A series of reports over the past few months have pulled back the curtain on discussions about secret funding from Russia to far-right forces in Europe.
Now, there are new questions about the connection the funding has with perhaps the most notorious international anti-LGBTQ group in existence — a joint Russian-American brainchild called the World Congress of Families (WCF).
The recent revelations, which burst forth earlier this year, center on backroom discussions between allies of Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and Russian associates connected to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak. The discussions, which BuzzFeed News published audio of earlier this week, center on a kickback scheme involving tens of millions of dollars in fuel discounts secretly passed to Salvini’s far-right Lega party.
Salvini denied all knowledge of discussions, but his aide, Gianluca Savoini, was forced to walk back previous denials of his attendance at the meeting, which took place last October. The tape, as BuzzFeed noted, “provides the first hard evidence of Russia’s clandestine attempts to fund Europe’s nationalist movements, and the apparent complicity of some senior figures from the far right in those attempts.”
Still, the revelations aren’t necessarily surprising. After all, Salvini has been outspoken for years about his sympathy for the Kremlin, going so far as to publicly wear shirts calling for “NO sanctions against RUSSIA.” Salvini, as well as Savoini, even mingled with Putin earlier this month.
— Savoini Gianluca (@SavoiniGianluca) July 4, 2019
Beyond the rhetorical support — and the clear efforts at putting together illicit financing to back Salvini’s far-right efforts — there’s another connection between Salvini and his allies and Russian financing that hasn’t seen much coverage in American press: the WCF.
For years, the WCF has acted as the primary bridge between American Christian fundamentalists and Russian partners. Helping export regressive anti-LGBTQ policies to Russia, the WCF has served as a platform since the mid-1990s for bringing together some of the most backward, homophobic voices internationally.
Along the way, it has also picked up financing and support from numerous Russian officials and oligarchs specifically sanctioned by the United States. Former Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin and sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev have both served as patrons of the WCF’s efforts, especially over the past few years, even going so far as to reportedly directly fund and sponsor WCF-related events.
Just last year, Yelena Mizulina, a Russian Duma member, was a featured speaker at the WCF’s annual conference, where she joined speakers railing against progressive policies. At the close of the conference, WCF chief Brian Brown called for those assembled to celebrate the “depths of … friendships” between the American and Russian figures featured at the event, claiming they were “creating friendships of trust.”
But that’s not all. Over the years, the WCF’s Russian representative, Alexey Komov — who works directly for the sanctioned Malofeev — has tried to ingratiate himself with numerous American far-right organizations. As ThinkProgress has detailed, these groups range from the far-right Home School Legal Defense Association, which has grown close to Komov over the past few years, to Movieguide, the leading American Christian film organization. Komov even managed in 2014 to schmooze with Ben Carson, now President Donald Trump’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and tried to connect with other right-wing fundraisers in the United States shortly afterward.
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) October 28, 2015
Indeed, Komov is at the heart of the burgeoning relationship between America’s Christian fundamentalist contingent that looks warmly at the Kremlin and the financiers behind Russian designs, and the cultivation of far-right forces abroad.
As such, it’s unsurprising that Komov is also directly implicated in the new revelations out of Italy. The Italian exposé of the attempted financing between Salvini’s party and Russia pinned the idea on Komov directly, who reportedly worked in tandem with Savoini and neo-fascist figure Alexander Dugin to put the plan together.
Komov already has a clear history with Savoini. Savoini oversees the Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, a group whose honorary chair is Komov. As The New York Times reported this week, the Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association stands at the heart of the swelling links between Italy’s far right and its Russian patrons, as it was “founded in 2014 explicitly to reflect [Vladimir] Putin’s worldview.”
Komov hasn’t been shy about his links with Salvini’s supporters. “We are your brothers in Russia,” Komov said at a 2013 meeting of the Lega party. “We support your values.”
At the close of his speech, Komov yelled, “Putin!”
Thanks to these links between Komov and Salvini’s network, Salvini landed a spot as a featured speaker at this year’s WCF conference, in Italy. The conference — which was attended by Komov — was the brainchild of Salvini associate Lorenzo Fontana, whom Salvini recently tapped as Italy’s new European affairs minister.
The links between Komov, Salvini, and those caught on tape this week plotting secret Russian financing for Italy’s far right are clear. So, too, are the ties both of them — as well as Komov’s sanctioned employer, and the other sanctioned Russian individuals — have with the World Congress of Families, and America’s broad network of far-right fundamentalists. Whether any similar audio comes forward on the American side remains to be seen.