The Russian billionaire carrying out Putin’s will across Europe

Konstantin Malofeev finances what the Kremlin can’t.

In this is Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 file photo, a pro-Russian missile launcher drives in the town of Krasnodon. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sergei Grits
In this is Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 file photo, a pro-Russian missile launcher drives in the town of Krasnodon. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sergei Grits

The Kremlin has steadily bolstered Europe’s fringe nationalist parties in the last couple years, developing key relationships with various party leaders and officials. One Russian name that consistently emerges in connection with Europe’s far-right and far-left nationalist movements is Konstantin Malofeev — a wealthy Orthodox businessman and Russian ultra-nationalist sometimes called “Putin’s Soros”.

Malofeev, 42, made his fortune in private equity and now runs Russia’s largest charity —the St. Basil the Great Foundation. He’s also president of Katehon, a right-wing think tank, and started his own television station, Tsargrad TV, a platform for figures like American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Russian philosopher Aleksandr Dugin — a man known as “Putin’s Rasputin,” as well as a member of Katehon’s supervisory board. Malofeev is a traditionalist, much like Dugin, and a devout practitioner of the Orthodox faith.

“[Malofeev is] very ideological, patriotic and believes in the idea of a great and Orthodox Russia,” Alexei Makarkin, an analyst at the Centre for Political Technologies think-tank, told the Financial Times.

As a believer in the Russian empire on a cultural and religious level, Malofeev’s goals align with those held by some of Europe’s fringe parties. Both would like to see the weakening of the European Union.

In 2014, Malofeev attended a Vienna-based conference for Europe’s far-right parties. Also in attendance were Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, who openly supports Putin and accepted at least 9 million euros in Russia-backed loans in 2014; and Austria’s Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party, which was recently defeated in national elections.

Aymeric Chauprade, then an adviser to Le Pen, spoke at an anti-LGBT round table discussion hosted by Malofeev’s charity at the Kremlin in 2013. That same conference was attended by Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center labels an anti-LGBT hate group.

Malofeev’s ties to the American religious right extend beyond just Brown. He also hired former Fox News employee and devoted Catholic Jack Hannick to help launch Tsargrad TV.

In addition to traveling in far-right circles across the West, Malofeev also occasionally dabbles in far-left politics. In 2014, a Russian hacking collective called Shaltai Boltai released a trove of emails between Georgy Gavrish — an associate of the right-wing philosopher Dugin — and Syriza officials, in which they discussed efforts by Malofeev and Dugin to identify political partners in Greece with Russian sympathies.

Nikos Kotzias, Greece’s minister of foreign affairs and a party member, is personally close to Dugin. In 2013, Kotzias was a professor at the University of Piraeus and invited Dugin to give a speech on International politics and the Eurasianist vision.

Malofeev’s involvement in Russia’s imperial ambitions and aspirations to weaken the European Union precede the current alliances with Europe’s fringe political movements.

Ukrainian security services consider Malofeev to be a key financier of the Ukrainian separatist movement that began in early 2014, though Malofeev denies playing any role in the unrest. In late January 2014, Malofeev was accompanying the Russian patriarch, the highest figure in the Russian Orthodox church, on a tour of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine to display ancient Christian relics when the delegation made an unscheduled stop in Sevastopol, a city in the southwestern area of the Crimean Peninsula. Nevertheless, one third of the local population (100,000 people) emerged to pray with the relics.

“It was one prayer from all the people: for Sevastopol to once more be part of Russia,” Malofeev told FT in 2014. “God’s will.”

One month later, Russian troops appeared in Crimea and the region was soon after annexed and reintegrated as part of Russia. Alexander Borodai, a Russian citizen and former prime minister of the Russian-backed Ukrainian separatist state the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), is a friend of Malofeev’s and previously worked as his public relations consultant.

Malofeev is also the former employer of Igor Girkin (aka Igor Strelkov), a former commander of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine who the Ukrainian government accused of being a Russian agent and war criminal. Ukrainian security services claim they intercepted a recording of Strelkov informing Malofeev about killing a high-ranking Ukrainian counter-terrorism official. Malofeev “is allegedly heard on the tape encouraging Strelkov to pursue the military operation in Slovyansk without hesitation,” according to a report from the Jamestown Foundation, an American international affairs think tank.

There is seemingly enough evidence to link Malofeev to the Ukrainian rebels, according to Russia experts, despite his claims that he is only sending water, food, and medicine, not military assistance.

“He has certainly provided money to people who do nasty stuff,” Ambassador John Herbst, the Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan, told ThinkProgress.

Malofeev is thought to be doing the Kremlin’s bidding, in Ukraine and potentially around Europe as well. Some observers believe Malofeev follows Putin’s immediate directives, though Herbst believes the line between the two men isn’t quite so direct.

“I’m skeptical of the notion Malofeev is in Putin’s inner circle,” Herbst said. “He may have indirect connections.”

That he does. Malofeev’s inner circle includes Father Tikhon (Georgiy Aleksandrovich Shevkunov), who is believed to be Vladimir Putin’s personal confessor, and Igor Shchegolev, a former minister of communications and Putin’s current internet tsar. Tikhon is also close with Putin’s former chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, and is believed to have connected Ivanov and Malofeev to discuss issues relating to Ukraine.

“He suits Russian authorities because they don’t want to take responsibility for certain things.”

“The Kremlin administration may have wanted to keep a distance to the whole ‘Novorossiya’ adventure by having Malofeev run it and pay for it,” the Interpreter Magazine reported. Novorossiya is a term that dates back to Russia’s tsarist era. Literally meaning ‘new Russia’, it refers to a large portion of Ukraine the Russian empire won in the late 18th century.

Conferences at the Kremlin aside, Malofeev seems to be a political operator for the Putin regime who carries out its will from the shadows.

“He’s useful like [Hungarian-American billionaire and political investor George] Soros in that he acts on his own,” Sergei Markov, a policy consultant to Putin’s staff, told Bloomberg. “He suits Russian authorities because they don’t want to take responsibility for certain things.”