Latvian lawmaker investigated as possible Russian spy by EU Parliament

The European Parliament has opened an investigation into news reports that a Latvian member of the assembly, Tatjana Ždanoka, has been working as a Russian agent for several years, officials said Tuesday.

The president of the European Union’s legislative body, Roberta Metsola, “takes these allegations very seriously,” her office said in a statement. Metsola is asking a parliamentary committee that handles the code of conduct for EU lawmakers to handle the case.

Russian, Nordic and Baltic news sites reported Monday that Ždanoka has been an agent for the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, since at least 2004.


Following a joint investigation, the independent Russian investigative journalism site The Insider, its Latvian equivalent Re:Baltica, news portal Delfi Estonia, and Swedish newspaper Expressen published a number of emails they said were leaked showing her interactions with her handler.

Expressen claimed that Ždanoka “spread propaganda about alleged violations of the rights of Russians in the Baltics and argued for a pro-Kremlin policy. In the EU Parliament, she has refused to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine.”

Metsola also plans to discuss the case with leaders of the political groups in the parliament on Wednesday. Ždanoka is an independent member of the assembly and is not aligned with any of its political groups.

A law enforcement officer stands guard near the headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service

A law enforcement officer is seen standing guard at the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, Russia’s main security agency, in Moscow on Jan. 31, 2021. Latvian lawmaker Tatjana Ždanoka has been accused by several European news sites of acting as an agent for the FSB. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)

The parliament declined to comment further on the issue and referred further inquiries to the Latvian authorities.

Latvia, a Baltic nation of 1.9 million people, and neighboring Estonia are both home to a sizable ethnic Russian minority of about 25% of the population due to their past as part of the Soviet Union. Over the past years, Moscow has routinely accused Latvia and Estonia of discriminating against their Russian-speaking populations.

Latvia and Estonia have vehemently condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, bolstering defenses on their borders with Russia.

Ždanoka did not immediately reply to emailed questions sent by The Associated Press on the accusations. Her representative, Zhanna Karelina, told the Latvian news portal Delfi on Tuesday that Ždanoka was currently consulting lawyers over the possibility of suing the four news outlets.

Posted on the European Parliament’s website, the resume of Ždanoka, aged 74, lists her as the president of the EU Russian-Speakers’ Alliance, a non-governmental organization, since 2007.

In Riga, Latvia’s security service, the VDD, said it was planning to probe Ždanoka’s alleged cooperation with Russian intelligence and security services.


In a statement, the VDD stressed that “until 2016 Latvia’s legislative framework did not stipulate a criminal liability for assistance to a foreign state or foreign organization which was drawn against the Republic of Latvia.”

“That is why the historical episodes published in media referring to 2005 until 2013 are not qualified as a criminal activity,” the VDD said.

Therefore, “it was not possible to call a person to criminal liability for such activities” in Latvia, the agency said, adding that Ždanoka’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.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the accusations against Ždanoka a “witch hunt.”

“Do you remember there was McCarthyism in the United States? How many people were arrested and jailed on charges of being connected to communists or the KGB? This is the same,” Peskov said. “We strongly denounce this. Of course, it doesn’t comply in any way with the so-called ideals of democracy in its interpretation that dominates now in Europe.”

Peskov’s daughter Elizaveta Peskova worked as an intern at the European Parliament for six months in 2018-2019, raising questions of security among several of the assembly’s lawmakers. Officials said at the time she had access only to public files.


Under the assembly’s rules, members of the European Parliament “shall be free and independent,” and they shall also “vote on an individual and personal basis. They shall not be bound by any instructions and shall not receive a binding mandate.”

The code of conduct, which is non-binding, requires that lawmakers “shall act solely in the public interest and conduct their work with disinterest, integrity, openness, diligence, honesty, accountability and respect for the European Parliament’s dignity and reputation.”

Legislators are also obliged to submit a detailed declaration of their private interests to the parliament and a separate declaration when they are aware that they might have conflicts of interest.


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