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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 February 2019

Pro-Russian journalist allegedly behind arson attack to stoke tensions in Ukraine

A German journalist and far-right activist may have organised a "false flag" attack to benefit Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the concert dedicated to 75th anniversary since Leningrad siege was lifted during the World War Two in Saint Petersburg, Russia. REUTERS 
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the concert dedicated to 75th anniversary since Leningrad siege was lifted during the World War Two in Saint Petersburg, Russia. REUTERS 

A far-right German journalist with links to Russia has been found responsible for carrying out “false flag” operations in Ukraine to stoke ethnic tensions, a court found.

In February 2018, in the Ukrainian town of Uzhhorod, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the headquarters of an ethnic Hungarian cultural association, causing a fire that destroyed most of the ground floor.

There were no casualties, but tensions flared up. The attack was quickly blamed on Ukrainian nationalists and the anger contributed to the increasingly fraught relationship between Budapest and Kiev.

Tensions between the two countries have been simmering since Ukraine passed a law in September 2017 banning the teaching of minority languages beyond primary school level. This prompted the Hungarian government to say that the law could cause the approximately 150.000 ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine to lose their right to use their native language, and has since effectively blocked Ukraine’s efforts to join the EU and NATO.

Almost a year later, a court investigating the attack concluded the operation had been intended to look as though Ukrainian nationalists were responsible, British newspaper The Guardian reported on Sunday. The main beneficiary of the fare-up of tensions was Russia, a starch opponent of both the EU and NATO.

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The German journalist, who had ties to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, has been identified as the Manuel Ochsenreiter. The plot also saw the involvement of three Polish extremists and a number of Kremlin-friendly Russian news outlets.

Michał Prokopowicz, a Polish far-right activist, told a court in the Polish town of Kraków that he was paid 1,500 euro (Dh 6,281) to organise the attack by Mr Ochsenreiter. Mr Prokopowicz then hired two associates, Tomasz Szymkowiak and Adrian Marglewski, to carry out the attack.

Mr Prokopowicz faces up to 12 years in prison for inciting terrorism, but the court has yet to press charges against Mr Ochsenreiter, who denies involvement.

While no evidence has yet emerged of direct Russian involvement, the journalist’s numerous ties to Russian media outlet are under investigation. Mr Ochsenreiter has been a regular guest on the Kremlin-backed news channel RT and had a regular column on the website of a thinktank, Katehon, run by Russian financier Konstantin Malofeev, who has been accused of supporting the pro-Russia insurgency.

The attack fits a pattern of low-grade, low-cost and deniable attacks committed by European far-right activists cultivated by Russian intelligence, as well as Russia’s broader plan to stoke up tensions for its own advantage by spreading fake news on social media.

Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin said on Facebook that the evidence emerging showed “the complexity and scale of Russian hybrid methods”.

“It’s time for Europe to think systemically of how they could counter Moscow, which is doing everything it wants in the territory of the free world,” he said.

Updated: January 27, 2019 06:58 PM

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