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Schengen’s unity and security shattered amidst claims of Russian interference

How is a deportee from the Schengen Zone allowed to address a meeting at the European Parliament? What’s a ‘democracy activist’ doing supporting a campaign to bypass the ballot box and bring down an EU government? And why would a ‘human rights NGO’ hold a licence to supply weapons?

The strange case of Lyudmyla Kozlovska and the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF) throws up many, many unanswered questions. And what they point to are shadowy Russian links, weakened European security and damaged international relations.
The ODF, of which Kozlovska is president, was once awarded an export licence which included the right to supply military materiel to Russian-controlled Eastern Ukraine. It was quickly revoked by the Polish government, and the civil servant who issued it was questioned under caution about his links to the FSB, the feared successor to the KGB. Further, the ODF has reportedly received funds from a company which has supplied military equipment to the Russian government – and which has close links to Kozlovska’s brother.

Keeping things in the family, Kozlovska is married to the head of the ODF board, Bartosz Kramek. Kramek is a resident of Poland who famously called for civil disobedience to bring down that country’s government last summer. His Facebook posts  called for demonstrations, strikes and non-payment of taxes, as well as the creation of tent cities, the blocking of politicians’ homes and offices, and immunity for opposition members of parliament.
Kozlovska has claimed the posts – and her statements supporting it – are the cause of the SIS II notice banning her from the Schengen zone, which was triggered by the Polish government. Guy Verhofstadt MEP backed the claim wholeheartedly, although he apparently missed the irony when he tweeted that those campaigning for the overthrow of an elected government were ‘democracy activists.’

The European Parliament’s Brexit spokesperson is known for his wild tweets, and in another he claimed the founder of Leave.EU, Arron Banks, had ‘colluded’ with Russia on Brexit. But it’s Verhofstadt’s own links with Russia that are really interesting, given his vocal support of the ODF.

Back in March 2007, as Prime Minister of Belgium, Verhofstadt flew to Russia for low-key visits to Vladimir Putin and the senior management at Gazprom, the nationalised gas monolith. According to Belgian media reports, the press was not invited to accompany him at either meeting. All this followed an EU ruling the previous November stating that the assets of the Belgian company Distrigaz had to be sold – so allowing it to be targeted by Gazprom.

A deal was struck where the gas giant would make Belgium a regional hub for the storage and transit of Russian gas, in exchange for being allowed to buy the large chunks of the country’s infrastructure owned by Distrigaz. The benefit to the Russians of the deal was obvious: total ownership of the infrastructure in combination with their standard long-term supply contracts. Belgium on the other hand – as well as other countries supplied through the new hub – would be left completely dependent on the Russians.
Verhofstadt said he had ‘no objection if Gazprom should decide to acquire infrastructure from the Belgian gas distribution company Distrigaz… We are structuring the market so as to avoid unhealthy monopolies. Liberalization and diversification are key today.’ The suggestion that the huge, state-owned Russian monopoly was just another player in the free market is of course laughable, but the following month Gazprom duly announced plans to build a 0.5 billion cubic meter underground gas storage facility near Antwerp. The Belgian parliament was outraged and managed to block the plans. However, somehow Russia did manage to take away a valuable consolation prize: while the country supplied just 5% of Belgium’s gas at the time of the failed deal in 2007, by 2011 it was supplying 46%.

Verhofstadt is not a popular figure in Poland, and not only because he is seen as a friend of Gazprom (whose Nord Stream 2 pipeline initiative makes the country’s energy security extremely vulnerable). More pressingly, it was Verhofstadt who engineered the visa which made such a mockery of the SIS system. According to Article 6 of the Schengen Borders Code, all other Schengen territories must consider anyone with an SIS notice an ‘inadmissible alien’. However, in the self-destructive way that many EU laws operate, any country in the Schengen zone is allowed to grant a visa to these ‘inadmissible’ people. Kozlovska was not only allowed to visit ODF’s office in Brussels, but actually to make a star turn at the very heart of the EU, inside the European Parliament – at a meeting hosted by Verhofstadt.

The MEP had put the Belgian government in a very awkward position. The country had deported Kozlovska to Kiev in August, following SIS rules, only to be coerced into allowing her to re-enter the country the following month – as the guest of the very body which instigated the SIS system in the first place: the EU.

The UK of course doesn’t belong to the Schengen zone, but that hardly makes its decision to also grant a visa to Kozlovska any more understandable – especially as Poland has been one of the very few British allies during the Brexit negotiations. The slew of visas granted to Kozlovska since the deportation also includes Germany, where she was invited to speak at the Bundestag after intervention by MEP Rebecca Harms. In the wake of these abuses, the Polish government has posed the question of whether the Schengen zone can actually be said to still exist.

With such a clear and present danger as Lyudmyla Kozlovska allowed to jet around the EU seemingly at will, the SIS system has been reduced to a laughing-stock in global intelligence circles. However, no-one with an interest in the continent’s security can afford to chortle any longer.

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