The second Maltese election in a row has taken a twist thanks to an out-of-the-blue story that Russia could target Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with misinformation in retaliation for his international allegiances.
Quoting a “senior diplomatic source”, BuzzFeed News warned that Russia could well target Muscat with a misinformation campaign during or after next month’s European Parliament elections.
This was after Malta refused a request by Russia to use its airspace to fly two military planes from Syria to Venezuela and back between 16th and 19th April.
A senior government source confirmed with Lovin Malta that BuzzFeed’s story is true, but that they don’t know whether consequences will be in the form of misinformation
BuzzFeed News obtained a copy of the request made to Malta’s foreign ministry which allegedly showed that Russia wanted to transport food supplies, diesel generator sets and other engineering, technical and medical supplies needed by Moscow’s diplomatic mission in Venezuela. Russia said the planes won’t carry arms, explosives, or poisonous or harmful materials.
Venezuela is in the midst of an economic and political crisis, marked by food and medical shortages, prolonged power outages and deadly protests.
However, while Russia is supporting Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro, Malta, along with the rest of the EU, officially recognises the legitimacy of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president last January. Guaidó is also backed by the United States, Canada, Australia and several Latin American countries.
In the wake of the dispute, the Prime Minister’s special envoy Alex Sceberras Trigona held a meeting with Russia’s deputy Foreign Affairs minister Alexander Grushko.
#Russia‘s Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Alexander Grushko met with Dr. Alex Sceberras Trigona, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of #Malta @JosephMuscat_JM in Moscow | https://t.co/WmpqNBdAjT pic.twitter.com/fJjPXYx624
— RussianEmbassy Malta (@RusEmbMalta) April 16, 2019
The case has echoes of the 2017 general election, when Joseph Muscat confirmed that foreign secret services agencies had warned him to expect retribution from Russia after Malta stopped the refuelling of a Russian warship on the way to Syria and after the Maltese Presidency of the EU helped speed up the visa waiver programme for Ukraine.
An intelligence specialist publication suggested that the retribution was taking the form of a misinformation campaign spearheaded by former Pilatus Bank employee Maria Efimova, who famously claimed that Muscat’s wife was the owner of the Panama company Egrant. A magisterial inquiry later ruled that there was no basis to these claims.