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Belgium investigates alleged Russian interference in EU elections

FILE - People walk under a banner advertising the European elections outside the European Parliament in Brussels, on Jan. 24, 2024.
FILE - People walk under a banner advertising the European elections outside the European Parliament in Brussels, on Jan. 24, 2024.

Belgium authorities are investigating suspected Russian interference in upcoming European parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday, after claims that lawmakers were paid to promote Kremlin propaganda.

De Croo added that Belgium's intelligence service has confirmed the existence of pro-Russian networks acting in several European countries, including Belgium, to undermine support for Ukraine.

"According to our intelligence service, the objectives of Moscow are very clear," he added. "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."

Moscow has previously denied similar allegations of attempting to sway Western elections.

The allegations come before polls on June 6-9 to elect a new EU Parliament. They also come as Ukraine's self-defense is at a critical juncture more than two years after Russia's invasion.

As promised aid has been held up in Western countries like the United States, Russia has maintained a slight advantage in the war.

"A weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield," De Croo said.

According to De Croo, the probe was launched after Czech authorities found pro-Russian individuals in Brussels seeking to influence lawmakers on adopting a pro-Kremlin agenda.

De Croo said that cash payments seemed to have been made outside of Belgium, but interference has occurred in Brussels.

A similar event occurred last year, when European lawmakers were accused of being paid to promote Qatari and Moroccan interests, an allegation both countries denied.

De Croo said, "We have a responsibility, and our responsibility is to uphold that every citizen's right to a free and safe vote can be maintained."

The prime minister has requested an urgent meeting at the European Union's Agency for Criminal and Justice Cooperation to discuss the matter and advise the EU's anti-fraud office to prosecute the case.

Some information for this report came from Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

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