A French far-right member of the European Parliament has hit back at criticism of his decision to hire the daughter of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, in a row that has shown the level of tension between the EU and Moscow.
Aymeric Chauprade, a former member of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, branded some his fellow legislators “obsessionally Russophobic” and said he would be “severe” with those who did not respect his new intern Elizaveta Peskova.
Her father Dmitry Peskov has been one of Mr Putin’s top aides for almost two decades.
The appointment has been criticised for perceived potential security risks and conflicts of interest given EU sanctions on Russia. It comes as another possible dispute looms in the parliament over whether the EU should name a proposed regime to sanction human rights abusers after Sergei Magnitsky, the tax lawyer who died in pre-trial detention in Moscow in 2009. Deciding to do so would annoy the Kremlin.
The news that Ms Peskova has been working at the parliament since November — first reported by Radio Free Europe this week — triggered criticism and questions on social media.
Jovita Neliupsiene, Lithuania’s ambassador to the EU, blasted the decision to engage the France-based law student at the heart of the bloc’s institutions.
“New (ab)normal at European Parliament? Doors widely open to Putin’s clan…?” Ms Neliupsiene tweeted. “Wherelse? Whoelse? Is this the #EuropeOfValues?”
Mr Chauprade said in an email to the Financial Times on Tuesday that Ms Peskova was “perfectly qualified for an internship in a European institution”. It was a “form of discrimination” to focus on her family background, he said.
“I will be severe with the few deputies who do not respect this girl,” he said, adding that the suspicion reflected “obsessionally Russophobic” attitudes.
He denied that employing Ms Peskova as an intern for about six months constituted a security risk or conflict of interest, as neither she nor he had access to any confidential information.
“Miss Peskova does not work on Russia,” Mr Chauprade said. “She works on the geopolitical situation in other countries. Last week she worked on the presidential election in Senegal.” Ms Peskova could not be reached for comment.
EU relations with Russia have deteriorated since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, which prompted the bloc to impose economic sanctions. It added further measures after Russia’s capture of three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crews in the Azov Sea in November.
What we are talking about here is an ordinary student and a typical practice
Mr Peskov told journalists on Tuesday that he rejected claims that his daughter’s internship gave the Kremlin a foot inside the European Parliament.
“What we are talking about here is an ordinary student and a typical practice. I would not like to comment on anything other than that,” he said. “This concerns my daughter, this does not concern my official duties, my work.”
Mr Peskov is a former diplomat who has been Mr Putin’s spokesman since 2000 and his deputy chief of staff since 2012. His daughter is best known in Russia for her colourful Instagram account, which has documented her fashion shoots, dancing with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and parties with her father.
Another potential — if largely symbolic — Russia-EU flashpoint looms with a European Parliament debate due next month on the naming of the proposed EU human rights sanctions regime.
Bill Browder, the US-born investor who was Magnitsky’s client and has become a vocal critic of the Kremlin since the lawyer’s death, urged legislators to support using the lawyer’s name, as countries including the US and Canada had done.
“Magnitsky is kind of like a little proxy war in the EU — or a litmus test of where Russian influence has been able to achieve results, when it hasn't been able to elsewhere,” Mr Browder said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited . All rights reserved. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.