Russia seeking dozens of European politicians and officials, including from Latvia, on criminal charges

  • 2024-02-13
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - Independent Russian website Mediazona has collated all the wanted notices from the database on the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry's website and discovered that Russia is actively seeking not only dozens of European politicians and officials on criminal charges, including from Latvia, but also numerous high-ranking Ukrainian military officials and hundreds of individuals whom investigators label as "foreign mercenaries" in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

In late 2020, a year and a half before the invasion of Ukraine, Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, established a special department for "denazification". According to his plan, employees of this department were tasked with investigating crimes related to the "rehabilitation of Nazism" and "distortion of history".

Initially, the unit did not play any noticeable role - it was involved in searching for individuals who posted photos of Adolf Hitler on the "Immortal Regiment" propaganda website, or unsuccessfully attempted to classify the demolition of a 1937 airport terminal in Yekaterinburg as "rehabilitation of Nazism".

Soon, the department shifted its focus to historical research: investigators across Russia collected materials and interviewed surviving World War II veterans, then demanded courts to recognize the mass murders committed by the German army as "genocide of the Soviet people".

Everything changed with the start of the war in Ukraine: "denazification" became one of the pretexts for the invasion, and Bastrykin's department quickly became overwhelmed with work.

By March 2022, for example, there was a case against Ukrainian journalist Dmitry Gordon, and press releases about fighting Nazism started appearing on the department's Telegram channel nearly every week.

After examining the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry's wanted database, Mediazona discovered that the result of these departments' work was hundreds of criminal cases against foreigners who are unlikely to ever visit Russia. Among them are Ukrainian military personnel as well as European politicians and officials who "rehabilitate Nazism" by deciding to dismantle Soviet monuments.

The Investigative Committee's efforts against what it perceives as "Nazism" extend to prosecuting Eastern European politicians, particularly for actions like dismantling Soviet-era monuments. In May 2022, following Alexander Bastrykin's directive, the Committee scrutinized the Latvian Saeima's decision to exit an agreement with Russia on preserving memorials, leading to the removal of Soviet monuments in Latvia, including a notable one in Riga's Victory Park.

In the aftermath of these demolitions, the Committee initiated cases over the destruction of burial sites but initially did not specify the individuals targeted. According to Mediazona, 59 of the 68 Saeima deputies who voted for the agreement's termination, excluding members of the "Harmony" party who opposed the law, have been placed on the wanted list.

Additionally, 15 Riga municipal deputies involved in the decision to dismantle Soviet soldier monuments (with a total of 38 votes "for"), and several other Latvian officials, including several who did not participate in that vote and Interior Minister Marija Golubeva - who was dismissed after allowing the rally in support of the monument where the police detained protesters - have also been targeted.

Russian police is also looking for Latvia's Minister for Agriculture Armands Krauze, Minister of Finance Arvils Aseradens, and Minister of Justice Inese Libina -Egnere. During the 2022 monument vote they were MPs (and likely were put on the wanted list back then).

Lithuanian officials are under similar scrutiny, with 25 individuals, including Klaipeda's Mayor Arvydas Vaitkus, his deputy, 13 city council members, officials, and two historians who supported monument demolitions, appearing in the wanted database. Six Vilnius city council deputies and the Minister of Culture, Simonas Kairys, faced similar persecution for dismantling a Soviet soldier monument.

Likely due to the demolition of memorials, Russia has also put up notices against Poland officials, including the mayor of Wałbrzych, Roman Szełemej, the director of the Institute of National Remembrance, Karol Nawrocki, and the Deputy Minister of State Assets of Poland, Karol Rabenda. In Ukraine, mayors and city council deputies of Lutsk and Rivne are also targeted.

The selection criteria for individuals targeted by Russian investigators for dismantling Soviet monuments remain unclear, largely due to limited details in the wanted database. Despite this ambiguity, the pattern emerges that European officials and politicians typically find themselves on the wanted list following statements and orders from Alexander Bastrykin.

At the end of 2022, Bastrykin directed his subordinates to focus on the authorities of Estonia, where a memorial featuring a T-34 tank in Narva and other Soviet monuments were dismantled.

Following this, for the first time in history, the head of another state - Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who had publicly supported the demolition of Soviet monuments, was placed on the Russian wanted list. Alongside her, the list also includes Estonia's Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop.