The Russian “elections” on the TOT in September 2023 helped to expose a whole network of agents of Moscow’s influence operating all over the world. Intelligence about the “foreign experts” involved in the “voting” in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine showed that they are related to each other. The investigation of “Realna Gazeta” is about these connections and about what exactly the efforts of the residency of the Russian Federation are directed at.
Oleksandr Bilokobylsky, RG
Who are these “foreign observers” that were abundantly quoted by Russian propagandists in September? – Many Ukrainian and foreign media asked this question. But the format of the articles was mainly reference. All of them were called to prove the obvious fact: the “international observation” of the “elections” was fake.
These people came without any authority from their states, had no surveillance qualifications and worked solely to create a media image. It is useful to repeat this over and over again, although it was already clear to a conscious person. But “RG” asked other questions.
How did these people get into the “election”? What did they do before, and how are they related to the Russian Federation? What weight do they have in international politics and their countries?
We have researched hundreds of sources in one and a half dozen languages. From them, an impressive picture of the global residency network, which works for Moscow in very diverse, but surprisingly coordinated ways, was formed.
There were 120 times fewer “observers” than in the Ukrainian elections
“International observers” announced themselves with dozens of comments already from the morning of September 8, the first of three days of the “voting”. Comments flowed through Telegram channels and central and local propaganda media of the Russian Federation.
From the words of these people (they were from both Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe) it was clear: the Russian “elections” in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine are completely democratic and comply with all norms. But there are several nuances.
The first of them (and the main one) is coverage. At these “elections” there were “more than 50 observers”, of whom 32 went to watch the voting on the TOT (ten – to the “DPR”, eight – to the “LPR”, and seven each to Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. For comparison: at the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2019 there were about 2,400 representatives of international institutions and governments of other states. Official representatives.
Once again: almost 50 times fewer “observers” came to a country three times the size of Ukraine. If we exclude those who were in the temporarily occupied territories, then there were 20 observers for the entire internationally recognized territory of the Russian Federation. This is 120 times less than in the Ukrainian presidential elections in 2019.
Another nuance is the legitimacy of “observation”. Most foreigners were presented as “independent journalists”, “directors”, and public activists. They did not represent the governments of their countries and international institutions. There were attempts to connect some of them with international organisations, but upon closer examination, it turned out to be a fake. On the other hand, some do have relationships and influence with certain governments.
We have researched the biographies of most of these “experts”. Each of them deserves a separate article, and they would be bestsellers no worse than the adventures of James Bond or Mat Hari. But we will dwell on only a few characters in order to show something more interesting: how the horizontal connections of the Russian network work abroad.
Prussian virtues at the service of Prigozhin
Let’s start with a respected German representative – Herr Volker Friedrich Karl Tschapke. He is the founder of the “Prussian Society of Berlin-Brandenburg”, which is described as far-right.
“Volker Tschapke and his deputy, Friedrich Buchholz, welcomed 900 guests to a New Year’s Eve reception at the Hilton Hotel on Sunday morning. There was management consultant Wilhelm-Karl Prinz von Prussia with his companion Olga Gamzina and Peter Bonisch, president of the Hoppegarten Union Club. The aim of the society is “to preserve and cultivate Prussian-Frederic ideas and Prussian virtues,” the German Berliner Morgenpost wrote 20 years ago, in January 2003.
He is still represented as the founder of this foundation. But the Prussian nobility did not prevent the hero Tschapke from working for Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the “troll factory” and the private military company “Wagner”. The most telling precedent was his participation as an observer in the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe.
In this African state, the Mugabe’s regime, which lasted for 30 years, was overthrown. The first free elections were the focus of many international organisations, which sent official delegations of observers. However, among these foundations was an unknown AFRIC (Association for Free Research and International Cooperation).
A candidate supported by the structures of Yevgeny Prigozhin won the election. Two months before the election, he lagged his competitor by 20%, and Russian political technologists made him the president.
“…and also helped contain the protest, preventing the opposition from removing the legally elected president. For which, as far as I know, our colleagues even received orders,” wrote the Russian director of the “PiteR” expert group close to Prigozhin, Alexander Seravin.
So, the small AFRIC delegation was one of the instruments of “restraining the protests”. International “experts” with fancy titles, who had to strengthen the credibility of the speakers, testified that the voting was fair, transparent and in full accordance with the principles of democracy. Although neither the observation methodology was made public nor the number of observers was sufficient to cover the precincts. (Reminds us of something, right?).
Several reports are devoted to these elections on the website of EDPE – European Platform for Democratic Elections. Based on the data of the investigations conducted by journalists from different countries, the authors claim that the fake observers, like the one created just before the Zimbabwean AFRIC elections, were connected to Yevgeny Prigozhin. (See, e.g., “Fake Election Observation as a Russian Election Interference Tool: The AFRIC Case Study“).
Investigators from the Russian Poligon.Media claim based on Volker Tschapke’s hacked correspondence that he received money from Prigozhin companies. For example, 1,000 euros for “consultations” on the organisation of a conference within the framework of AFRIC.
It is not surprising that in 2018 Herr Tschapke was an observer at the presidential election in Russia, which was won by Vladimir Putin. Volker Tschapke’s activities in establishing ties with China, however, are more interesting.
“Tschapke approves of China’s fight against corruption”, writes the state-run Xinhua news agency (2020). “As an international expert, he does not see an alternative to Xi Jinping”, reports the Ministry of Justice of the People’s Republic of China (2022). On the platform “South Asia for Human Rights”, Tschapke defends China against accusations of violating human rights, saying that the West must first look at itself.
Tschapke also previously dealt with at least some of his “election monitoring” colleagues at the TOT of Ukraine. The representative of India, Purnima Anand was with him in the Prigozhin mission in Zimbabwe. Anand and Tschapke were together at a week-long international online summit marking 100 days of the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020.
Together with them, there was the “politician from Cote d’Ivoire” Nathalie Yamb (at the last “elections” in the “DNR” it was said that she was from Switzerland), and the Brazilian Enrique Dominguez who this September “observed the elections” in the Kherson region.
President of the fake BRICS: “Putin is my guru!”
Purnima Anand had perhaps the most magnificent title of the entire foreign delegation at the “elections”. She was presented in reports as the president of the BRICS International Municipal Forum, and sometimes as the president of the BRICS International Forum. In her last guise, she was also an “observer” in Zimbabwe, the European Platform for Democratic Elections notes.
She regularly attends events in the Russian Federation, giving them a powerful international sound. She was at the Second Eurasian Women’s Forum (and the creation of the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance at it) in 2018, the SelfMama Forum in 2019, the International Cultural Forum in Ulyanovsk in 2020, the Technoprom Forum in Novosibirsk in 2022, and, of course, the St. Petersburg International economic forum…
The position of president of the BRICS International Forum supposedly allows her to comment on serious international issues. For example, the Egypt Independent cite Purnima Anand’s predictions that Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will join the BRICS very soon (although it quotes her interview with the Russian Izvestia). Also, this statement by Ms. Anand is quoted in a column by a BRICS researcher from Sichuan University on the website of the Global Times, the state English-language publication of the PRC (publisher – Zhemin Zhibao).
The visibility of Purnima Anand’s official status is supported by Russian propaganda. And it sometimes works – “news” from RIA Novosti gets reprinted even by Indian media.
But not all. After Mrs Anand’s “observation” mission to the “referendum” on the entry of TOT into the Russian Federation in September 2022, The Hindu became interested in her. After all, “India called on Russia and Ukraine to respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, pointing out that Delhi does not favour a referendum that will lead to redrawing of the maps of Ukraine and Russia,” the publication wrote. How then “India send its representative”?
Not a single authorised participant of the “referendum” – neither a “representative” nor an “observer” was sent by the Indian government to the temporarily occupied territories, The Hindu learned. And even more:
“BRICS does not have an organisation like the BRICS International Forum (BRICS-IF). All organisations under BRICS are intergovernmental organisations, and BRICS-IF is not included in the list of BRICS initiatives,” said the representative of the Indian side.
Journalists asked for an explanation from Mrs Anand herself – by phone because she was in Moscow at the time. And yes, she admitted that her organisation is not registered in BRICS but is only a “civil society initiative”. And they would like to register, “but there’s no BRICS secretariat where we can apply for this process” (whatever that means).
And then what kind of International Forum is this? There is no website for this forum, but there is a website for the BRICS+ International Municipal Forum, where Anand is named as an ambassador for India. In addition to three dozen foreign ambassadors, all other positions are held by Russians – from the head of the organising committee to deputies, heads of departments, advisers and the last assistant to the head (there are eight model-looking assistants and one seductive assistant).
From the page “About the forum” we learn that it is “an annual business forum that takes place in St. Petersburg with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Russian Cooperation and the Government of St. Petersburg.” And one of its four tasks is to “promote a positive image of the Russian Federation abroad.” We should also pay attention to the fact that we are not talking about the forum at all as a permanent organisation – but only as an event organised by the organising committee.
Interestingly, the ambassador of Venezuela is Hanlisbeth Velasco, who was an “observer” at the “elections” in the “LPR” this September.
Purnima Anand got into the orbit of Russia a long time ago. In 1989, she started working in the International Federation of Indian-Russian Youth Clubs, which she now heads. According to Anand, in 2013 she was awarded by Russian President Putin. She calls Vladimir Putin one of the three gurus in her life.
– I highly appreciate the initiatives of Russophiles to counter the Russophobic campaign and the interest in mutually beneficial humanitarian cooperation, she said in April 2023 at the Global Conference on Multipolarity with the participation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, “Orthodox oligarch” Konstantin Malofeev and the imperial-ideologue philosopher Alexander Dugin.
Residents reproduce by recruitment
And here is the story of how the long-established, old agency of the Russian Federation attracts fresh blood. The “observer from Romania” for the Luhansk region was a certain Camelia Dorina Pop. On the one hand, not much is known about her, and on the other hand, it is quite enough to draw conclusions.
She entered the public sphere in 2014, becoming the president of the public organisation APSARUE – the Association of Social Promotion of Friends of Romania in the European Union. According to the report, 30-year-old Camelia Pop had been living in Milan, in the north of Italy, for 5 years at that time. That association was created 900 kilometres away – in the southern city of Bari.
The city of Bari is a port, 200 kilometres across the Adriatic from it is the Balkan Peninsula, namely Albania. Bari is known for several high-profile operations by the Italian police when they arrested large mafia groups (dozens of people) involved in heroin smuggling and human trafficking from the Balkans. But this was not the only thing that attracted the president of the Romanian association in Italy.
The person who took the initiative to create a public organisation to promote the friends of Romania lives in Bari. This is Vito Grittani. You would know who he is if you read his book “Sitting Watching the World: A Life of Diplomacy” for 73 euros. He is a wheelchair-bound person who is involved in various international activities. For example, Grittani was a political adviser in Kosovo.
The role of Vito Grittani in the creation of the Romanian association is easy to understand at least from the fact that until recently the website of the Consulate General of Romania in Bari APSARUE had the e-mail address email@example.com (record number 93).
At the time of the establishment of the Association, Camelia Dorina Pop was represented as a commercial consultant. But in five years, in October 2020, she will be a final year law student at the University of the Romanian city of Oradea. And already in September 2021, she will attend a big event in Moscow as an escort for Vito Grittani, who is named as the founder of the International Diplomatic Observatory. This event was called the First International Scientific and Practical Conference “The Role of Civil Society in Ensuring Democratic Standards of Organisation and Conduction of Elections.”
It should be said here that Vito Grittani is also one of the “observers” at the “elections” held in September in the “LPR”, and a year before that at the “referendum” for the inclusion of “new territories” into the Russian Federation.
Even during the existence of the Romanian association, its founder managed to become an “ambassador on special assignments of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia.” Therefore, since 2016, he has been involved in propaganda in Italy – as the “ambassador of Abkhazia” met with the ambassador of Venezuela in Italy, expressing “support for the fraternal people of Venezuela”; went on an “official visit” to the unrecognised Transnistrian Moldavian Republic.
So, just before our eyes, the recruitment of a new agency by an old agent of the influence of the Russian Federation in the person of Ms Kamelia Pop is taking place. Although there are many more recruits. The Italian La Respublica calls Vito Grittani the organiser of the trip to the farcical referendum in September 2022.
Therefore, it is not surprising to see photos of him with other Italian “observers”. In Bari, he is visited by Pasquale Salatino, who “observed the elections” in the “LPR”. Together with another “observer” of the “LPR” Giorgio Deschi (also Giorgio Descovich Deschi), Vito Grittani participates in a TV discussion on “disputed territories of Eurasia” on Canale Italia.
The links of the worldwide chain combine “elections” on the TOT
Similar connections between almost all “observers” can be traced through open sources. Limited by the scope of the article, we cannot fit all the researched material into it.
In just one sentence, we mentioned Hanlisbeth Velasco from Venezuela, who is the “ambassador of the BRICS International Municipal Forum.” But there is a lot to tell about her – starting with her work in the government under President Hugo Chávez, a great friend of Russia, and ending with the fact that she is currently strengthening her state’s ties with China (just like the German “observer” Volker Chapke). In particular, Ms Velasco completed the “Chinese Bridge” course at Hubei University in Wuhan in 2023.
We did not tell in detail about Enrique Dominguez from Brazil, who was an “observer” at the “referendum” a year ago, and now attended the “elections” at the TOT of the Kherson region. He is a member of the Communist Party of Brazil, and in between trips to the temporarily occupied territories, he visited the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June.
Again, an example of the disguise of Russian structures as BRICS institutions: Dominguez talks about the “very soon” introduction of a common currency in the BRICS countries in the capacity of “adviser of the head of the BRICS Business Communications Support Foundation on international relations.” As you may have guessed, the mystical fund is in Russia, namely in St. Petersburg, on Moskovskiy Avenue. It is this Foundation that hosts the BRICS International Municipal Forum, where “observers” are Purnima Anand and Hanlisbeth Velasco.
The fascinating story of Katu Arconada (a.k.a. Israel Arconada Gómez, a.k.a. Katu Arkona) was not included in the text. Starting with a Basque extremist organisation in Spain, he fled to Latin America. In Brazil, he became close to the left-wing radical leadership of that country, as well as Nicaragua, Cuba, Guatemala, and Ecuador. In 2006-09 he lived between Brazil and Venezuela, then moved to Bolivia.
He was the chief of staff of the Minister of Communications of Bolivia, who also previously belonged to the Basque terrorists. Currently, he is called the “puppet master of Lopez Obrador”, the president of Mexico. From which he arrived in the occupied Zaporizhzhia region.
However, we can already draw a conclusion based on several cases, which we have discussed in detail: these are not isolated individual sympathisers of the “Russian peace”. Each of the “observers” is a node in the global network of agents of influence of the Russian Federation, scattered all over the world. Everyone is connected to other colleagues, and all together they are under the supervision of the Russian Federation.
Surprisingly, many of this year’s “observers” at the time of publication not only did not fall under the sanctions of Ukraine but were also not listed in the “Myrotvorets” database. But we are sure that it is only a matter of time.