Lawmakers urge EU to sanction Putin associate for election interference
The bipartisan leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday strongly urged the European Union to sanction a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin over what they say are ongoing efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.
In a letter to Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s ambassador to the U.S., Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas), and almost a dozen other committee members pressed for the EU to impose sanctions on Yevgeniy Prigozhin.
Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s chef” due to the Kremlin’s use of his catering service for official functions, was indicted by former special counsel Robert Mueller for his efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections.
Prigozhin is the leader and main source of funding behind Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the troll farm that spread misinformation designed to favor the campaign of President Trump in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. elections. The Internet Research Agency was also indicted by Mueller.
Prigozhin has been linked to the mercenary organization The Wagner Group, which was sanctioned by the U.S. due to its support of Russian forces in Ukraine.
“We must thwart his malign global activities done at Putin’s behest and ongoing efforts to interfere in the domestic politics of democracies on both sides of the Atlantic,” the House members wrote of Prigozhin. “By working together and coordinating our sanctions policies against common adversaries, we can present a united front that stands for our shared values and deters further Russian attempts to subvert Western democracy.”
Engel described Prigozhin in a separate statement as an “enemy of democracy,” and called for both Prigozhin and the Russian government to be “held accountable” for election meddling.
Other members who signed on to the letter included Reps. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy and the Environment.
The letter was sent two weeks after a group of senators led by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a similar request to Lambrinidis asking that the EU sanction Prigozhin. The senators also asked that the EU stand “united” with the U.S. against Russia’s election interference efforts.
Facebook estimated following the 2016 elections that almost 150 million Americans were likely exposed to content from the Internet Research Agency ahead of Election Day. Mueller described the group’s misinformation campaign across social media platforms in his report as “designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States.”
There are already signs that Russia-backed groups will seek to interfere in the 2020 elections as well, with Facebook and Twitter recently dismantling an interference campaign based out of Ghana and Nigeria.