BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers are devoting tremendous energy to combating Russian efforts to subvert their political systems. So finding the daughter of one of President Vladimir Putin’s top aides in their midst has come as something of a surprise.
Elizaveta Peskova, 21, the Instagram-famous daughter of Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, is interning in the office of a far-right French member of the European Parliament, Aymeric Chauprade, the lawmaker confirmed. Peskova’s father has been a key shaper of Putin’s public image during nearly the entirety of Putin’s 19-years in power.
The internship has raised alarm among some members of the Parliament, who said they feared the security consequences of her presence in their institution and condemned the message it sent about their ability to stand up to the Kremlin — particularly ahead of May parliamentary elections that they fear Russia is targeting.
Some lawmakers said the internship fit into a pattern of Kremlin efforts to undermine the West, often with a twist of black humor.
“This is a very specific kind of trolling,” said Aleksejs Loskutovs, a Latvian member of the European Parliament who has worked on efforts to secure the Baltic nations from Russian threats.
Chauprade dismissed “conspiratorial Russophobia” among fellow lawmakers who have condemned his decision to hire Peskova. “Of course she’s the daughter of Mr. Peskov, but she’s also herself, a young student with a life to build,” he said.
Chauprade said Peskova is working full time for him in Brussels and Strasbourg, the two seats of the European Parliament. She is receiving an E.U.-funded paycheck of about $1,150 a month for an apprenticeship that runs from November through April.
“She’s involved in helping me to prepare files about international issues,” he said. “Last week she worked on the presidential election in Senegal. She helped me to prepare some documentation, some summaries and so on. That’s what she’s doing. Different issues in Africa and the Middle East.”
As an intern, Peskova has official access to the European Parliament buildings, meetings and some of its computer systems. No European Parliament intern has access to confidential documents, and neither does Chauprade, according to a spokeswoman for the European Parliament, Marjory van den Broeke.
The European Parliament does not require its members’ interns to be E.U. citizens, nor does it conduct security or background checks beyond any done by the lawmaker, van den Broeke said.
Some Russia hawks downplayed the security consequences of Peskova holding official accreditations, saying Moscow already has the access it needs.
“The incident underlines once more that there are close ties between the Kremlin and right wing Members of the European Parliament,” David McAllister, chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in a statement.
Chauprade — who traveled to Crimea in 2014 as an observer during a hotly disputed referendum that set the stage for Russia to forcibly annex the peninsula from Ukraine — has boasted of his Kremlin connections and advocated warmer relations between Russia and the West. As a foreign policy adviser to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, he helped broker connections to Moscow.
“Yes, definitely, I have good relations in the Kremlin, but I am not the Kremlin’s puppet, and I am not participating in a game of Russian influence or Russian soft power,” Chauprade said. He said that he had met Peskova’s father in the past but that he was not expecting a visit during the internship.
Peskova, who often uses her Frenchified name of Lisa as she documents her luxe life on social media, is among the best known of the Kremlin children. Her Instagram account, with more than 82,000 followers, is a paean to the escapades available to the Russian elite: fittings at exclusive Moscow boutiques; hugs with her father in front of Le Bristol, a Parisian temple to glamour; traditional lezginka dancing and partying alongside Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya, where she also learned how to shoot automatic rifles.
The news of Peskova’s E.U. internship comes amid reports that her father and his third wife are enjoying an ultra-affluent lifestyle, raising questions about what kind of benefits Peskov has gained from his close relationship to Putin.
With a knack for snark, Peskova has referred to her father with the tongue-in-cheek description “chief billionaire and thief of the country.”
Although she spends time in Moscow, Peskova also has roots in France, where her mother, Ekaterina Solotsinskaya, has lived since separating from her father. Peskova has written that she began studying at the French boarding school Ecole des Roches in 2010. Now she is studying law and international relations, according to Chauprade. She was briefly engaged to French businessman Louis Waldberg and has said she feels most at home among the French.
She even shares some of the French far-right’s anti-immigrant views. “The Champs-Elysees is packed with people from Arab and African countries” trying to take you for a ride, she wrote on Instagram in 2017. She added that she agreed with President Trump’s gibe that “Paris is no longer Paris.”
Peskova responded to an emailed request for comment by asking for a list of questions. A spokeswoman later followed up to say that “we can’t discuss it for now.”
Her father told reporters Tuesday that “we are talking about an ordinary student and an ordinary internship. I do not want to comment on anything else. This is about my daughter, and not about my job duties or my work.”
Peskova’s work arrangement was first reported by Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty.
Peskova is hardly alone among children of the Kremlin elite who have made lives for themselves in countries that have issued sanctions against their parents’ cohort. Andrey Yakunin, the son of former Russian Railways tycoon Dmitry Yakunin, is a British citizen and lives in London. Putin’s elder daughter, Maria, 33, lived in a wealthy Dutch village outside The Hague until 2014, according to Dutch press reports. (Peskov, speaking for the Kremlin, denied it.)
“Those who believe that patriots should study only in their own country either do not know history very well, or the figure of Peter the Great is not significant to them. It was this tsar who realized the importance of education abroad for the development of the state,” Peskova wrote in an Instagram post in 2016.
“Do you think she is the only Russian who studies and works in Europe?” Maria Katasonova, a friend of Peskova who led a public Russian campaign to back Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election, wrote in a WhatsApp message.
“The new generation is open to dialogue and establishing relations between Russia and Western countries,” she said. “And we are pleased to cooperate with those forces in France who are in favor of strengthening interstate relations, and not with those who aggravate an already tense situation.”
Peskova has found herself entangled in controversy before. She has spoken out against same-sex couples adopting children and showing affection in public. She faced allegations of plagiarizing parts of an article on education she wrote for Forbes Russia. She was mocked for visiting a Crimean shipyard in a designer dress to promote “patriotic business.” And she was the most prominent participant of a 2017 “council of bloggers,” hosted by Russia’s lower house of parliament, after the country’s most influential young writers declined to attend.
Chauprade said this latest controversy has been hard for his intern.
“Being raised in the Western world and at the same time being a Russian citizen, the way Russia is perceived in the world, this is difficult,” he said.
Ferris-Rotman reported from Moscow. Natalia Abbakumova in Moscow contributed to this report.