November 29, 2023
By Carl Schreck, Maja Zivanovic and Riin Aljas
VIENNA — Just two days before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko addressed the lower chamber of parliament on what would become the Kremlin’s initial steps to annex territory in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
His introductory remarks included accusations that Ukraine was “sabotaging” negotiations held by the Trilateral Contact Group consisting of Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the 57-nation regional security body based in Vienna that currently finds itself in crisis amid Russian vetoes ahead of a key ministerial council meeting on November 30.
Rudenko was intimately familiar with the OSCE, whose leadership immediately condemned Russia’s invasion two days later, and not just because he had previously served as a senior Russian envoy to the organization.
At the time of Russia’s invasion and the trilateral negotiations, Rudenko’s wife was serving as a senior political and administrative assistant in the OSCE secretary-general’s office. This gave her access to high-level OSCE meetings, events, and information, according to one EU diplomat.
Russian Vetoes, Ukraine, And A Paralyzed OSCE
The OSCE, which makes decisions based on full consensus of its 57 members, has seen its work paralyzed by Russian vetoes. Due to Russian opposition, the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine was shut down following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The mission had operated for eight years after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed armed separatists in the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas in 2014.
Ahead of a November 30 meeting of the OSCE’s Ministerial Council in Skopje, North Macedonia, Russia has also refused to accept the only formal candidate for the organization’s 2024 chairmanship, Estonia, with which Moscow has long had tense relations.
Western officials and governments have accused Russia of acting as a saboteur of the OSCE and abusing the organization’s consensual politics.
Rudenko’s wife, a Kyrgyz-born woman named Saltanat Sakembaeva, is one of several Russian citizens whose employment with the OSCE has raised concerns over the Kremlin’s inside access to the executive body of an organization that has played a central role in monitoring Russian
aggression in Ukraine and attempting to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv, an RFE/RL investigation has found.
These individuals include career Russian diplomat Anton Vushkarnik, who served for four years at the Russian Embassy in Washington and gave a Capitol Hill briefing backing Moscow’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
E-mails obtained by RFE/RL show that Vushkarnik, who currently serves as a senior strategic adviser in the OSCE Secretariat, sent a U.S. congressional staffer a YouTube video likening Ukrainian politicians to Nazis, as well as messages claiming “homosexual authoritarianism” is “threatening America” and using the homophobic slur “f*gs.”
Meanwhile, a woman who served as an interpreter for Russian President Vladimir Putin during talks with then-U.S. President Donald Trump is currently employed in the Vienna Liaison Office of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly.
The former interpreter, Daria Boyarskaya, specifically received that assignment from the Kremlin in order to distract the U.S. leader, according to an ex-White House official.
The placement of figures close to Putin’s government within the highest echelons of the OSCE has led to public and private accusations of Kremlin influence-peddling and sabotage in what is supposed to be a neutral international body.
Sakembaeva, who returned to Russia five months after Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, “had access to a significant amount of restricted material, which through her marital relationship she could easily pass to her husband [Rudenko],” a former colleague in the OSCE Secretariat told RFE/RL.
For reasons of personal security, Sakembaeva’s former colleague, as well as diplomats and other sources currently or previously employed by the OSCE or its permanent missions, agreed to speak with RFE/RL on condition of anonymity.
The OSCE secretary-general’s office, headed by Germany’s Helga Schmid since 2020, told RFE/RL that all of the organization’s officials, “regardless of their nationality or contract type, are required to represent solely the interests of the OSCE and are subject to the Code of Conduct, which is publicly available.”
“Although we cannot discuss individual cases, we assure you that the OSCE takes any potential breach of the Code of Conduct extremely seriously, and consistently applies the proper internal procedures when addressing alleged violations,” OSCE spokesman David Dadge said in an e-mailed statement.
The Diplomat’s Wife
In June 2022, four months into Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine, Sakembaeva attended a party at the Russian Embassy in Vienna celebrating the Russian holiday honoring its declaration of sovereignty from the Soviet Union.
Photographs from the event show her together with Russia’s permanent representative to the OSCE, Aleksandr Lukashevich, a former Foreign Ministry spokesman who has defended Russia’s war of aggression at the organization and accused Washington and its allies of trying to “usurp” the functions of the OSCE Secretariat.
At the time of the event, Sakembaeva had been serving as a senior political assistant in the OSCE secretary-general’s office in Vienna for nearly 15 years, having taken the job in 2009, when she was a citizen of Kyrgyzstan.
A former colleague of Sakembaeva’s at the OSCE described her as “super friendly and sociable.”
“Everyone wanted to be friends with the secretary-general’s office so they could get promoted. She, in turn, was also actively socializing with people at all levels in all positions. She had the perfect opportunity to insert herself into all kinds of issues and situations, and the possibility to collect all kinds of information,” the former colleague said.
Sakembaeva’s future husband, Rudenko, arrived in the Austrian capital in 2011 to assume the role of Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the OSCE. He was 14 years her senior, and he and Sakembaeva hit it off; her still-active Facebook page shows the two dining out.
In May 2014, not long after Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, Sakembaeva purchased a 92-square-meter apartment in a century-old building on a quiet side street in Vienna’s third district, a short walk from the city center, documents obtained by RFE/RL show. At the time of purchase, she gave her address to the Austrian property registry as that of the sprawling Russian Permanent Mission in Vienna.
Sakembaeva was granted Russian citizenship in August 2014, and she and Rudenko were married a month later at the Russian Embassy in Vienna, other records obtained by RFE/RL show. The following July, Sakembaeva renounced her Kyrgyz citizenship. Multiple people who worked with Sakembaeva say she was quiet about her marriage and change of nationality.
Before Russia’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations in 2020, Sakembaeva adorned her Facebook profile photo with a St. George’s ribbon, a Kremlin-backed emblem of patriotism, and the “75 Years of Victory” slogan commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany. Since Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014, both symbols have become deeply politicized to express loyalty to the Russian state and avid support for its invasion of Ukraine.
In 2016, Rudenko returned to Russia to take up a series of high-ranking positions in the Foreign Ministry, leaving his new wife at their Vienna apartment. His first job was as director of the department responsible for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine — all countries of significant focus for the OSCE at the time.
What Access Did Sakembaeva Have At The OSCE?
The European diplomat who spoke with RFE/RL said Sakembaeva had access to information about the activities of the OSCE’s SMM in Ukraine and the Trilateral Contact Group, which was formed with the goal of facilitating a diplomatic resolution to the armed conflict between
Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. The group was made up of representatives from Ukraine and Russia, with the OSCE acting as moderator.
“Sakembaeva was also present at meetings about other conflicts involving Russia in Moldova, Georgia, and the South Caucasus,” the diplomat said.
The diplomat added that Sakembaeva also took part in official delegations, ministerial council meetings, as well as OSCE Security Days, which are “high-level meetings between OSCE representatives and top officials from foreign ministries.”
“All OSCE staff must sign a confidentiality clause, but there is nothing that could technically stop someone from copying valuable information from the OSCE network or their computers,” the ex-colleague of Sakembaeva said.
Eighty percent of an OSCE job involves talking with others, the ex-colleague said, adding that Sakembaeva “could very easily simply have passed on information to her husband in a phone call after work.”
“As an OSCE staff representative, Saltanat was a very clear case of conflict of interest. She had access to all the key positions in the Secretariat, including several generations of OSCE secretary-generals, the OSCE chairmanship, and the OSCE Conflict Prevention Center management,” said a European diplomat with one of the permanent missions to the OSCE.
Even as tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated, Sakembaeva remained in her position with the OSCE Secretariat, which did not appear to have an issue with her employment.
“Saltanat’s job was to organize meetings, travel, and print out communications,” Sakembaeva’s former OSCE colleague told RFE/RL. “It was an administrative role, but she was always treated as something more. As Russia consistently blocked many important decisions, having a person with direct access to a high-level official in the Russian Foreign Ministry might have been seen by the OSCE as an advantage.”
According to OSCE staff regulations, officials are forbidden to “use, disseminate, and/or publish information known to them by reason of their official position, except in connection with the discharge of their functions.”
The former colleague said Sakembaeva likely informed her employer about her change in circumstances, as a failure to do so would be a violation of OSCE regulations, adding, “The question is, why wasn’t she moved to another, less sensitive, department?”
Sakembaeva continued to work in the OSCE’s top office until July 2022, five months after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist and an expert on Russia’s security services, told RFE/RL that “it is absolutely clear” that operatives with the counterintelligence directorate of the Federal Security Service “would have been in the know about Sakembaeva’s remarkable career, and they would not have missed the chance to exploit it.”
“Even if she was not recruited as an actual agent, she certainly would have been someone who at some point might have been ‘asked’ to do something — such as accessing sensitive information — and she wouldn’t have had the option to say no,” Soldatov said.
Sakembaeva and Rudenko did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the Russian Foreign Ministry or Russia’s permanent mission to the OSCE.
For several years now, former Russian diplomat Anton Vushkarnik has served in senior expert and advisory roles within the OSCE secretary-general’s office. But in the corridors of the refurbished two-century-old palace in Vienna’s historic center that houses the Secretariat, some of Vushkarnik’s colleagues quietly refer to him by a nickname alluding to Russian intelligence services: “the Colonel.”
According to a joint report by Der Spiegel, German public broadcaster ZDF, and Austria’s Der Standard published in September, multiple intelligence services and diplomats from a range of countries believe Vushkarnik — who was not identified by name in the joint report — works for Russian intelligence, though RFE/RL found no clear corroborating evidence of this.
One U.S. government source in Washington, however, told RFE/RL that Vushkarnik had been of greater interest to U.S. intelligence than the average Russian Embassy employee.
In 2017, then-OSCE Secretary-General Thomas Greminger decided to establish a so-called Strategic Policy Support Unit (SPSU) within his office. A Swiss national, Greminger wanted the SPSU to be a place to bring together experts from Russia and the United States, as well as the EU and Switzerland. The Russian Foreign Ministry put forward Vushkarnik, 52, as its preferred candidate to represent Russia, and Greminger accepted.
Many of the OSCE member states did not understand the tasks and goals of the SPSU, and it was seen as going against the spirit of the OSCE as an inclusive organization, according to two current European diplomats posted in permanent missions to the OSCE.
In one e-mail, he suggested that the Russian dissident art collective Pussy Riot, members of which were incarcerated at the time for staging an anti-Putin protest inside Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral, “are simply not happy in their sexual life” and “simply need a good f**k.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have such a capital [sic] punishment in our criminal law,” Vushkarnik added.
In other e-mails, he wrote that he had been “thinking about homosexual authoritarianism threatening America.” In still another, he downplayed homophobic legislation enacted by Putin, saying that other countries “can legally kill f*gs or send them [to] prison.”
In one 2012 e-mail to Parker, Vushkarnik suggested the respected independent Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta “should consider to move out to Warsaw,” adding that “it would be better for them and for everyone else.”
Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Novaya gazeta suspended operations amid pressure from media regulators. Its journalists moved to Latvia and set up Novaya Gazeta Europe, which Russia added to its government list of so-called undesirable organizations in June 2023.
Of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Vushkarnik wrote to Parker: “One thing about Stalin is that with him [the] Russian state was at its highest. I am convinced without this guy we would never launch [Soviet cosmonaut Yuri] Gagarin in outer space, though it happened a bit later. Yes he kinda fucked Russia, but [the] Russian soul is feminine by it’s [sic] nature.”
Parker declined to comment on the e-mails when contacted by RFE/RL.
For his role as a senior adviser, Vushkarnik was seconded by and paid for by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Critics were not only unhappy that Russia — which by that time had invaded Georgia, occupied Ukrainian territory, and was refusing to withdraw from Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniester — had been invited at all. They were also concerned about a lack of transparency over the selection of the unit’s representatives.
Vushkarnik’s appointment to the SPSU came after a decades-long career in the Russian Foreign Ministry. Notably, from 2011-15 he had held the post of congressional affairs director at the Russian Embassy in Washington under Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
In his embassy role, Vushkarnik defended the sale of Russian arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at a briefing on Capitol Hill. He also sent to a U.S. congressional staffer openly homophobic e-mails, as well as links to a video supportive of Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and to a screed by Fyodor Dostoyevsky claiming that “all of these Slavic tribes” are “haters, envious people, slanderers, and even outright enemies” of Russia.
By 2018, Vushkarnik held a foreign-policy-planning post in the Russian Foreign Ministry and was meeting with Belarusian Foreign Ministry representatives in Minsk for a round of Belarusian-Russian interministerial consultations on foreign policy. He took up his post with the OSCE at some point after that.
After numerous meetings within the OSCE moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vushkarnik regularly attempted to join discussions related to the armed conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine, including meetings with the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine and discussions on the Trilateral Contact Group, a senior diplomat within one of the permanent missions to the OSCE in Vienna said.
“He was spotted regularly joining Zoom events people like him were not supposed to participate in,” the diplomat told RFE/RL.
Vushkarnik was also involved in another of Greminger’s projects, the so-called Cooperative Security Initiative (CSI). Founded in mid-2019 while Greminger was still at the OSCE, the CSI website describes the initiative as “a group of political analysts based in Vienna who are concerned about the need for a more cooperative approach to security and the inability of states
to effectively use existing cooperative security organizations, like the OSCE, to resolve conflicts and work together on issues of common concern.”
In an August interview in Neue Zuercher Zeitung, a Swiss publication, Greminger indicated a possible resolution to Russia’s war in Ukraine would be for Kyiv to “temporarily cede occupied territories to Russia.”
A spokesperson for Greminger said the former OSCE secretary-general was unavailable for comment.
When Schmid took over as OSCE secretary-general in December 2020, she abolished the SPSU. But Vushkarnik remained in her office, still seconded and paid for by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Other questions are being raised about Vushkarnik’s relationship to the Russian Mission.
RFE/RL has obtained photographs showing Vushkarnik on two separate occasions using a BMW 5 Series with an license plate beginning with “WD-54,” the alphanumeric code for vehicles used by Russian diplomatic missions in Austria. An OSCE source said he typically parks near the Hofburg palace in Vienna, home to the OSCE and around a 10-minute walk from the OSCE Secretariat. The photographs obtained by RFE/RL show Vushkarnik and the vehicle at that location.
Although he is internationally seconded and his salary is covered by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Vushkarnik is not accredited with Russia’s diplomatic mission in Austria, but rather is an international staff member of the OSCE. As such, he is required to abide by the OSCE staff regulations and code of conduct, though his position as a senior official within an international organization does grant him privileges and immunity.
Salaries are regulated and money transfers are not made directly from governments to seconded staff. OSCE staff must report all work-related contacts with their national governments, as well as all favors and gifts of over 40 euros.
Vushkarnik In Estonia
Anton Vushkarnik worked at the Russian Embassy in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, from 2001-05, according to internal records maintained at the Estonian Foreign Ministry, a tenure that spanned the run-up to and finalization of Estonia’s membership in NATO in 2004.
Russia fiercely opposed NATO membership for Estonia and other European states formerly dominated by the Soviet Union, and the Kremlin bolstered its staffing levels at its Tallinn embassy during the period in which Vushkarnik served there.
Intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover were given distinct assignments, often involving support for local ethnic Russian-minority organizations with pro-Kremlin affiliations, according to annual reports of the Estonian Internal Security Service (KAPO) from this period. Their tasks included influencing elections, KAPO said.
A KAPO annual report from 2004 said that heightened and systemic activity of Russian intelligence in Estonia came in the first half of 2003 and second half of 2004, leading to the expulsion of two Russian Foreign Intelligence (SVR) officers working under diplomatic cover.
The same KAPO report added that Estonia’s accession to NATO “only increased and intensified the interest of Russia’s military intelligence toward Estonia.”
A former senior Estonian intelligence officer told RFE/RL that during the years Vushkarnik served at the Tallinn embassy, approximately one-quarter of Russian diplomatic staff may have been affiliated with Russian intelligence.
“A car is a significant asset which a person does not have to pay for, and this is a clear conflict of interest,” a senior diplomat with one of the permanent missions to the OSCE told RFE/RL.
“Possibly it may be part of his secondment contract, but again, this indicates how close he is to the Russian Mission,” the diplomat added.
In July of this year, the Austrian European and International Affairs Ministry sent an official letter to the OSCE Secretariat’s office informing it that the Austrian police had flagged Vushkarnik for multiple traffic violations.
Vushkarnik was caught driving more than 130 kilometers per hour in both an 80-kilometer-per-hour zone and a 100-kilometer-per-hour zone, the letter seen by RFE/RL states.
Vushkarnik also refused an alcohol test after police suspected he was driving while intoxicated due to the “distinct smell of alcohol.” The ministry said it “reminds” the OSCE that “all persons who enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunity” are required to obey the laws of the country and that “in this case, they are dealing with serious traffic offenses that caused extreme danger to road safety.”
Vushkarnik, who remains at his OSCE post 21 months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, did not respond to a request for comment.
Daria Boyarskaya, a native of Kaliningrad, first attracted international attention in June 2019 when she served as an interpreter for Putin at his meeting with then-U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 in Osaka, Japan.
A national-security adviser for Trump, Fiona Hill, later said publicly that the Kremlin had specifically handed this assignment to Boyarskaya, whose social media posts have featured numerous images of herself posing in glamorous photoshoots, in an attempt to distract Trump.
“We know that this was the case because there had been somebody else on the list, a man, intended to translate for that particular session. And at the very last minute the Russians swapped out for the other interpreter,” Hill said in an October 2021 interview with Good Morning America, adding that Boyarskaya was an “excellent translator.”
“It was clearly intended to draw attention, because President Putin made a big point of basically introducing President Trump to the interpreter, which was something he didn’t normally do,” Hill, the co-author of a biography of Putin, added.
Boyarskaya was previously employed at the Russian Foreign Ministry and frequently accompanied Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on trips abroad, including Putin’s talks with former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton in 2018.
Putin also employed Boyarskaya during a meeting with then-President Barack Obama in China in 2016. Concurrently, she had worked off-and-on since June 2010 as a Russian-to-English interpreter for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s (PA) annual sessions in various locations.
A little over a year after the Trump-Putin meeting in Japan, a vacancy announcement briefly appeared on the OSCE PA’s website recruiting “an adviser to join its Vienna Liaison Office” to “primarily assist” Secretary-General Roberto Montella and other senior staff.
The job listing said the successful applicant should be “a fluent Russian speaker, with years of experience as an interpreter, as well as in multi- and bilateral diplomacy,” and that they should have experience working with stakeholders from OSCE member states across the former Soviet Union and a minimum of five years’ experience working in a national parliament or government.
The advertisement was a match for Boyarskaya’s profile, and she was subsequently hired for the job.
Delegates to the OSCE PA who spoke with RFE/RL, however, complained that Boyarskaya’s hiring and later promotion was not transparent — and that her track record was anything but an asset.
Since Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, the OSCE PA has unequivocally condemned Russian aggression in Ukraine, and Boyarskaya’s employment by the Russian Foreign Ministry — and in particular her work as Putin’s personal interpreter — is seen by some OSCE parliamentarians as insensitive at best or a security risk at worst.
Boyarskaya took up the post in February 2021 — almost seven years after Russia occupied Crimea and fomented war in eastern Ukraine.
In a letter to a Latvian delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly who had publicly criticized her appointment, Secretary-General Montella defended Boyarskaya, writing that “we are proud to have been able to hire her — notably before Russia’s military aggression and invasion of Ukraine.”
Delegates and diplomats from several Eastern European countries were outraged that Montella was apparently ignoring the previous seven years of hostile Russian actions in Ukraine.
In September 2021, Boyarskaya was promoted to the head of the OSCE PA’s Vienna Liaison Office. She was also given the responsibility of “deputy special representative.” In her position she is required to “maintain diplomatic as well as operational contacts, cooperation and
coordination with the permanent representatives of the OSCE participating states and all decision-making bodies of the OSCE.”
Normal procedure in the OSCE requires vacancies to be announced publicly in order to avoid charges of unfair hiring processes. But Boyarskaya’s new role was simply announced in an internal newsletter titled News From Copenhagen, where the OSCE PA is headquartered.
A source within Montella’s office told RFE/RL that Boyarskaya’s position as head of the liaison office and deputy special representative was not advertised.
A list of job vacancies for the OSCE PA’s international secretariat posted on the organization’s website still shows the now-closed adviser position that Boyarskaya was originally hired for in 2020, but does not show a listing for the head of the Vienna Liaison Office position that she later assumed.
Responding to a list of questions about Boyarskaya’s hiring and promotion, OSCE PA spokesman Nat Parry said in an e-mailed statement on behalf of Montella that “these issues have already been discussed and clarified internally with the OSCE PA leadership in the competent bodies of the Assembly.”
Delegates from several Eastern European countries continue to object to her employment.
Barbara Bartus, head of the the Polish delegation to the OSCE PA, said in a statement to RFE/RL that she “believes that it might not be most beneficial for our organization to have a person who cooperated so closely with the Putin regime, responsible for the war in Ukraine, to hold a managerial position in the structures of the OSCE PA.”
At a press conference earlier this year, the head of the Lithuanian delegation to the OSCE, Vilija Aleknaite-Abramikiene, called Boyarskaya “a very controversial individual from Putin’s closest circle” and asked on what basis Montella selected “a person whose ties with Russian special services can be presumed” to lead the OSCE PA’s Vienna Liaison Office.
In that position, Boyarskaya had access to all the OSCE’s operational contacts across Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia, as well as in the International Secretariat. She also assists with preparations for official visits by OSCE PA officials, as well as helping to support election observation missions.
“Our secretary-general decides on the staff himself, without consultations with politicians,” Aleknaite-Abramikiene told RFE/RL in an interview.
There is also criticism of Boyarskaya’s work as a translator.
Part of her job description included the maintenance of the Russian version of the International Secretariat’s website, as well as editing and reviewing “translations generated by the International Secretariat or externally to ensure proper quality and reflection of content.” Russian-speaking delegates to the PA, however, noted that her translations into Russian have avoided mention of Russia in the context of the war in Ukraine.
For example, the English and Russian versions of the headline of the same article on the OSCE PA’s website in mid-February contain discrepancies. The Russian version omitted the word “Russia” and read “the war against Ukraine,” rather than “Russia’s war against Ukraine,” as in the English version. After an Austrian news outlet asked Montella about the difference, the translations were changed to match exactly. Critics see the original omission as a deliberate concession to Russia.
Poland in particular has made its concerns about Boyarskaya very clear.
Shortly before an OSCE PA meeting in the Polish city of Lodz in the fall of 2022, Boyarskaya and another Russian OSCE employee, Anzhelika Ivanishcheva, were declared personae non grata by the Polish Interior Ministry, which said their presence on Polish territory “poses a threat to state security” and that both women were “supporter[s] of Vladimir Putin’s regime.”
On February 16, Boyarskaya was detained at the Lithuanian-Russian border while attempting to visit relatives in Kaliningrad. Correspondence obtained by RFE/RL shows that Andreas Nothelle, a German lawyer and consultant to the OSCE PA, was tasked with the job of demanding “on behalf of” Montella that Poland lift the sanctions on Boyarskaya. An additional letter obtained by RFE/RL, sent by Nothelle to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, demands an explanation for her detention.
Nothelle declined to comment when contacted by RFE/RL, citing “professional secrecy.”
At a meeting earlier this year, the head of the Latvian delegation, Rihards Kols, likened Boyarskaya to Anna Chapman, the Russian agent swept up in the FBI’s 2010 arrest of undercover Russian spies. Other delegates from the Baltic states questioned Montella about the OSCE PA’s financial situation and demanded an audit be carried out.
Following the meeting, Montella sent a letter of reprimand to Kols, who posted it online.
“These acts would be considered slander and subject to criminal prosecution in many countries,” Montella wrote.
He also assured Kols that Boyarskaya “has pledged and is obliged to follow the Staff Rules as well as a Code of Conduct, which prohibits staff to accept any instructions or the like from their home countries.”
The European diplomat within one of the OSCE’s permanent missions told RFE/RL that “Boyarskaya is not just any Russian national.”
“As Putin’s interpreter, she would have been subject to security procedures in Russia, which are well-known for their KGB-style approaches. We ask questions and don’t receive proper answers,” the diplomat said.
Three weeks after the publication of the joint report by Der Spiegel, German public broadcaster ZDF, and Austria’s Der Standard in September that described Boyarskaya and her work for the OSCE but did not identify her by name, her job description on the OSCE PA’s website was quietly altered to “senior advisor.”
She is no longer listed as head of the Vienna office, and her previous role of deputy special representative is now being filled by chief political adviser Francesco Pagani of Italy.
Boyarskaya did not respond to a request for comment.
Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL’s enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.
Maja Zivanovic is the Belgrade bureau chief for RFE/RL’s Balkan Service.
Riin Aljas is a digital forensics editor for RFE/RL who works on investigations using data and digital tools. She previously worked as a data journalist both in Estonia and in the United States.