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Moscow may be co-ordinating pro-Russian demonstrations across Europe to amplify pockets of support for its war in Ukraine, it has been reported.
In recent weeks cities including Berlin, Dublin, Hanover, Frankfurt and Athens have seen people take to the streets with Russian flags and vehicles emblazoned with the pro-war Z symbol that has become synonymous with the Kremlin’s forces in Ukraine.
Many of the marches have taken place at the same time, despite being hundreds of miles away from each other, prompting Russian experts to suggest they might be being coordinated by Moscow, according to The Times.
The experts told the newspaper that Russians living in other European countries may have been instructed by the Rossotrudnichestvo – a federal agency that works to the benefit of the country’s diaspora.
All protests have shared similar characteristics – hundreds of pro-Kremlin demonstrators waving the Russian tricolour, displaying the Z symbol and parroting pro-Putin propaganda about the war in Ukraine.
BELGRADE: A man holds up a photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Pro-Russian protest in Belgrade, Serbia, 15 April 2022
BERLIN: Several hundred people took part in a pro-Russian car parade through the German capital on April 3. The vehicles, decorated with Russian flags, drove through Berlin under the motto ‘No propaganda in school, protection for Russian-speaking people, no discrimination’
DUBLIN: A column of cars wave Russian flags on M50 in Dublin in a pro-Russian demonstration
In Serbia Friday, hundreds of protesters joined a right-wing gathering in support of Russia, carrying pictures of Vladimir Putin and T-shirts with the letter `Z’.
On April 3, a large pro-Russian demonstration of around 900 people in a 400-strong convoy passed through Berlin. One woman was arrested for displaying the ‘Z’, an act that is a criminal offence in some parts of Germany.
On the same day in Athens – more than 1,000 miles away – a similar demonstration was seen in the Greek capital. Both prompted outrage from residents.
Last Sunday saw more pro-Russian protesters take to the streets across Europe.
A convoy of cars and trucks draped in pro-Russian imagery drove through Dublin, Ireland. The Times, who analysed many of the number plates, found the cars belonged to a group of Russian expats who take part in annual parades in the city.
On the same day, 600 pro-Russians took part in a motorcade in Hanover, Northern Germany. Frankfurt saw 800 pro-Russians march after local authorities refused them permission for their own convoy.
The day before saw a pro-Russian rally in Limassol – known as the ‘Moscow of Cyprus’ for its large Russian population. Demonstrators pulled a Russian flag the size of a football pitch, The Times reported.
At the Dublin protest, participants denied the Z symbol was a pro-war symbol, instead saying they were marching against discrimination against Russians.
People wear T-shirts with letter Z during a protest against the Serbian authorities for voting to suspend Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council in Belgrade, Serbia, April 15
Protestors light flares during a protest against the Serbian authorities for voting to suspend Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council in Belgrade, Serbia, April 15
Demonstrators wave Russian and Serbian flags during a march organised by Serbian ultra nationalists organisations in Belgrade on April 15, 2022
In Limassol, organisers made speeches about how the Kremlin’s objective in Ukraine was to ‘denazify’ the country – a claim pushed by Putin and his cronies to justify his brutal military actions in the country.
Speaking to The Times, three experts agreed that it was likely, or at least possible, that the Kremlin was behind a concerted effort to organise such protests.
Associate professor of Russian politics at University College London Ben Noble told the newspaper that the Kremlin is concerned about the lack of support outside of Russia for his invasion. ‘Controlling those optics is something Russian authorities regard as an important thing to do,’ he said.
Mark Galeotti, an analyst and Russia specialist, said that top-down pressure from Moscow was to be expected. ‘[Rossotrudnichestvo] is precisely there to reach out to these expat and ethnic Russian communities, and clearly it is often used as a way of creating shows of support for Kremlin policy,’ he told The Times.
It would be particularly easy for Moscow to drum up support in countries with large Russian expatriate communities – such as Greece or Germany – Sam Ramani, an international relations expert at Oxford University said.
Cars with Russian flags drive along in a motorcade under the slogan ‘Against discrimination of Russian-speaking people’. In the background, a small counter-demonstration with pro-Ukrainian participants can be seen in Stuttgart, Germany, Saturday, April 9
Demonstrators stand with Russian flags in Kaufbeuren, Germany, Sunday, April 10, 2022
Pictured: The Z symbol is seen on the front of a Russian tank in Mariupol, April 15
The expert said it was ‘very possible’ that Moscow has ‘local stooges’ to organise pro-Russian and anto-western groups.
Friday’s rally in central Belgrade was organized to protest Serbia’s vote last week in the UN in support of Russia’s expulsion from the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Serbia remains the only country in Europe that has not imposed sanctions on Russia, but right-wing groups are angry that Belgrade voted against Moscow in the U.N.
Local media say that masked protesters lit flares and smoke bombs outside the offices of the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during the protest and placed a Russian flag on the presidency building.
Several similar protests have been held in Serbia since the start of the Russian invasion on Ukraine. Many Serbians remain loyal to Russia, convinced that Moscow was provoked by the West to launch the invasion.
Anti-western sentiments in Serbia stem from a 1999 NATO air war that forced Belgrade to give up control of the Kosovo province.
Belgrade has enjoyed Russian support in trying to retain a claim on the territory, which declared Western-backed independence in 2008.
Source: Daily Mail