Two days before the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko (opening photo on the left) presented a report to the State Duma in relation to the "ratification of treaties of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance" between Russia and the self-proclaimed "people's republics" of Donbass. Rudenko accused Ukraine of sabotaging negotiations within the Trilateral Contact Group, consisting of Russia, Ukraine and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The 57-country organization, based in Vienna, is in crisis due to Russia's veto on its decisions ahead of the next OSCE ministerial council meeting scheduled for November 30.
Rudenko previously served as Russia's representative to the OSCE, which condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine in the early days of the war. All this time, Rudenko's wife worked at the OSCE General Secretariat as a senior political and administrative assistant, which gave her the right to participate in high-level OSCE meetings and have access to various information.
Rudenko's wife's name is Saltanat Sakembaeva (photo opening on the right). His work in the OSCE has raised a number of questions because the Kremlin could therefore influence the activities of the organization, which plays a key role in monitoring Russian aggression in Ukraine and is trying to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv.
Similar questions have arisen around Anton Vushkarnik (pictured left), who previously worked at the Russian embassy in Washington and provided explanations to the American authorities about Moscow's support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and is now senior strategic advisor to the OSCE Secretariat. Another central figure of this investigation is Daria Boyarskaya who worked as a translator for the Russian president Vladimir Putin during negotiations with US President Donald Trump, and now works at the International Secretariat of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
The appointment of figures close to the Kremlin to senior positions in the OSCE has raised concerns as it could give the Kremlin the opportunity to sabotage the work of a neutral international body.
Sakembaeva, who returned to Russia five months after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, "had access to a large amount of material for official use, which she could easily have transferred to her husband [Rudenko]", one of his exes told colleagues in the OSCE secretariat, who, like other sources in the OSCE and diplomatic circles, agreed to speak on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“While we cannot discuss individual cases, we assure you that the OSCE takes any potential violation of the Code of Conduct extremely seriously and consistently applies appropriate internal procedures when addressing alleged violations”, said OSCE spokesman David Dage.
The diplomat's wife
In June 2022, Saltanat Sakembaeva attended a gala evening at the Russian Embassy in Vienna on the occasion of Russian Independence Day. In photographs from this event, she is depicted next to the Permanent Representative of Russia to the OSCE, Alexander Lukashevich, who previously, as press secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, justified Russian aggression and accused the United States and its allies of trying to "usurp" the functions of the OSCE secretariat.
At the time, Sakembaeva had been working at the OSCE General Secretariat in Vienna for almost 15 years. She began her career with the organization in 2009, when she was still a citizen of Kyrgyzstan.
Sakembaeva's future husband, Rudenko, arrived in the Austrian capital in 2011 as Russia's deputy permanent representative to the OSCE.
In May 2014, Sakembaeva bought a 92-meter apartment on a quiet street in Vienna near the center. At the time of purchase, you indicated as your residence address one of the buildings of the permanent representation of the Russian Federation to international organizations in Vienna.
Sakembaeva received Russian citizenship in August 2014, and a month later she and Rudenko were married at the Russian embassy in Vienna. In July, Sakembaeva renounced her Kyrgyz citizenship.
In 2016 Rudenko returned to work in Russia, while his wife remained in Vienna. Rudenko became director of the department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responsible for Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine: all these countries constituted an important part of the OSCE agenda at the time.
According to the internal rules of the OSCE, employees are prohibited "use, disseminate and/or publish information obtained through their position unless it is related to the exercise of their functions".
Sakembaeva worked at the head of the OSCE until July 2022, that is, in the first five months of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, who specializes in the activities of Russian intelligence services, said that agents of the FSB counterintelligence department "they were absolutely aware of Sakembaeva's extraordinary career and would not miss the opportunity to use her for their own purposes". “Even if she were not an agent, she could very well have been 'asked' to do something, such as share classified information, and she would not have had the opportunity to refuse”, Soldatov said.
Russian diplomat Anton Vushkarnik has been a high-ranking expert and advisor in the OSCE Secretary General's Office for several years. At the same time, in the corridors of the old building in the center of Vienna, where the secretariat is located, some colleagues call him "colonel", alluding to a connection with the Russian special services.
In 2017, the Swiss Secretary General of the OSCE, Thomas Greminger, decided to create a Strategic Political Support Unit (SPSU), in which experts from Russia, the United States, the EU and Switzerland would collaborate. The Russian Foreign Ministry proposed Vushkarnik as a candidate; Greminger agreed.
Many OSCE members did not fully understand the goals and objectives of the SPSU, as its very idea contradicted the inclusive principle of the organization. Critics of this appointment are unhappy with the fact that Russia, which by that time had already occupied territories in Georgia, Ukraine and held Transnistria, was generally allowed to participate in the work of the group. Furthermore, they highlight an opaque procedure for selecting experts.
Vushkarnik also participated in the Community Security Initiative (CSI), a project created by Greminger in mid-2019. The CSI website states that the initiative comes from “a group of political analysts who feel the need for a more cooperative approach to security issues and are concerned about the inability of states to effectively use security organizations such as the OSCE to resolve conflicts and work together to address common problems." In August, in an interview with the Swiss newspaper Neuer Zuricher Zeitung, Greminger said that as a possible solution to the war in Ukraine, Kyiv could “temporarily cede the occupied territories to Russia.”
In December 2020, Helga Schmid became Secretary General of the OSCE and disbanded the SPSU, but Vushkarnik retained her post. Vushkarnik's connection to the Russian mission to the OSCE raises other questions.
Vushkarnik repeatedly used a BMW 5 Series car with the serial number WD-54. This code means that the vehicle belongs to the Russian diplomatic missions in Austria. However, Vushkarnik was sent by the Russian Foreign Ministry, but was not accredited to the Russian diplomatic mission in Austria, but as an employee of the OSCE. In this case he must abide by the OSCE staff code of conduct, although his status as a high-ranking official in an international organization confers on him certain privileges and immunities.
The salary of the state that sent its representative to the OSCE is paid indirectly. OSCE staff must declare all business contacts with their government, as well as any gifts or services worth more than 40 euros. A car is an important asset if a person does not pay for its use, then there is a conflict of interest. Perhaps the car is included in the travel contract, but this also indicates a close relationship with the Russian mission.
In July this year, the Austrian Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs sent an official letter to the OSCE office, informing that the Austrian police had repeatedly recorded Vushkarnik violating traffic rules. From the documentation produced, he was driving at a speed exceeding 130 km/h in zones with speed limits of 80 and 100 km/h. Furthermore, the police suspected him of driving under the influence, but he refused the test despite "the strong smell of alcohol". The ministry reminded the OSCE that "all persons with diplomatic privileges and immunities" are obliged to comply with the laws of the country and "in this case these are serious violations that create an extreme danger on the road". Vushkarnik maintains his post at the OSCE during the 21-month Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Originally from Kaliningrad, Daria Boyarskaya attracted the attention of the international community in June 2019, when she acted as an interpreter for Putin in a meeting with US President Donald Trump during the G20 summit in Japan. Boyarskaya worked at the Foreign Ministry and often accompanied Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on foreign trips, including during Putin's talks with former national security adviser John Bolton in 2018.
Boyarskaya also translated at Putin's meeting with President Barack Obama in China in 2016.
Since June 2010, she has periodically worked as a translator from Russian to English at the annual sessions of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
In 2020, an advertisement for a vacancy of “adviser in the liaison office” appeared on the website of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Candidates had to have "fluent knowledge of the Russian language, many years of experience as a translator, experience in bilateral and multilateral diplomatic work", as well as experience working with officials from OSCE member countries of the former Soviet republics and at least five years of work experience in a national parliament or government. The announcement was fully consistent with the biography of Boyarskaya, who later took this position.
Boyarskaya's appointment was rather worrying, given that she was Putin's personal translator. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly unequivocally condemned Russian aggression, and Boyarskaya's work at the Russian Foreign Ministry is considered by many parliamentarians to be a risk factor.
In September 2021, Boyarskaya was appointed head of the Vienna Liaison Office of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. She also became a "deputy special representative". Her responsibilities include "establishing diplomatic and working contacts, cooperation and coordination with the permanent representatives of OSCE member states and other OSCE governing bodies".
Vacancies in the OSCE are usually announced publicly to avoid suspicions of unfair competition, but Boyarskaya's new position was announced only in the internal newsletter "News from Copenhagen". There was no open competition for the posts of Head of the Liaison Office and Deputy Special Representative.
Delegates from several Eastern countries continue to condemn his appointment. The head of the Polish delegation, Barbara Bartus, stated that, in her opinion, "The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly hardly benefits from the fact that in its structures, in a leading position, there is a person who worked closely with the Putin regime that started the war in Ukraine".
The head of the Lithuanian delegation, Vilija Aleknaite-Abramikiene, defines Boyarskaya "a very controversial person from Putin's inner circle. A person who may have ties to the Russian special services" As head of the Vienna liaison office of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Boyarskaya has access to the OSCE's working contacts in Eastern Europe, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, as well as the international secretariat. Furthermore, she participates in the preparation of official visits of members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, as well as in the preparation of election observation missions.
Shortly before the OSCE PA meeting in Lodz, Poland, in the fall of 2022, Boyarskaya and another Russian OSCE employee, Anzhelika Ivanishcheva, have been declared personae non gratae by the Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs, which stated that their presence in the country posed a threat to national security, as they are supporters of Vladimir Putin's regime.
The head of the Latvian delegation, Richards Kols, compared Boyarskaya to Anna Chapman, a Russian intelligence agent arrested by the FBI in 2010. A European diplomat working permanently for the OSCE noted that Boyarskaya is no ordinary Russian: "As Putin's translator, she was subjected to checks by the Russian security services, which, as we know, often act in the manner of the KGB. We ask questions about this and get no answers".
Three weeks after the publication of a joint investigation by the magazine Der Spiegelof television ZDF and the Austrian newspaper The standard in September, which described Boyarskaya's work at the OSCE without naming her by name, her job title on the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly website was changed to "senior advisor." You are no longer among the heads of the Vienna liaison office.