27 May 2014

Hungarian MEP spying for Russia?

On 15 of May, the Chief Prosecutor of Hungary has sent a request to the chairman of the European Parliament to lift the immunity of Béla Kovács, MEP, member of the far-right Jobbik party. The spokesman of the Chief Prosecutor's Office has confirmed that "the Central Investigating Chief Prosecutor's Office is investigating a serious crime, but this inquiry is classified, so it is not public at all. That's why I cannot even tell what the crime is, I can only say it is a crime that the law punishes with a two to eight-year prison sentence." According to pro-government newspaper Magyar Nemzet, which has first reported on the case, the Chief Prosecutor's Office has been informed about the suspicion by the Constitution Protection Office (counterintelligence and state security service of Hungary) in early April. They received information about the activity of Kovács from foreign intelligence services. According to Magyar Nemzet, Belgian, French and Polish counterintelligence services were also working on Kovács. One fourth of the he Hungarian secret services staff has been working on the case for a year, even placing cameras and voice recorders on some streets. According to the informations of Magyar Nemzet, the accusation is "espionage against European Union institutions". 

EurActiv asked the EP services to comment how likely is it that Kovács may have had access to confidential information of interest to Russia in his activity as MEP. A spokesperson answered that she could make "an intelligent guess that yes". But she explained that the procedure of stripping an MEP of his immunity was lengthy. A spokesman for Schulz, Armin Machmer, told to Hungarian news agency MTI that the case would be only considered if Kovács was reelected. 

The unvelinig of Kovács was timed right before the European Parliament elections most probably in order to decrease the popularity of Jobbik (which is now on the second place after the ruling Fidesz party, according to opinion polls) among the voters. Béla Kovács was on the 3rd place on the list of Jobbik. Even the Penal Code was modified recently to include espionage against the institutions of the EU. Allusions to a MEP of Jobbik were made by ruling Fidesz already that time. 

Béla Kovács and Jobbik deny the allegations. Kovács has stated: "I have never been a member of any secret service, neither Hungarian, nor foreign, I have never collaborated with them and have not received any requests from them".

Kovács was reported to have traveled to Moscow each month and have met Russian citizens in a conspiratory manner. His wife, double Russian-Austrian citizen Svetlana Istoshina is said to be a former member of KGB. According to some sources, Kovács has kept the citizenship of his wife in secret in his autobiography. 
According to the European Parliament website, he is a member of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee and, a member of the delegation to the EU-Kazakhstan, EU-Kyrgyzstan and EU-Uzbekistan Parliamentary Committees, and responsible for relations with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia. Kovács is is also the president and treasurer of the far-right Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), according to its website. AENM was founded as a European political party in October 2009, in Budapest. The Alliance is said to be suspected of having clandestine links with Russia. According to certain informations, all the secret services of the participating countries (Hungary, France, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Bulgaria, UK, Spain, Portugal) have followed the movement and its ties to Russia. 

Kovács's Russian connections have already been brought to the attention of the public in an article by a Hungarian online news portal in 2010. The largest news portal Origo has published an article with the title: 'Jobbik is sending a mysterious businessman to Brussels'. The author there has emphasized that Kovács has studied and lived in Russia and has very good connections not only in Moscow, but also in Brussels. The leaders of Jobbik then said that they have made no security clearance but asked him some question about his life. They respect him as a very experienced diplomat. With his knowledge of 6 languages and good connections abroad, Kovács was quite out of line in Jobbik. He has told that he was enchanted by the enthusiasm of young people in the party. That is why he has joined in 2005, two years after he has returned to Hungary from Moscow.

Studies in Japan, salad bar in Budapest and alone in a committee

 

image by hvg.hu

Kovács, whose father worked in the diplomatic service, was born in Budapest, but after secondary school, he has lived in Japan for many years. He started his studies in politology and international relations at a private American university in Japan, but graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, which was known to have close ties with security services. Kovács states that he was not a member of the party and was not asked to collaborate with secret services. After returning to Hungary, he was working at a foreign trade company called Terimpex. According to Kovács, "it was not the best place" and he was offered work there because not being a party member, those in power "did not like him". In his opinion, it was also the reason for that on his 27-th birthday, one day after his wedding, he received call up to the army. After serving his time there, he left Hungary, because he was "fed up". After that, between 1988 and 2003, according to his CV, he was working in leading positions in various foreign trade companies in Russia and Japan. He returned to Budapest again in 2003, where he opened a salad bar which later failed. He was introduced to the Jobbik party in 2005 by a friend with whom they served together in the army. Kovács was willing to undertake much more work and sacrifice in the party as the majority of members. For example, he has created the Foreign Affairs Comitte, which had only one member for some time - himself.

KGBéla

Kovács with Aleksandr Zhukov, first deputy chairman of Duma
 image by Origo

He has devoted not only his time, but also his money to the party. (For example, building connections abroad, he covered his travelling costs and those of other Jobbik members travelling together with him.) Interesting, where did he get it from, as his bankrupted salad bar was still under liquidation in 2010 and according to the official state register, he did not have other companies. (Another question is, how could he recently buy a luxury villa in the vicinity of Budapest, although initially only owned an apartment in a block of flats.) He has even donated a gold Chrysler with leather seats to the secondary school teacher who has introduced him to the party. According to the information of news portal index.hu, he has also supported Jobbik with several million forints. It is not a significant amount of money for a party, but that time Jobbik did not receive much state financing. Therefore no one wanted to be inquisitive about the person of Kovács. However, he was not perceived as someone with genuine patriotic emotions, and his Russian connections were well known in the party, where he had the nickname "KGBéla".

Jobbik officials have earlier stated that the party does not use secret service methods to examine candidates for membership, so Kovács was not subjected to clearance, but they did have a long conversation with thim about his life. The Russian-friendly foreign policy of Jobbik became prominent after he joined the party. Although Kovács states that chairman Gábor Vona was the first who gave utterance to the idea that Hungary should open towards Russia to find there market for Hungarian products. But, of course, Kovács could make good use of his Russian connections. It was him who organized Vona's visits to Russia. Once he invited one of his fellow members to the inauguraton ceremony of Ramzan Kadirov, where, he said, he was officially invited. In 2013, for example, he accompanied Vona to a meeting with Leonid Kalashnikov, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committe of the Duma.

In the beginnig, it was not easy at all for Jobbik to build connections with organizations from other countries, as they did not even want to talk to them. However, Kovács managed to establish the Alliance of European National Movements, which currently has 9 member parties. Although Kovács is said to have helped their colleagues in Jobbik a lot, accompanying them everywhere and giving them advices, he remained in the background, being a relatively unknown politician in Hungary.

During their visit in Moscow in 2008, Vona and Kovács were hosted by Vasily Podvoysky, whose institution called Graduate School of Consulting is banned from several universities because of its occultist and esoteric views, which make it similar to scientology. One of the lecturers of this educational institution, Sergey Rykov, is the member of  the Academy of Military Sciences of Russia.

According to a former member of Jobbik, Vona and his party are being controlled from Moscow and Tehran. Some months ago, Hungarian secret services have prevented an Iranian investment (with Turkish mediation) in a Jobbik-lead town in East Hungary because of national security reasons.

What could he have done?


Assuming that Kovács did indeed cooperate with Russian intelligence, as a MEP he presumably did not have access to significant secret information. (Although pro-government media have reported that he handed over informations about the energy sector.) Instead of gathering information he could have better been engaged in influencing activity using his connections in EU institutions and promoting other Russian affiliated persons' career. And, first of all, creating an alliance of pro-Russian far-right parties in the EP.

The speeches of the EP representatives of Jobbik on EU foreign policy - which are supposed to have been written by Kovács - were supporting the Russian and other authoritarian Post-Soviet leaders, e. g. echoed Vladimir Putin's opinion on the Nabucco pipeline project.

Recently, Kovács has not only made statements supporting Russian actions in Crimea, but also participated in the Crimean referendum as an observer and evaluated the elections as absolutely legal. In Brussels, he was known as a lobbyst of Russia and the Gazprom.


Conspiracy


Kovács is said to have kept contact with such Russian diplomats, who were widely known in diplomatic circles as intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover. Despite of secrecy, pro-government televison programme Célpont has leaked some information about the conspiratory measures Kovács had to take when meeting with a former KGB officer who is still a working Russian agent. The signal they used was folders of red and green colour: red meant that the Russian contact person is under observation and Kovács should not approach him, while green folder was the signal for no danger. Going to their meetings, Kovács left his house with car, but later changed to public transport or taxi, presumably, to discover and get rid off possible followers. The meetings took place in Budapest or in other larger Hungarian cities. They were keeping contact via satelite phone and internet-based communication devices which they probably assumed Hungarian security services are unable to detect. (If not the Hungarians, then at least some other countries' counterintelligence services managed to do it.)

With Jobbik reaching 14,68% in the EP elections last weekend (second highest result after the ruling Fidesz party), Kovács has again received the right to represent Jobbik in Brussels. Meanwhile having been hospitalized, Kovács does not want to give up his mandate and plans to work in the energy committee.





9 May 2014

Ribbon of Saint George or Colorado beetle?

A new symbol of Russia's geopolitical aspires

The ribbon of Saint George (Георгиевская лента) - in Soviet times renamed as Guards ribbon - has been a symbol of military merit already in tsarist Russia. After World War II,  in 1943, the medal "For the victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945" with the Guards ribbon was avarded all the soldiers who have participated in the Eastern Front campaigns. This way, it became a symbol of the victory in WWII and since the 60th anniversary of the Victory Day in 2005, it can be worn not only by veterans and soldiers, but also by civilians. It has since been distributed all over Russia. As pro-Russian activists and the "small green men" in Ukraine wear it, it is now also seen as a symbol of Russian imperialism by Ukrainians sympathetic to Maidan and also in the Baltic countries. It is nicknamed "Colorado beetle" because the stripes are similar to those on the back of a Colorado potato beetle. Lithuanian newspaper Lietuvos rytas writes that Russia is exporting the ribbons to Post-Soviet countries. According to the statistics, in 2007, for example, more than 10 million Saint George ribbons were distributed in the whole world.  The main purpose of this symbol is action is to raise nostalgia for the Soviet empire.

photo by scanpix

It is thought that people who wear the ribbon want to express their support for the current foreign policy of the Russian Federation. These are mainly Russians, living in former Soviet states. In recent days, there were several incidents connected with the St. George ribbon in Lithuania. For example, well-known businessman and consultant Petras Kovas refused to sit in a taxi decorated with the ribbon of Saint George. When he called the centre of the taxi company asking for a taxi without the ribbon, the dispatcher told him that if he won't take that taxi, no other will be sent for him.


A Lithuanian blogger, Šarūnas Matulevičius (http://sarunasmatulevicius.lt/) has explored the source of Saint George ribbons in Lithuania: they are being distributed from the Russian embassy. The embassy also encourages to bring ribbons also for family members, friends and relatives. Information about where to obtain Saint George ribbons was shared on the Facebook page За правое дело. Русские Литвы, соединайтесь (For the Right Cause. Russians of Lithuania, unite) which is opposed to the Lithuanian state. They have written to have received a lot of questions, where to get Saint George ribbons. Indeed, there is nothing new. Already in 2010, the organizers of the Saint George Ribbon action have officially announced that huge quantities of ribbons have been sent to each Russian embassy and shared out to anyone wishing to have it. It was an extraordinarily succesfull action for spreading Russian soft power - or more exactly, Russian ideology - in the near abroad. As it was initially an anti-Nazi symbol, those who try to oppose it, find themselves in a difficult situation being labeled "Fascists" or "Russophobes", very similary to what has now happened in Ukraine, with all the supporters of the new Ukrainian government.

According to Nerijus Maliukevičius, a lecturer at Vilnius University and specialist of Russian information wars and Gintautas Mažeikis, professor of Vytautas Magnus university, any actions against the use of the ribbons would escalate tension which would be useful for the supporters of Vladimir Putin. Maliukevičius also drew attention to the reaction of Ukrainians whose family has suffered during WWII: instead of the ribbon of Saint George, which has become a symbol of Russian agression against Ukraine, they use the poppy flower as a sign of remembrance.

Meanwhile, another measure, also connected with WWII has provoked outrage in Lithuania. President Putin issued a decree about allocating supplementary benefits to "soldiers who took part in military operations liquidating nationalist underground movements on the territory of Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from 1944 to 1951". Armed resistance against Soviet occipation was most prominent in Lithuania. Special NKVD batalions have uprooted the partisan movement in especially brutal ways.

http://www.lrytas.lt/lietuvos-diena/aktualijos/kas-lietuvoje-platina-ukrainos-okupacijos-simbolius.htm

http://www.lrytas.lt/lietuvos-diena/aktualijos/kolorado-vabalu-virtes-vilniaus-taksistas-sokiravo-p-kova.htm

http://www.delfi.lt/pilietis/naujienos/zaliuju-zmogeliuku-uniformu-atributas-ir-vilniaus-gatvese.d?id=64659739

http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/issiaiskino-kas-lietuvoje-platina-georgijaus-juosteles.d?id=64694901

http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/georgijaus-juosteles-arba-pats-blogiausias-scenarijus-lietuvai.d?id=64703475

http://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/lietuva/kaune-ant-automobilio-mercedes-su-georgijaus-juostele-rusiskai-israizytas-uzrasas-krymas-musu-lietuva-irgi-56-424259?utm_source=15min_redirect&utm_medium=shortlink_redirect&utm_campaign=http://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/lietuva/kaune-ant-automobilio-mercedes-su-georgijaus-juostele-rusiskai-israizytas-uzrasas-krymas-musu-lietuva-irgi-56-424259

http://www.alfa.lt/straipsnis/16140172/georgijaus-juosteles-geguzes-9-aja-ne-drausti-o-perkurti#.U2tzaPl_s7t

http://kultura.lrytas.lt/istorija/sv-jurgis-v-putinas-ir-georgijaus-juostos.htm#.U2tzgfl_s7u

http://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/lietuva/56/425222/

http://www.diena.lv/latvija/zinas/georga-lentites-ceturta-dzive-14055176 

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/striped-ribbon-becomes-essential-accessory-for-pro-kremlin-crowd/496762.html