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Over the last years, oligarchs close to the Kremlin built a spiderweb of connections with the French ultraconservative and anti-LGBTI movement. Connections to Russia exist – from anti-‘marriage equality’ group Mannif Pour Tous, over the French Christian-Democrats to the Far-Right environment around the Le Pen family.
The fight against LGBTI-equality is an important part of Russia’s cultural superiority war for traditional values. Their cultural war has been embedded in their strategy to undermine the European Union and liberal democracy. Russia targets the LGBTI-movement because it is the most visible and successful civil rights movement of the last two decades within liberal democracy. It is easy for them to materialise their attacks.
On an international level, Russia has put of a lot of work in infiltrating in anti-LGBTI networks. Especially the World Congress of Families has played a key role in Russia’s mission to connect to European policy-makers. Earlier research proves that Russia made connections with Hungarian and Polish policy-makers through these homophobic and transphobic conferences.
While in Hungary the connections lead directly to the ruling political elite, in France a big spiderweb of connections to several political elites exist. Think-tanks, far-right politicians, religious extremists, christian-democrats and NGOs all have links to the same Russian ultraconservative oligarchs.
France’s Far-Right & Russia
The connections between Russia and France’s far-right ‘Rassemblement National’ (formerly ‘Front National’) are not new. Already for many years, journalists and researchers have exposed financial and ideological links between the political party and the Kremlin.
Putting all of the bits together, it is now safe to state that most of these connections were established during international conferences to preserve traditional family values.
On 10 & 11 september 2014, the Kremlin hosted the International Forum on the Large Family and the Future of Humanity. The conference was a substitute for the World Congress of Families, that was originally going to take place in Russia that year. However, several American partners withdrew from the conference after the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea by Russia. Therefore, Russian organisations linked to wealthy individuals close the Kremlin organised an alternative but still similar conference.
One of the keynote speakers at the conference was ‘Rassemblement National’’s Member of the European Parliament Aymeric Chauprade. According to the French magazine Mediapart, Chauprade has a close relationship with the conservative oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. The all-time Putin ally is one of the biggest supporters of the international anti-LGBTI network and is widely known as the oligarch behind the Russian support for the rebels in the civil war in Eastern Ukraine.
Also in 2014, Chauprade presented Malofeev to FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. “It was through Chauprade that I met Konstantin Malofeev. You know how these things happen, we have lunch, we have dinner, we say ‘I know someone who can perhaps help you find a loan’.”, father Le Pen told Mediapart. Later investigations found that Front National received a loan of 2 million euros via an obscure financial construction from Russia in the Czech Republic.
An e-mail hack of the account of a Russian diplomat in 2014, revealed the entire participant list of the 2014 Moscow conference that Chauprade participated in. On that list, other FN members were found. One of them was Grégoire Boucher. He was the treasurer of Jeanne, the micro-party behind Marine Le Pen that arranges her finances. As a traditional religious person, he is a host at the Radio Courtoisie (a French catholic radio). He was also the organiser of ‘Jour de colère’ in January 2014, a protest which is connected to the Alt-Right group Dies Iræ.
Malofeev’s former personal assistant, Alexey Komov, is currently serving as the regional representative in Russia for the World Congress of Families. Komov was one of the key figures in the Russia scandal around Italy’s far-right party Lega from former vice prime minister Matteo Salvini. During a national conference of Lega in 2013, Komov received much applause after saying “this year the Russian Parliament and president Putin signed the bill to ban homosexual propaganda to minors and children.”
Komov also seems to have close connections to key far-right figures in France.
The most notable is Fabrice Sorlin. Sorlin was just as Boucher active within the Alt-Right group Dies Iræ. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the group under the leadership of Sorlin as a “brutal catholic militia […], whose mission was to prepare white French catholic youth for a civil war against immigrant, black people and Muslims.”
In 2013, Sorlin became the French representative of the World Congress of Families. He also attended the 2014 conference in Moscow. On the leaked participant list is written that Sorlin’s, just as Chauprade’s travel to Moscow was paid by the ‘Foundation of St. Andrew the Firs-Called’. That’s an organisation chaired by the wife of another all-time Putin ally: Vladimir Yakunin. Yakunin was until 2015 the CEO of Russian Railways and moved to Berlin afterwards where he founded the think-tank ‘Dialogue of Civilisations’ (DOC). His wife participated several times in the World Congress of Families.
In 2017, Sorlin organised a regional conference of the World Congress of Families in Paris together with Alexey Komov. The speakers list included amongst others Georgian oligarch Levan Vasadze, who sent out “squads to hunt down homosexuals” in Tbilisi in 2019 and John Laughland, an MEP assistant to the Dutch populist party ‘Forum voor Democratie’ with ties to Russia. One of the topics on the agenda of the conference was the “tactics and strategies of the gay lobby at the European Union”.
Sorlin’s support for Russia is not a secret. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he was president of a French group called the Alliance France Europe Russia (AAFER). Sorlin lives since 2015 in Moscow with his wife and eight children. The absence of “homosexual propaganda” in Russian schools is one of the main reasons why he prefers his children to grow up in Russia, he told Sputnik in 2019.
An article on a conservative blog proves Sorlin continues to work in Moscow to create relationships between France and Russia. But he also joined the anti-government ‘Gilets Jaunes’ protests in Paris in 2018. On pictures of him during the protest, he was holding the flag of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), the self-proclaimed independent pro-Russian rebel province in Ukraine. He seems to be leading the unofficial “representation of DNR in France”.
Mannif Pour Tous
Many of the far-right leaders mentioned before were very active within the movement against marriage equality in France. But the organisation itself also upheld ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2014, a delegation of Mannif Pour Tous brought a visit to Moscow. Caroline Roux, one of the leaders of Mannif Pour Tous, and Grégor Puppinck, the director of the conservative European Centre for Law & Justice, were part of the delegation.
The delegation was invited by the external relations unit of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. During their stay in Moscow they brought a visit to the two chambers of the Russian Parliament, the Russian Duma and the Federation Council.
In an interview to Father Ignace Shestakov, the representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, one of the participants explains the objective of the visit: “to find cooperation partners in Russia in defence of traditional values.”
A Christian-Democratic Link?
Another remarkable name on the leaked participant list of the 2014 Anti-LGBTI conference in Moscow, is the name of Marie-Christine Amiot. While Amiot doesn’t seem to be a public personality, she’s listed on the website of the European People’s Party (EPP) as policy assistant to their Whip Office.
The participant list states that Amiot was invited to the conference by Igor Beloborodov. He is the Head of the Demographic Unit of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) and is living in Tiraspol – the capital of the Moldova’s ‘frozen conflict with Russia’- region Transnistria.
RISS is a think-tank supported by President Vladimir Putin. The organisation is accused of drawing the plan to interfere in the presidential elections in the USA and many other international intelligence operations aimed to undermine the European Union and liberal democracy.
As founder of RISS, Leonid Reshetnikov is very close to Beloborodov. Reshetnikov is one of Russia’s major former KGB and FSB spies, and is amongst other things accused, together with Konstantin Malofeev, of plotting a coup in Montenegro. The family of Reshetnikov is well-represented in Beloborodov’s friend list on Facebook. He’s also connected to many Russian and European MPs, businessmen, reporters, and – of course – Russian Orthodox leaders. Amongst them is Pavel Belobrádek – the former Deputy Prime Minster of Czechia. Another connection catching the eye: Timur Aliyev. Aliyev’s the personal assistant of Ramzan Kadyrov – the Chechen leader being accused of setting up the most structural persecution of homosexuals since WWII.
Beloborodov holds conservative stances on relationships and is a true-believer of the ‘demographic winter theory’ – accusing homosexuals of the demographic decline. In an interview on HIV/AIDS with the Russian news outlet Meduza, he said that “there’s no better form of protection against sexually transmitted diseases, particularly AIDS, than the monogamous family – a heterosexual family” .
An e-mail was sent to Amiot for this article to confirm her presence and ask her about her relationship to Beloborodov, but she did not answer.
It is clear that oligarchs and other individuals close to Russian intelligence operations have used anti-LGBTI platforms as a way of networking and cooperation with influential French political elites. The Kremlin’s reach through these networks extends the traditional far-right parties. Just as in Hungary, also christian-democrats seem to be connected to these Russian intelligence operatives.
After concluding all this, many more questions arise. Why do conservative policy-makers take the risk to work together with the Russians over this? What is the extra value for them to work together with a power which objective is solely to undermine their national sovereignty? These questions can only be answered by them. But they refuse to do so.