Leaked documents: Putin hijacked the Red Cross as a weapon of war propaganda

27.02.2024 15:30
Heidi Saar

The International Federation of the Red Cross is beginning to investigate allegations that have been leaked to the public, the Finnish Red Cross tells Yle. President Vladimir Putin's administration has incorporated the Russian Red Cross into its state propaganda machine, even though the aid agency is meant to operate independently and impartially in crisis areas.

According to Kremlin documents leaked to the Estonian news website Delfi and published in several European media, including Expressen and Vsquare.

The Russian Red Cross has received €6.7 million in funding from the state this year. This money will be used to set up four regional and 62 local organisations in the Russian-occupied areas of eastern Ukraine.

The Russian plans would violate the principles of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The movement's national organizations can only operate in another country with that country's permission. Ukraine has not given permission to the Russian Red Cross to operate in its Russian-occupied territories.

In addition, only the International Committee of the Red Cross is allowed to operate in conflict zones, and according to leaked documents, Russia is therefore seeking to supplant the ICRC's relief work in Donbas with its own Red Cross.

According to the European media, the Russian Red Cross would act there as a propaganda tool and a supporter of the war of aggression. Several of its leading figures have spoken openly in favour of the war.

The link between the Kremlin and the Russian Red Cross is the 29-year-old head of the aid organisation, Pavel Savchuk. He has also been active in the pro-Putin All-Russian Popular Front (ONF), which is on the EU sanctions list. The organisation's trademark is the Z symbol for war of aggression, and it equips Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

Savchuk has also worked for the Red Cross on international missions. According to leaked documents, the Russian Red Cross has sought to gain global influence through him. Contrary to what the ICRC thought, Savchuk appears to be still active in the ONF.

The information that has come to light is embarrassing for the International Red Cross, which has made few comments to the European media. 

Yle also asked the Finnish Red Cross for comment, which stressed that national organisations must respect the principles of the movement. The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) will now begin to investigate the allegations that have come to its attention. The IFRC has procedures in place to investigate allegations of violations of its principles and to sanction those found to have violated them, they told.

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