Belgium Will Investigate Suspected Russian Interference in Upcoming EU Elections

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday an investigation into suspected Russian interference in Europe-wide elections in June, saying that his country's intelligence service has confirmed the existence of a network trying to undermine support for Ukraine.

"Belgian intelligence services have confirmed the existence of pro-Russian interference networks with activities in several European countries and also here in Belgium," said De Croo, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

De Croo said that Belgian agencies are working closely with the Czech authorities after a pro-Russian influence operation was uncovered there. He said that probe showed that members of the European Parliament were approached and offered money to promote Russian propaganda.

"According to our intelligence service, the objectives of Moscow are very clear. The objective is to help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and to reinforce a certain pro-Russian narrative in that institution," he told reporters.

Europe-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament.

De Croo said the "the goal is very clear: a weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield and that is the real aim of what has been uncovered in the last weeks."

EU nations have poured billions of euros into Ukraine, along with significant amounts of weaponry and ammunition. They've also slapped sanctions on top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, banks, companies and the energy sector since the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

But as the war has dragged on, with Russian troops appearing now to hold a slim advantage, that support has become increasingly difficult to sustain. Hungary, Putin's closest European supporter, has held up the delivery of funds to Ukraine and is demanding that peace talks be held.

Referring to the investigation by Belgian prosecutors, De Croo noted that "the cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference does."

"These are serious concerns and that is why I have taken action," he said. "We cannot allow this type of Russian menace in our midst. We need to act, and we need to act both on the national level and we also need to act on the EU level."

He provided no details about who might be under suspicion. Belgian authorities uncovered an influence-peddling operation at the European Parliament in December 2022 involving officials from Qatar. The government of Qatar has denied the allegations.