Dangerous liaisons: Moscow’s little helper

Inga Spriņģe (Re:Baltica)
Illustration: E.Rode un Miko
Inga Spriņģe (Re:Baltica)
Illustration: E.Rode un Miko

Latvian MEP Tatyana Ždanoka’s emails indicate that her assistant in the European Parliament was put forward by her contacts in Russia’s security service. 

“Tatyana, hello. This is Dmitry. Our conversation has had results. When do you plan to be in Moscow?” 

In the summer of 2014, someone known as Dmitry emailed Tatiana Ždanoka, a Latvian member of the European Parliament.

Ždanoka replied that there were no plans. If she were to be invited to “Solovyov’s or to another program, I will definitely come. It would be even better if Miroslav [Mitrofanov – a member of her party] was also invited. I am sending a link to his biography on the party’s website.”

“You read my mind. I wanted to ask for his details; there is an agreement,” replied Dmitry, continuing: “Second question. We discussed the possibility of taking on a student to you as an assistant. The candidature has been found. What documents are needed, and what steps should be taken? Thank you.”

Ždanoka replied that the “young man” should write to her official email address. 

Dmitry said that “it will be a girl”, and reported that Miroslav’s CV has been sent. He asked whether Mitrofanov was prepared to speak only to VGTRK —a consortium of channels, including Rossiya-24 and RTR-Planeta —  or whether Channel One is also suitable.

Channel One is even better,” replied Ždanoka.

A few weeks later, Ždanoka wrote that she and Mitrofanovs were traveling to Crimea on business. They would be traveling through Moscow, and perhaps they could meet then. 

“Of course”, replied Dmitry, and they arranged to meet “at the same Kofemaniya”.

Who is Yulia Satirova?

Half a year after the correspondence, Yulia Satirova officially became Ždanoka’s assistant in Brussels, according to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

Ždanoka, who chose to answer Re:Baltica’s questions live on the party’s social media profiles, said that Satirova’s parents are from Odesa. Satirova was there in 2014 when a clash of demonstrators and a fire at the trade union building killed 42 people and injured more than 200. The young woman allegedly was so affected by events that she decided to turn to politics. Satirova was studying in Frankfurt at the time, and the university paid for her internship, which was acceptable to the MEP.

Information found by Re:Baltica confirms Ždanoka’s statement. Satirova’s social media accounts show photos of protests in Odesa on the days of the fire at the trade union building in 2014.

Her relative, wearing a Soviet army boat on her head and a George ribbon on her chest at the 9 May celebrations, mentioned in an Instagram post that her parents were visiting from Odesa.

However, Re:Baltica also discovered that Satirova avoids publicity. This is evidenced by her sparse social network profiles and the content of Ždanoka’s emails.

After graduating from the Russian State University for the Humanities, Satirova studied in Germany or Austria. Her VKontakte photo album contains pictures of her — with long, bushy hair and a childish face that makes her look much younger — playing the violin in the orchestra of Vienna University in 2013.

But around 2015, when Satirova started working for the European Parliament, the posting of private images stopped. There are a few selfies, but mostly pictures of nature. There are no photos of her working on the EP, even though she worked there until 2019. On social media, she hides behind other names.

There are only a few links on the internet about Satirova’s connection to the EP.

In 2015, a Swedish NGO mentioned having contacted Ždanoka’s assistant Satirova to find out the progress of a petition of interest. In 2017, she and Ždanoka were listed as participants in a conference in Bulgaria entitled “Black Sea: cooperation or confrontation?”

It is no coincidence that there is so little online information about Satirova. In 2017, Satirova emailed Ždanoka with a draft press release for another discussion on the alleged violation of human rights in Ukraine. 

“I did not put my full name to the contacts, because I do not want to draw attention to myself for security reasons. If you agree, I would ask you to leave only my phone number without my name, even if you don’t usually do that,” Satirova wrote.

The third assistant

In 2018, when Ždanoka returned to Latvia to run for the Parliament elections, her associate Mitrofanov took over her mandate in the EP and also helped Satirova.

“Yes, she was my third assistant,” Mitrofanovs said to Re:Baltica. He said the young woman was looking for a job after completing her second university degree in Vienna. “She worked for Tatyana; I just ‘inherited’ her. (…) I imagine she could have used some connections in Moscow or elsewhere to find a job in the European Parliament.” 

According to a site found on Wayback Machine, in 2019, Satirova was also an assistant to Czech Communist MEP Jiří Maštálka. In 2016, he received a special award from Russian President Vladimir Putin for strengthening relations between the two countries.

Ždanoka’s deputy Miroslavs Mitrofanovs tells Re:Baltica that he does not know how Júlija Satirova got to Brussels and who is Dmitry who recommended her to Ždanoka. Photo: Anna Apīne

This practice — sharing assistants — is possible in the EP when the MEPs concerned are working on a common topic. When asked what it was in their case, Mitrofanovs looked confused.

According to Mitrofanovs, Satirova only worked for Maštalka for three months before taking parental leave. One of her last jobs was organizing an exhibition in Strasbourg on Latvian and Czech beer traditions.

Satirova did not respond to Re:Baltica’s questions sent via Facebook messages. Her profile states that she lives in Brussels.

In her long monologue on social media, Ždanoka did not answer the first of Re:Baltica’s questions: who is Dmitry, the man who asked her to hire Satirova as her assistant ten years ago?

As previously reported by Re:Baltica, Ždanoka’s first known FSB handler was Dmitry Gladey. However, several people are known to have used the email address from which the request to recruit the young woman came.

Mitrofanovs, who was supposed to go with Ždanoka to meet him, said he did not remember “Dmitry.” He claimed nobody had to organize his appearance on Kremlin TV channels because they kept inviting him themselves. 

Satirova is currently “sitting at home with her children,” Mitrofanovs told Re:Baltica

Satirova is not the only one for whom Ždanoka found a job in the EP. She also managed to get a job for her former associate Juri Sokolovski in the Greens/European Free Alliance group. He is still there working as an advisor. 

Author: Inga Spriņģe (Re:Baltica)
Editor: Sanita Jemberga (Re:Baltica)
Contributed by OCCRP ID
Technical support: Madara Eihe and Anna Apīne
Illustrations: Elizabete Zviedre and Emīls Miko Rode
English translation: Mihails Kulagins
English editing: Emily Tamkin

This article was originally published on rebaltica.lv. It’s the second of articles in a series on how Latvian MEP Tatyana Ždanoka worked for the Kremlin. Read also: How Latvian MEP served the Kremlin at home and abroad 

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Inga Spriņģe

Inga Spriņģe is an award-winning investigative journalist, former broadcaster, lecturer, and one of two founders of The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica based in Latvia. Springe is a member of the major international investigative journalism networks, ICIJ and OCCRP. She covers topics ranging from propaganda and disinformation to social justice.