetings with the youth and public organizations.

According to so-called head of Crimea Parliament in questions of foreign relations Yuri Gempel, this is a third visit by a Norway delegation to Crimea, though previous visits had a different staff.

It’s getting more interesting though…

In the first half of 2019 Russia plans to open the “Crimea office in European Union” in Brussels. Andrey Nazarov, a co-head of the Russian Fifth Yalta International Economic Forum, stated that “a working group of European politicians, experts and public activists is working out the organizational matters”. And that they intend to add this office to the official register of the lobbyist groups in the EU structures. Aside from this, founders are hoping that “this organization will have an official status of lobbyist on the EU territory, which will let them to support the Crimean interests in European Union in a legal status”. In fact the Russian Federation wants to give a legal status to its agents under the cover of lobbyists.

According to the Belgian deputy Filip Dewinter, a leader of the “Vlaams Belang” party (translated as "Flemish Interest", this is a right-wing party which supports, well, the separatist ideas in Belgium), who is also a member of this working group, an office like this will help to “implementing the culture projects”, to overcome “a negative public image of the region”, would allow for “the implementation of business projects in Crimea by the European businessmen”, and would also help to counter the sanctions regime, as “the economic limitations approved by Brussels prevent the possibility of creation of the single economic zone from Vladivostok to London”.

The “honorary” Austrian senator Gerhard Dörfler (a representative of another Austrian right-wing party) stated that the registration in the “Transparency register of EU” would let the representatives “to work more effectively in EU, and also has some other advantages”. Dörfler emphasized that it will be possible to plan the meetings with the official representatives, to have the access to statistical data, and to take part in the meetings of expert groups of European Union. “Business relations with Crimea will be a major topic soon, as sanctions will not stay forever”.

According to the member of European Parliament Yaromir Kohlichek (this time not a right-wing party member, but a member of Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia), this initiative “may become a part of public diplomacy which would have a chance for normalization of relations, to add the tranquility to the situation around the Crimean peninsula”.

Founders consider that the initiative already has a support of acting European politicians. Which apparently should serve as a slow change of European stance regarding the Crimea status.

In addition, according to the co-head of the hosting committee Andrey Nazarov, the Fifth Yalta International Economic Forum from April 17th to April 20th 2019 will be (for the first time since 2014) visited by nearly 20 supposedly acting politicians, businessmen and public activists from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which supposedly will not only help to establishing of economic and political contacts with the region, but also will contribute to relations with Russian Federation. Considering the already mentioned representatives of “public diplomacy” movement, it is not hard to conclude that the visitors of temporary annexed Crimea will be separatists and radical right wing politicians, who are closely affiliated with Russia.

A co-head of the Estonian United Left Party Mstislav Rusakov (born in the Gremikha village of Murmansk oblast in Russia), who intends to visit this forum, stated that he is sure that Estonia and Russia should maintain the friendly and neighborly relations. He also made statements about the necessity of lifting the sanctions and restrictions against Russian Federation.

European Parliament member from Lavia Miroslav Mitrofanov, who was an observant at the so-called “referendum” in Crimea, also expressed his intention to visit the peninsula again, as he believes that “being together with Russia is a choice of a majority of people [of Crimea]”. That’s why he considers the annexation to be legitimate and intends to improve the bilateral relations.

Ukraine does not ignore the problem. That’s why Ukrainian law enforcers open the criminal cases against the “visitors” and inform the law enforcers of corresponding countries. Puppet politicians from European Union are aware that their names are added to the Myrotvorets Center database, which collect the names of everyone who breaks the Ukrainian laws and undermines its territorial integrity. That’s why they keep saying that the existence of such names “blacklist” indicate the lack democracy in Ukraine, making it unfit for the European integration. These are clearly the messages of Kremlin propaganda.

It is of particular interest that the acolytes of Russian regime in Western countries are mostly not that successful and esteemed in their own countries. Lacking the attention and respect in their homeland, they join the ranks of Kremlin minions voluntarily, or being motivated financially, and they spread the Russian propagandist messages whenever they are ordered to. Any claims by these supposedly European politicians are not taken seriously by any government, and they do not represent the official position of country at all. Still, this approach works well on Russian audience, who lack the access to the credible information and are right in the middle of the powerful informational influence (visits of delegates are virally spread by the social media, TV, radio and Internet media of all shapes and sizes). Thus, the prevalent majority of Russian audience is convinced that these visits indeed show some positive changes in the bilateral relations with this or that country.

In fact, a visits by these “friends of Russia” to occupied territories have the particular influence only in the Russian information space.

Yet the statements of politicians like these on the international discussion panels indeed hurt the international image of Ukraine, and they do have some resonance. It is hard to identify timely the hosts of such event, its participants, its financing sources, and a place where the event will be held. That’s why the counter efforts from Ukraine and its European friends are often late and are not always effective post factum.

In the last years the public image of Russia on the international arena is record-low. Thus, any event which is held under patronage of Russian Federation is seen in negative context and accounting for possible provocations.

Summing up, since Crimea is Ukrainian territory, international community deemed the Crime annexation to be unlawful and condemned The actions of Russian Federation, implementing the economic sanctions which are constantly revised and elevated. Despite any attempts of Russian political establishment to involve some of the Kremlin-financed puppet European politicians to the events for legalization of annexation, the official stance of Western countries remains unchanged.

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