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Russiagate

‘This is almost wartime spying’

According to the Portuguese newspaper Expresso, Russians infiltrated the refugee support office of the communist-led municipality of Setúbal. Exhausted Ukrainians fleeing the war were welcomed in Russian and said to be asked questions like ‘where is your husband’ and ‘what is he doing in Ukraine’.


The two Russian nationals are Yulia Khashina and her husband Igor Khashin. Yulia is employed by the town council, her husband not. Yet it is Igor who appears to have been registering personal details of around 160 refugees on the computer in the office.


SIC television news revealed that Edinstvo (the Immigrants association of Eastern European countries) – headed by Igor Khashin – has benefitted 90,000 euros from the town council of Setubal over the last three years.


Early in April, Igor Khashin was also one of the names highlighted by Inna Ohnivets – the Ukrainian ambassador in Portugal – who alerted the media of the risk of espionage in allowing Russians receiving refugees who – in Igor Khashin’s case – are known to have close links to the Russian embassy.


According to Expresso, the 47-year-old Khashin has represented Portugal in Moscow at a world congress of Russian compatriots, where he signed a declaration agreeing with the annexation of Crimea and considering Ukraine’s Maidan revolution to be a coup d’etat.


The town council and its communist mayor Andre Martins, however, deny any irregularity in the registration of personal documents or that confidentiality is broken. Nevertheless, the council removed its Russian employee Yulia from processing incoming refugees until the controversy has been unequivocally settled and called for a full investigation by the Ministry of Interior.


The problem with this story is, that it is set against the PCP’s
(Portuguese Communist Party) support of Russia and its strong negative feelings towards Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.


Pavlo Sadokha – president of the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal – told CNN Portugal that the infiltration of pro-Putin Russians in NGOs, that support Ukranian war refugees, is not confined to Setúbal; similar reports are also coming out of Aveiro, Montijo, Gondomar, and Albufeira.


This controversy seems to be much more serious than the Russia-related data protection fiasco uncovered in Lisbon last year for which the Lisbon City Council was fined 1.2 million euros. At that time the council had been supplying the Russian embassy – targeted by demonstrations – with the names and contacts of the three dissidents behind the events.


‘In that case, the issue was administrative failing (albeit very serious)’ – says SIC political commentator Luis Marques Mendes – ‘this time it is almost wartime spying’.


Enjoy the week            Aproveite a semana               (pic PtRes/Público)