How a Russian Influence Group Infiltrated Cypriot Party Politics
In late April 2016, Agasaryan emailed Mirzakhanian a document titled “Resolution of the House of Representatives of Cyprus (Parliament) ‘On lifting sectoral economic sanctions against Russia.’”
It set out a plan to get a resolution passed that would describe EU sanctions against Moscow as “fundamentally contrary to the norms of international law,” and to drum up media coverage that would highlight the economic damage done to Cyprus by the loss of business with Russia.
The plan aimed to secure votes for the motion from “35-39 deputies” from Democratic Rally, the party of Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, and the communist party AKEL, a traditional ally of Moscow.
Dmitry Kozlov told OCCRP that the idea for a Cypriot resolution against anti-Russia sanctions came about after Agasaryan called him and mentioned a similar resolution that had just passed in Italy.
“After hearing of this I thought it would be a good idea to check with the parliamentarians of Cyprus [to see] if they share the same opinions and approach,” he said.
Kozlov said he then reached out to the leader of Cyprus’s AKEL party, Andros Kyprianou, but insisted he “did not lobby” him. Kyprianou, he said, also seemed interested in the idea of a pro-Russia resolution.
Then, he said, “As I was aware that such a resolution might take place, I called Areg and shared this information with him.”
On June 29, 2016, Agasaryan sent Mirzakhanian an email that included a preview of the draft resolution carrying the signature of the parliamentary faction of AKEL.
On July 7, a nearly identical resolution was passed in the Cypriot parliament , with just a few minor changes. The motion passed with 33 votes in favor — just short of the Russians’ goal.
Mirzakhanian appears to have had a tight grip on managing how the proceedings were covered: The day before the vote, he forwarded the details of several journalists from Russian state media and Russian outlet LifeNews for accreditation to Kozlov’s son, Dmitry.
The wooing of AKEL continued later in 2016, when the party’s leader, Andros Kyprianou, traveled to Moscow and met with Andrey Nazarov, the co-chairman of the business group Business Russia. Nazarov also chairs the Yalta International Economic Forum, an annual event promoting investment in the illegally annexed Crimea, which Kyprianou attended in 2017.
Credit: Photo attached to leaked email Kyprianou (far left), Dmitry Kozlov (second from left) and Nazarov (second from right) in Moscow in October 2016.
Sergey Kozlov also donated 15,000 euros to AKEL in 2016, making him the party’s seventh biggest donor that year. (He told OCCRP he had donated funds to “all political parties for charity purposes” during his 25 years in Cyprus.)
Kyprianou told OCCRP that Dmitry Kozlov had pressured him to meet Nazarov in Moscow, and that while there he had also met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He claimed he had been unaware that the resolution on Russia was coordinated by Mirzakhanian’s team.
Kyprianou admitted that Kozlov’s donation to AKEL “may have been a way to thank [us] for the resolution” but that “it wasn’t me they gave the money to.” He said he had attended the Yalta forum once, but declined a subsequent invitation to attend the Yalta forum because he was uncomfortable with what he saw there. “They had gathered there all the far-right movements of Europe,” he said.
The co-sponsor of the resolution, Yiorgos Lillikas, who served as minister of foreign affairs from 2006 to 2007, told OCCRP he had never heard of Mirzakhian, but that he backed the resolution to thank Russia for the support it had given to Cyprus in the past.
Dmitry Kozlov went further than just backing existing political parties. In 2017, he helped Russian interests on the island set up one of their own.
On June 14, 2017, over a month before Ego o Politis was officially registered, Agasaryan forwarded an email from Dmitry Kozlov to Mirzakhanian containing several attachments setting out the party’s positions.
“Areg, good afternoon!,” Kozlov wrote. “In continuation of our telephone conversation, I am sending you the main documents on the political party that we are creating. They include the main program of the party, as well as the reforms that we plan to carry out.”
Kozlov added that he and his associates had “met with a number of Russian deputies who support us” and said that “Mr. Lavrov” — Russia’s controversial foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, one of the main drivers of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — also “gave his blessing.”
Dmitry Kozlov told OCCRP he resigned from Ego o Politis soon after its creation, which came about following a suggestion by one of his “acquaintances.”
Proof that Russian interests were behind the creation of the party increased already-significant concerns about Russian political influence in Cyprus, said Transparency International’s Martini.
Credit: Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides welcomes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, in September 2020.
“We know that kleptocrats have tried to influence foreign elections to ensure they have people inside the government protecting their interests,” she said. “But revelations that Russian interests could have set up their own political party in Cyprus is even more concerning.”
Ego o Politis suspended its operations in November 2021 and was struck off the registry of political parties. Despite not contesting any election during its brief life, it managed to generate headlines in 2020 when it allegedly sought to have a statue of Vladimir Lenin that had once stood in Kyiv brought to Limassol.
While its official website was taken offline, the party’s Facebook page continues to operate. It frequently shares posts promoting the presidential candidacy of former Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides in elections scheduled for February 5. Christodoulides vetoed sanctions targeting Belarusian leader Aleksander Lukashenko, a crucial Moscow ally, in September 2020.
Data expertise was provided by OCCRP’s Data Team. Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.