Czechs sanction Medvedchuk, website over pro-Russian EU political influence

FILE PHOTO: Viktor Medvedchuk

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government on Wednesday sanctioned two people including pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk and the news website for leading a pro-Russian influence operation in Europe, the Czech Foreign Ministry said.

Medvedchuk, who was transferred to Russia in 2022, had been covertly financing the Czech-registered Voice of Europe's influence operations ahead of this year's European Parliamentary election, including financial support for European politicians, the ministry said.

The pro-Russian influence campaign was aimed against Ukraine's "territorial integrity, sovereignty and liberty," the ministry said. The sanctions would help Czechia's security and "protect democratic conduct" during the impending European Parliament elections, it said.

Medvedchuk is a business magnate and former parliamentarian who was sent to exile in Russia in 2022 in exchange for Ukrainian prisoners of war. He was stripped of Ukrainian citizenship.

Also sanctioned over the same activity was Ukrainian and Israeli citizen Artem Marchevskyi, who led Voice of Europe under Medvedchuk's instructions, the ministry said, using the website to spread anti-Ukrainian propaganda and disinformation.

The government's sanctions list said Medvedchuk used the firm and Marchevskyi "in multiple EU member states for financing cooperation with journalists and for covert financial support for selected individual candidates in the European Parliament election, with the aim of supporting the foreign policy interests of the Russian Federation."

Reuters was not able to reach Medvedchuk or Marchevskyi for comment on the sanctions.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala told a news conference the sanctioned persons' activities were aimed outside the Czech Republic, to help Russia gain influence in EU countries and eventually in the European Parliament.

He said the decision to impose the sanctions was based on information from Czech secret service agency BIS.

BIS said on social network X that it had uncovered the activities of a Russian-financed influence network in the Czech Republic.

"The BIS action discovered how Russia uses influence on European Union member states' territory and how it tries to influence political processes in our countries," it said.

Being sanctioned entails the freezing of the financial accounts of the subjects involved.

Voice of Europe did not immediately respond to Reuters' questions.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Bernadette Baum)