The KGB enters the European Parliament

On 29 March 2012 Latvian investigative journalist Leonids Jakobsons was violently attacked in Riga while he was accompanied by his eight year old son. He was shot in the face with a gas pistol and badly beaten. His son was terrified but unharmed. Reporters without Borders condemned the assault the following day, describing it as a murder attempt, by Stephen Komarnyckyj for EU Today.

Latvian politics is still affected by the country's soviet occupation and the corrupting influence of its neighbour Russia. Two years before the attack, a Latvian journalist and politician, Grigorijs Nemcovs had been murdered in an apparent contract killing. No one has ever been prosecuted either for the attack or the murder.

However, while there are no suspects in the case of Nemcovs, Jakobsons is certain who he holds responsible for the crime against him. 'I am certain that this assault was connected to my publications concerning Nil Ushakov. I have run kompromat.lv for fifteen years and never been assaulted despite publishing articles that were no less challenging. The savagery of the assault, the cuts on the face sends a concrete message to journalists: “Do not dare to challenge the powerful.”'

Jakobsons had revealed that Nil Ushakov, who is a pro Russian Latvian politician and was the mayor of Riga, was a Russian asset a year before the assault. kompromat.lv, Jakobsons investigative journalism site, had published email correspondence between Ushakov and a Russian agent Aleksandr Khapilov. Khapilov had allegedly tried to organise the assassination of Mikhail Saakashvili on 24 January 2004 when he was inaugurated as Georgia's president.

However, in a keystone cops meets the KGB moment, the car with the would-be assassins had crashed en route to the planned murder.

The email correspondence with Ushakov showed that Khapilov was offering financial support for Latvian politician's election campaigns. Ushakov was, in effect, seeking finance from Russian intelligence.

After the story appeared, Ushakov tried to crush Jakobsons through the courts but continued to act as the Kremlin's mouthpiece in Riga. He also opposed sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine in 2014. He visited Moscow in September 2014 and met with senior Russian politicians including Dmitri Medvedev to show his support. During the same month he also traveled to Washington to lobby the US on behalf of his Moscow masters.

Rather curiously The Guardian published a relatively flattering profile of him written by its Moscow based correspondent Shaun Walker on 15 June 2015 . The article inexplicably failed to address the links with Khapilov and put the best gloss possible on this problematic figure.

Corruption in Latvian politics is endemic and Riga council was suspected of long standing scams involving kickbacks to politicians. Ushakov's pro Russian “Harmony” was also linked to Parex bank which collapsed in 2008 after being comprehensively looted. The bank was connected both to Tambov mafia money laundering operations and the FSB.

Ushakov's shady affiliations would eventually catch up with him. In late 2018 a serious fraud involving transport procurements on behalf of Riga council was exposed. It transpired that as many as forty of Ushakov's associates had been hired on bogus consulting contracts. Ushakov resigned but ran successfully for the EU parliament.

Jakobsons frustratedly observes that ex mayor is still pursuing him through the courts and that “Ushakov is suspected of corruption. With regard to him being an agent he previously denied the veracity of my articles but now during the court case against me claims that they were all truthful. This is a paradox in the Latvian legal system; it has not held Ushakov to account while I have been persecuted through the courts for nine years because of my publications about him.. .”

Ushakov is effectively a Russian asset in the EU's legislative chamber and his career raises serious questions over both Latvia's and the EU's security policies and their ability to deal with agents of influence.


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Steve Komarnyckyj

Steve Komarnyckyj

Steve Komarnyckyj's literary translations and poems have appeared in Index on Censorship, Modern Poetry in Translation and many other journals. He is the holder of two PEN awards and a highly regarded English language poet whose work has been described as articulating "what it means to be human" (Sean Street). He runs Kalyna Language Press with his partner Susie and three domestic cats.

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