BRUSSELS -- The daughter of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman works as an intern in the European Parliament in Brussels, and has unhindered access to various EU documents, RFE/RL has learned.
Yelizaveta Peskova, the 21-year-old daughter of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, serves as a trainee with Aymeric Chauprade, a French member of the European Parliament (MEP) who has publicly supported Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Peskova’s name appears on Chauprade’s official European Parliament (EP) webpage and Chauprade confirmed to RFE/RL that she is part of his team.
“Ms. Peskova is certainly the daughter of an important personality in the Russian Federation, but as a student, she does not have fewer rights than other young people to do an internship as part of her studies,” Chauprade said in an e-mailed comment.
He added that Peskova is not currently working in Russia, either for a state or private entity.
“Accordingly, there can be no conflict of interest in the exercise of my mandate as a Member of Parliament,” Chauprade wrote.
Chauprade is a member of both the EP’s foreign affairs committee and the subcommittee on security and defense, and he is part of the delegation of the EU-Russia parliamentary committee.
He was one of the international observers to the Moscow-staged referendum in Crimea following the Russian military takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014.
At the time, Chauprade called the referendum “justified,” a position at odds with the European Union’s. A UN General Assembly resolution supported by 100 countries pronounced the referendum invalid and confirmed the assembly's commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Several MEPs contacted by RFE/RL said they were unaware that a relative of a high-level Russian official was working among them in the EP.
Sandra Kalniete, a Latvian MEP from the largest parliamentary group, the center-right European People’s Party, considers her work there “negligence.”
“This is breach of general security rules of the European Parliament,” Kalniete said.
Petras Austrevicius, a Lithuanian MEP from the Liberal Group in the EP, called Peskova’s position there a “very big shame on the face of the European Parliament.”
“I couldn’t believe that Kremlin keeps its hand in the pockets and heart of the EU institutions,” Austrevicius told RFE/RL.
Reached by RFE/RL, a spokeswoman for Peskova said she could not confirm her employment at the EP.
As a trainee, Peskova has unhindered access to the European Parliament buildings in both Brussels and Strasbourg and can attend all committees and other meetings in the chamber.
Chauprade told French news agency AFP that Peskova cannot attend closed-door debates nor participate in the work of the EU-Russia parliamentary committee.
Since controls sometimes are very relaxed with few real checks, there is also the possibility to be present at gatherings of other political groups. She also has access to both the European Parliament intranet and the intranet of her MEP’s party.
But Chauprade emphasised that Peskova had no access to confidential documents.
EP interns are paid by the budget of the MEP, which is funded by European taxpayers. It is unclear how much money Peskova is getting, if any.
The MEP determines how much a trainee is paid, since the sum comes from the politician’s monthly allocation for staff -- around 25,000 euros ($28,389) per month. The maximum payment for a trainee is around 1,600 euros, though it is also possible for MEPs to employ unpaid trainees.
Peskova is one of numerous children of Russia’s political elite who reside or study in Western Europe and draw accusations of hypocrisy from Kremlin critics.
Her father, who has served as Putin’s spokesman for nearly two decades, has been the subject of several exposes by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny highlighting his wealth and expensive taste.
Peskova is a frequent user of social media with nearly 80,000 followers on Instagram, where she typically flaunts her glamorous lifestyle and claims to be based in Moscow, Paris, and Brussels.
While her social-media footprint does not appear to feature any photographs from the European Parliament, there are several photos of her visiting different Brussels landmarks.
An MEP is responsible for registering his or her trainee. To get a temporary accreditation pass, a one-page form must be submitted to the parliament’s accreditation office. The form contains basic information -- such as name, date of birth, and identification number -- and is typically approved within hours, people familiar with the system told RFE/RL.
The procedure requires an MEP and the trainee to sign a contract, as well as an application for the defrayal of expenses, a declaration stating that the trainee has health and accident insurance, and a declaration of honor in which the lawmaker states that the trainee has a valid permit to enter and stay in the EU for the duration of the traineeship.
It typically takes three weeks for those documents to be processed, after which the trainee gets a permanent accreditation.
Chauprade told RFE/RL that all necessary procedures were respected in Peskova’s traineeship.
“I repeat, this contract is validated by the Parliament and complies in all respects with the obligations in the matter,” he wrote.
Up until late 2015, Chauprade was a member of right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen’s National Front and was the party’s top candidate in the Paris region for the 2014 European elections.
Accusing the people around Le Pen of antisemitism, he quit the party to become an independent MEP before joining and subsequently becoming the vice-chair of the other right-wing populist group in the chamber, the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD).
That group also includes Italy’s Five Star Movement and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Knut Fleckenstein, a German MEP from the the center-left Socialist and Democrats group, said there should have at least been a public announcement that a person with political connections like Peskova’s had secured a position at the European Parliament.
“I would maybe think twice [about] what I would tell her,” Fleckenstein said.