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Media investigation: Kremlin uses Russian Red Cross as propaganda tool, violating its tenets

by Martin Fornusek February 27, 2024 10:53 AM 3 min read
Russian Red Cross staff members. (RRC/website)
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The Kremlin uses state funding and appointment of loyalists to the Russian Red Cross (RRC) to mold it into a propaganda tool while violating its core principles of neutrality and independence, a joint investigation by a team of journalists published on Vsquare on Feb. 27 reveals.

The insights into the RRC's operations come as part of the "Kremlin leaks," a media investigation into secret documents of a Russian presidential administration official, Sergey Kiriyenko. The Red Cross investigation was co-authored by journalists from Delfi Estonia, Vsquare, Meduza, Expressen, and Paper Trail Media.

Russia allocated some 6.7 million euros ($7.3 million) to the RRC in 2024. According to the investigation, the funding is aimed at expanding the organization's activities in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

This is a clear violation of its rules, as only the International Committee of the Red Cross is allowed to operate in war zones. National branches of the Red Cross can work in other countries only with the permission of the hosting state, and Ukraine has not extended such permission to the RRC.

Russia's operations in Ukraine also include setting up controlled organizations under the Red Cross' name, such as the unrecognized "Donetsk Red Cross" or the "Luhansk Red Cross." ICRC has collaborated with the "Luhansk Red Cross" on humanitarian issues since 2014, the journalists said, citing an ICRC representative.

Russian state-controlled media then publicized these "humanitarian" activities to paint the occupation in a positive light.

"The Donetsk Red Cross organization replaces the runaway Committee!" Ekaterina Suhachova, a supposed representative of the "Donetsk Red Cross," said in a video published by the state-controlled TASS news agency.

According to a Ukrainian fighter who was released from Russian captivity, supposed RRC employees who had access to Ukrainian prisoners of war have insulted and abused the POWs, calling them "pigs," Meduza reported.

Under the leadership of Pavel Savchuk, a Kremlin loyalist who held a position in the pro-Vladimir Putin All-Russia People's Front (ONF) political group, the RRC has reportedly cooperated with sanctioned organizations involved in raising funds for the Russian military.

The RRC has also handed out awards for "humanitarian contributions" to companies creating weapons used against Ukraine. For example, the Avangard factory, which produces S-300 and S-400 missiles, was reportedly awarded by the RRC for increasing blood donations from its workers.

EU allocates almost $90 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Moldova
Counting today’s donation, the EU’s executive arm has devoted 923 million euros ($999 million) to humanitarian aid to civilians affected by Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine since February 2022.

The RRC's staff have made public statements in support of Russia's war, promoting Russian propaganda narratives.

"How can we talk about some kind of peace negotiations when Ukrainian Nazis are committing war crimes before our eyes," Nikolay Dobylev, the head of the RRC's Tver branch, said in a comment for local media.

"Let us wish them (Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine) courage, perseverance, and God's help! Victory, victory, victory on all fronts," wrote Irina Levina, who heads the RRC's Sverdlovsk department, in her public New Year's greeting.

The loyal RRC leadership also helps Russia to expand its influence abroad, namely within the international Red Cross network.

Savchuk was elected to the governing board of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the summer of 2022, allowing him to travel to Geneva headquarters.

The leaked documents reveal that Savchuk's role is to expand not only Russia's influence but also the use of the Russian language in the Red Cross documents. This is meant to bolster the status of the language in the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the investigation reveals.

Ukraine has sanctioned the RRC and Savchuk for their activities, the only country to do so to date. Ukraine's Ombudsman, Dmytro Lubinets, appealed to the ICRC to expel the RRC after the killing of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Olenivka in 2022.

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