RussiaMarch 22 2023, 8:32 am

The International Movement of Russophiles: Dubious To Say the Least

On a chilly day in Moscow, March 14, 2023, a rather pecu­liar orga­ni­za­tion saw the light of day: The Inter­na­tion­al Move­ment of Rus­sophiles (IMR). Pro­fess­ing a deep admi­ra­tion for Russ­ian cul­ture and a world of diverse pow­er cen­ters, the IMR vocif­er­ous­ly oppos­es West­ern inter­fer­ence and pro­pa­gan­da. Yet, with its mixed bag of ques­tion­able per­son­al­i­ties, can we tru­ly believe in the IMR’s sincerity?

An array of fig­ures graced the IMR’s found­ing con­gress from Rus­sia and beyond., Among them were Russ­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, Krem­lin’s top ide­o­logue Alexan­der Dug­in, Amer­i­can mar­tial arts film icon Steven Sea­gal, Russ­ian media oli­garch Kon­stan­tin Mal­ofeev, and Pierre de Gaulle, the grand­son of the famed French gen­er­al and pres­i­dent. The dri­ving force behind the IMR, Bul­gar­i­an politi­cian and alleged spy Niko­lay Mali­nov, was also present.

The gath­er­ing attract­ed guests from 40 coun­tries, span­ning Europe, Asia, Africa, and even the Unit­ed States. Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin sent a warm telegram to the “bud­ding social move­ment,” jux­ta­pos­ing it with what he deemed “anti-Russ­ian hys­te­ria delib­er­ate­ly whipped up in many coun­tries.” Mali­nov was unan­i­mous­ly elect­ed as IMR Chair­man at the congress.

While Mali­nov asserts that the IMR aims to advo­cate for a mul­ti­po­lar world that respects the tra­di­tions and sov­er­eign­ty of all peo­ples and fos­ters glob­al dia­logue and col­lab­o­ra­tion among Rus­sophiles, his back­ground paints a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. He has been a vocal pro­po­nent of clos­er ties between Bul­gar­ia and Rus­sia, cit­ing their shared Slav­ic and Ortho­dox roots. Mali­nov has also crit­i­cized Bul­gar­i­a’s NATO and EU mem­ber­ships, label­ing them as instru­ments of Amer­i­can dom­i­nance. Cur­rent­ly, he faces espi­onage charges in Bul­gar­ia for alleged­ly pass­ing state secrets to two Russ­ian orga­ni­za­tions in an effort to sway the Bul­gar­i­an gov­ern­men­t’s for­eign policy.

Mali­nov’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in a state-run Russ­ian TV pro­gram, “The Big Game,” adds to the con­cerns sur­round­ing him. In the show, he brand­ed those who view Rus­sia as an aggres­sor as “bar­bar­ians, Rus­so­phobes, and mod­ern fas­cists.” The pro­gram also fea­tured footage from Bul­gar­ia, where peo­ple tram­pled the Euro­pean Union flag and flaunt­ed “Putin is our pres­i­dent” t‑shirts. A map titled “Decol­o­niz­ing Europe” was dis­played, show­cas­ing a divid­ed Europe with Rus­sia absorb­ing Ukraine, the Baltic republics, and Moldova.

Among the shad­owy fig­ures present at the con­gress was top Krem­lin ide­o­logue Alexan­der Dug­in, who spoke of “the alter­na­tive civ­i­liza­tion that we have to build.” Dug­in has been dubbed the “high priest” of an aggres­sive strain of Russ­ian nation­al­ism that envi­sions Rus­sia at the heart of a “Eurasian” empire, stand­ing against the deca­dence of the West. He played a role in reviv­ing the term “Novorossiya” or New Rus­sia – which includ­ed Ukrain­ian ter­ri­to­ries – before Rus­si­a’s annex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014. It’s worth not­ing that Putin has used this term while declar­ing Crimea part of Russia.

Anoth­er intrigu­ing char­ac­ter behind the IMR is Kon­stan­tin Mal­ofeev, a Russ­ian Ortho­dox activist and busi­ness­man, referred to as one of Rus­si­a’s pri­ma­ry “entre­pre­neurs of influ­ence” in a 2021 study on hybrid war­fare. Mal­ofeev’s Tsar­grad Group is on a mis­sion to “revive the great­ness of the Russ­ian Empire.” This media tycoon funds the Tsar­grad Group, an orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to res­ur­rect­ing the grandeur of the Russ­ian Empire. In 2002, leaked emails exposed Tsar­grad’s sup­port for and col­lab­o­ra­tion with extrem­ist right-wing Euro­pean politi­cians and activists. Not only did the group forge con­nec­tions between these politi­cians and Alek­san­dr Dug­in, but it also act­ed as a liai­son between them and high-rank­ing Russ­ian offi­cials. With plans to estab­lish the “Alt­in­tern” net­work, Tsar­grad aimed to unite far-right par­ties in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, like France’s Nation­al Ral­ly. The US says Mal­ofeev is close­ly tied to Russ­ian aggres­sion in Ukraine as one of the main sources of financ­ing for the pro­mo­tion of Rus­sia-aligned sep­a­ratist groups. Mal­ofeev’s finan­cial largesse also extends to back­ing anti-abor­tion and anti-LGB­TIQ ini­tia­tives in Europe.

Steven Sea­gal, the once-icon­ic action star, is the most rec­og­niz­able face of the IMR. Embrac­ing Russ­ian cit­i­zen­ship in 2016, Sea­gal open­ly admired Putin’s lead­er­ship. Appoint­ed as a spe­cial envoy for human­i­tar­i­an rela­tions between Rus­sia and Japan in 2018, he claimed to be “one mil­lion per­cent” Russ­ian after receiv­ing an Order of Friend­ship medal from Putin in Feb­ru­ary 2023. How­ev­er, Sea­gal’s career has been marred by alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al mis­con­duct and his sup­port for Rus­si­a’s annex­a­tion of Crimea, which has led to his being banned from enter­ing Ukraine. Sea­gal railed against the U.S. gov­ern­ment for alleged­ly invest­ing bil­lions in under­min­ing Rus­si­a’s morale. Sea­gal’s bold claim:

“Over half of the peo­ple in Amer­i­ca actu­al­ly love Rus­sia and love Rus­sians and know that they’re being lied to.”

The IMR has announced ambi­tious plans to launch a Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive (ECI) aim­ing to lift EU sanc­tions against Rus­sia, which were imposed fol­low­ing the annex­a­tion of Crimea and inter­fer­ence in east­ern Ukraine. The orga­ni­za­tion also intends to host var­i­ous cul­tur­al events, con­fer­ences, sem­i­nars, exhi­bi­tions, and fes­ti­vals to show­case the rich­ness of Russ­ian his­to­ry, lit­er­a­ture, art, music, reli­gion, sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty world­wide. As the IMR’s role as a Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tion becomes increas­ing­ly appar­ent, one must won­der just how suc­cess­ful their endeav­ors will be. Stay tuned as we keep you updated.

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