MEP defending Russian occupation of Crimea joins European Endowment for Democracy board of governors

Thierry Mariani, a French MEP who defended the Russian occupation of Crimea (first to the right of the monument to the Russian occupiers of Crimea, pictured during one of his visits to the Ukrainian peninsula under Russian occupation) is now on the board of directors of the European Endowment for Democracy. Photo: Komsomolskaya Pravda 

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Thierry Mariani, a French MEP from the far-right National Union party, has joined the board of governors of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), Promote Ukraine reported. The organization calls its mission “to promote the values of freedom and democracy in the European Neighbourhood and beyond.” Support for the democratic activists is contingent on “adherence to democratic values, respect for human rights, and observance of principles of non-violence.”

The European Endowment for Democracy is based in Brussels and was established by the European Union in 2013. The Board of Governors of the organization consists of 43 members: representatives of 27 EU member states, Great Britain, Norway, the European External Action Service, a representative of the European Commission, nine members of the European Parliament (one of whom is Mariani), and three elected members of European civil society.

According to the EED website, the Board meets every six months and is responsible for the mandate, mission, and overall guidance of EED’s operations and development. It receives regular reports from the Executive Committee and the Executive Director.

That it now includes Mariani is outrageous.

Mariani is known for his active pro-Russian position, leading delegations on trips to the Russian-occupied Crimea, meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, stating that talking of Human Rights makes no sense, and, most scandalously, passing a resolution in French parliament to lift EU sanctions on Russia, and instead, calling to impose them on Ukraine, which he claimed was not implementing the Minsk-2 protocol.

As this protocol was propped up in February 2015 to stop the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, Thierry’s proposal boils down to sanctioning Ukraine for being invaded.

Mariani appears to have extensive financial ties to the Russian elite. He co-heads the Association of Franco-Russian Dialogue together with the former head of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin. 

As well, according to the Russian publication Vedomosti, Mariani is a member of the advisory council for CFG Capital. The investment fund itself was created by Pierre Louvrier, a Frenchman in Russian service, who has been doing business in Russia, but not in France, for a long time.

Among Mariani’s colleagues on the advisory council is Alexander Torshin, the first deputy chairman of Russia’s Federation  Council and the same person who voted for war with Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea.

The main issue is that this investment fund, together with the Marshall Capital company, created a special fund in 2014 with 2 billion euros for investing in Russia. The Marshal Capital company is owned by the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, who is considered one of the main sponsors of Russia’s statelets in eastern Ukraine, the so-called DNR (Donetsk People’s  Republic) and LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic).

According to Promote Ukraine, a number of MEPs opposed Mariani’s appointment. They note that the Frenchman will not influence the work of the fund, but the issue of access to information will become sensitive.

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Notably, the European Endowment for Democracy is recognized as an undesirable non-profit organization in Russia itself.

Mariani himself calls his appointment “logical” and said he intends to control how European money is spent.

Noteworthy in this respect is a visit of Edem Bekirov and Roman Sushchenko, former Ukrainian political prisoners of the Kremlin, to visited Brussels in January 2020 at the invitation of the EED, where they told European diplomats, parliamentarians, and officials their own stories of illegal detention by Russia and also informed them about other Kremlin political prisoners at the invitation of the EED.

It remains an open question whether such a trip of Crimean Tatar Edem Bekirov who was, like dozens of other representatives of this ethnic minority in the occupied peninsula, imprisoned on bogus charges and Ukrainian correspondent in France Roman Sushchenko, who was lured out to Russia and charged for espionage in a fabricated case,  would be possible again while the EED is under the oversight of Mariani.

This article initially mistakenly said that the Board of Governors is composed of 12 people; after clarification by the EED, it was corrected to state that the Board of Governors contains 43 members, of whom nine are MEPs and four – civil society representatives.

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