A Russian parliamentary commission set up to investigate foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs and which the opposition decries as another tool for authorities to undermine the Moscow protests met for the first time on Friday.
The lawmakers on the commission have said that their priority will be to investigate whether the protests about the Moscow state legislature election may have been sparked by foreign interference.
“If necessary, we will prepare legislative initiatives to protect our sovereignty,” the head of the commission, Vasily Piskarev, said, adding that the body may call on law enforcement agencies to “give a legal assessment of these or other actions.”
‘Attempt to change the political agenda’
Since early July, thousands have been taking to the streets of the Russian capital every weekend in the country’s biggest protests in years to demand fair and free elections after the electoral commission banned opposition and independent candidates from running in next month’s city council election.
Police have arrested more than a thousand protesters including some prominent opposition figures such as Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and activist Lyubov Sobol.
Sobol, a 31-year-old lawyer who attempted to register but was barred from running in next month’s poll, told Euronews that “this commission was created in order to distract people from real problems.”
“This is an attempt to change the political agenda so that Russian television channels can say the protests were not created by Muscovites, but by someone from abroad. Obviously, that is not true,” she added.
Andrei Kolesnikov, a political analyst at the Carnegie thinktank Moscow Centre, concurred, arguing the latest political crisis is the real impetus behind the commission’s creation.
“The protests turned out to be too serious not be noticed or opposed,” he told Euronews.
“External interference is mythologem. (…) This is typical of the current government and typical of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, who believes that no one can take to the streets of their own free will: (for him) Maidan was organised by the US and so are these protests,” he continued.
Criticism of US embassy and Deutsche Welle
In a statement released earlier this week, the commission said that foreign journalists and diplomats will be invited to the meetings “to clarify” certain facts.
Some lawmakers have accused the US embassy and German news outlet Deutsche Welle, for instance, of publishing information in support of the protests.
“The propaganda of the West has been intensifying recently,” Vladimir Zhirinovskii, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said.
Andrey Isaev, deputy chairman of Putin’s United Russia party, said meanwhile that “Russia has been periodically accused of interfering in elections and in the internal affairs of other states for several years now. There was no real evidence of this.”
For Kolesnikov, from the Carnegie Moscow Centre, the real issue lies with the fact that the commission can recommend to law agencies that they punish some organisations and in particular “give them the undesirable status.”
“In that case, the organisation ceases to exist in the Russian Federation,” he flagged.
It is not clear which organisations, except foreign media and diplomatic missions, may be targeted but experts believe the commission could target opposition politicians who have been participating in the rallies.
“This commission cannot end with any significant result,” Sobol, gainst whom the commission would turn, said.
“As one of the leaders of the protests, I declare that I have no ties with abroad, that I have no foreign accounts or real estate. I live in Russia and care about the interests of Muscovites,” she added.