Communist-led Setúbal town council under pressure

Allegedly pro-Putin association receives €30,000 a year

Communist municipality of Setúbal has paid out €90,000 over last three years

The almighty row unleashed by Expresso’s front page story last Friday continues to dredge up inconvenient truths on allegedly pro-Putin entities working in plain sight in Portugal and beyond.

According to Pavlo Sadokha of the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal the uncomfortable reality that Russian citizens are working with NGOs ‘welcoming Ukrainian refugees’ is ubiquitous.

The association sounded the alarm very early last month. The Ukrainian ambassador to Portugal, Inna Ohnivets, did much the same on CNN Portugal a week later. But it was only when Expresso ran its front page story that media sources sat up and took notice.

As a result, politicians from every quarter have been demanding inquiries, clarification, the removal of the Russians in question (which has finally happened).

As political commentator Luís Marques Mendes explained on his Sunday night slot, it was “a lack of good sense” to say the least to think Russian nationals should ‘welcome’ Ukrainians fleeing for their lives from a Russian invasion.

Now, SIC television news reveals that the specific association mentioned in the Expresso story has benefitted from €90,000 from the Communist town council of Setúbal over the last three years.

If it transpires that the ‘Associação de Imigrantes dos Países de Leste’ (Immigrants association of Eastern European countries) headed up by Igor Khashin really does have the ‘close links to the Kremlin’ alluded to, then this funding will be shown to have been a very serious ‘lack of good sense’.

Says SIC, the annual tranches of funding were approved unanimously by all political parties sitting on Setúbal council (that is, communists, socialists and PSD centre right).

And it seems more than likely that they go back much further than three years. The association has had a “cooperation agreement” with the council since 2005.

According to SIC, Pedro Pina – Setúbal’s councillor in charge of Culture and Social Action, described the association run by Igor Khashin (whose wife Yulia is employed by the council) as “essential and necessary for the proper functioning of the municipality’s service for immigrants, dubbed “Setúbal, Etnias and Imigração”.

Be that as it may, the council has now severed links with the association; Mr Khashin has been sought for commentary but proved illusive; his wife has been ‘transferred’ from her duties of ‘welcoming Ukrainians’, and investigations are indeed ongoing into the various allegations highlighted by Expresso.

For now, multiple entities appear to be trying to verify how much damage has been inflicted. The council refutes much of Expresso’s story – but it gels completely with declarations made by the Ukrainian ambassador and Association of Ukrainians in Portugal.

Luís Marques Mendes says this new controversy is “a great deal more serious” than the Russiagate data protection fiasco, uncovered in Lisbon last year.

In that case, the issue was administrative failing (albeit very serious), he said. In this latest story, the issue appears to be even more serious. “It was not an administrative failing (..)  it is almost wartime spying…” he said.

Mr Marques Mendes inferred that, certainly up till now, nothing Setúbal council has offered by way of explanation justifies its actions.

Councillors may have been able to work with Igor Khashin’s association until February 24, he explained. But from the moment Russia invaded Ukraine, eastern Europe “became divided.

“If Setúbal’s mayor doesn’t understand this it is because he is not a good mayor”, said Marques Mendes.

This controversy looks set to run a great deal further.

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