Russia Update: Le Pen Visits Moscow

May 26, 2015
Marine Le Pen is greeted by State Duma chairman (speaker of parliament) Sergei Naryshkin, May 26, 2015. Photo by State Duma

French actor Gerard Depardieu, now a Russian citizen, will give a concert in Donetsk, the self-proclaimed “People’s Republic of Donetsk” cultural official announced. Two concerts are also planned by Russian performer Iosif Kobzon, also a Russian-backed separatist reporter.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.


Russia This Week:

Is ‘Novorossiya’ Really Dead?
From Medal of Valor to Ubiquitous Propaganda Symbol: the History of the St. George Ribbon
What Happened to the Slow-Moving Coup?
Can We Be Satisfied with the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
All the Strange Things Going On in Moscow

Special features:

With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin
Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs‏.

Liberal Mission Registered as ‘Foreign Agent’; Kremlin Spokesman Confirms Cases Raised with Putin

The Liberal Mission Foundation, founded by the economist Yevgeny Yasin, was also put on the “foreign agents” registry by the Ministry of Justice yesterday when it registered Dynasty  Foundation.

The Liberal Mission describes on its home page “the crisis of liberalism in Russia” and sponsors lectures and publications on liberal ideology, particularly in economics.

Translation: #Yavlinsky: The virtual destruction of the Dynasty and Liberal Mission foundations has occurred.

Translation: the apotheosis of obscurantism: why Dynasty Foundation and Liberal Mission Foundation received yellow stars.

Translation: Liberal Mission Foundation will dispute the decision of the Justice Ministry on including it in the ranks of foreign agents.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that there was a discussion between President Vladimir Putin and Russian businessmen about the Dynasty Foundation, founded by Dmitry Zimin, reported.

As we reported earlier, the Dynasty Foundation was registered by the Justice Ministry as a “foreign agent” yesterday and today, businessmen raised the issue with Putin in a closed meeting at a business forum. Putin said that if in fact the foundation did receive foreign funds, the designation was correct, but if it did not, then perhaps there had been an error.

Dynasty has explained that cash from abroad comes from its founder’s own bank account.

Peskov stated (translation by The Interpreter):

“The topic really was raised at a meeting with Titov and his colleagues,” Peskov told journalists. “The president said that he does not have information about why they (Dynasty Foundation and Liberal Mission) were included in the registry. He said that he doesn’t know, but it must be looked in to, to see on what basis they were included, and if there are doubts that it is founded, then there is a procedure for complaint,” said Peskov.

Asked if the president had assigned anyone to look into the issue, Peskov said, “those who have doubts as to whether it is founded, they are the ones who have to get to the bottom of it.”

He added that there was “the necessary instrument” for disputing Justice Ministry decisions. He said that as for the functioning of an NGO declared a foreign agent, “nothing at all changes” and this status “does not prevent them from working in the same regimen.” Peskov said the public reaction to this designation was “exaggerated” and “inexplicable.” had a photo gallery of the achievements of the Dynasty Foundation, which has been in business for 13 years and helped to support the education of young scientists, scientific research and publication of books. The foundation also had an annual prize for authors who wrote about politics and society from an advocacy position.

Yavlinsky, who is a deputy of the St. Petersburg legislature and founder of the Yabloko Party, said the designation was like other state actions to interfere with science (translation by The Interpreter):

“This story, along with the destruction of the Academy of Sciences and the scandalous ineffectiveness of Rosnano and Skolkovo is evidence of the counterproductive policy leading Russia to backwardness and isolation from the outside world.”

Rosnano was a nanotechnology project that became the subject of a criminal investigation for misuse of funds last year.

Skolkovo was a foundation to promote tech start-ups whose director was also put under criminal investigation. Last month State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, who had a contract with Skolkovo to give lectures and promote investment, was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and put under criminal investigation for his lecture fees.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russia Resigned to French Decision not to Deliver Mistrals, Now Looking for Compensation
Russia has now finally renounced the Mistrals sale, reported.

RBC journalist Vladislav Gordeyev reports that Moscow now accepts as a “fait accompli” the French refusal to purchase the Mistral helicopter carriers, a deal that was halted over the war in Ukraine.

Now negotiations are under way only about the sum of compensation for the unfulfilled contract, says Gordeyev, citing Oleg Bochkarev, deputy chairman of the collegium of the Military Industrial Commission of Russia (translation by The Interpreter):

“The fact that Russia will not take them [the Mistrals] is a final fact, and now it is only a discussion about what sum of money should be returned to the Russian Federation.”

Bochkarev added that Russia would not try to copy the Mistrals but would build another class of assault ship.

Under the €1.2 billion contract, the French were supposed to build two ships, the Vladivostok and the Sevastopol.

After Russian forcibly annexed the Crimean peninsula and the city of Sevastopol, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, an act of aggression not recognized by the international community in a UN General Assembly resolution, a deal involving a ship named “Sevastopol” became more embarrassing to the French.

The agreement was originally concluded on June 17, 2011 and the first helicopter carrier, the Vladivostok, was supposed to be delivered in the fall of 2014. But Paris froze the delivery in September 2014 due to the war in Ukraine.

Even so, Russian seamen travelled to France to test the ship, and finally left the country after France halted the delivery. Moscow repeatedly invoked the unlawfulness of delaying the contract and demanded that France return the money already paid for the ship or deliver it. There was also an incident where the ship appeared to change its flag from that of France to Russia, which turned out to be essentially a hack.

On May 9, 2015, Victory Day, Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin said that ships intended for the Russian Navy had already been “Russified” and adapted to Russian standards, “starting from the tablets and ending with the electrical current”. He said that legally, France couldn’t sell ships built for Russia without Moscow’s consent, and characterized proposals in the French press to sell the ships or sink them as efforts by “their [French] military to blackmail their politicians.” The ship-building was destined to provide a lot of jobs for France.

Several days later, however, presidential administration spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin did not see any problems, that any resolution of the issue, either delivery or return of the payment, would suit Russia.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Putin Reported to Have Doubts About ‘Foreign Agent’ Status for Dynasty Foundation

President Vladimir Putin reportedly expressed doubts about the decision by the Justice Ministry to declare the Dynasty Foundation a “foreign agent,” reported, citing three participants in a closed meeting who requested anonymity.

As we reported yesterday, the Justice Ministry made good on earlier threats and declared Dynasty Foundation, founded by businessman and scientist Dmitry Zimin, a “foreign agent.” Despite Zimin’s efforts to explain that the cash from abroad was from his own foreign bank accounts, the ministry went ahead with the ruling, adding to a list that now numbers 65 organizations already, many of them human rights groups.

Zimin is the founder and honorary president of the telecommunications company Vympelcom, creator of the popular Beeline cell phones. Its headquarters is in Amsterdam and it has offices in 14 countries.

Putin’s remarks came at a closed portion of the Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia) forum.

Aleksandr Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, asked the question about why the foundation was put in the registry, say two of the sources, although Shokhin himself has not wished to comment, noting that the meeting was closed.

Putin reportedly said regarding the Dynasty Foundation case that he had “not followed it” and noted that if the foundation was involved in political activity and funded from abroad, then “the Justice Ministry is right,” but if it was a question about Zimin’s own money, used to fund projects in science and education, then the decision was incorrect.

The sources differed on the issue of follow-up; one said that Putin said that “the situation must be clarified” and two others said he did not give any direct assignment. Vyacheslav Volodin, deputy head of the presidential administration, was present at the meeting, say the sources.

The incident was emblematic of the quandary Putin faces, whereby if he cracks down too hard on a domestic Russian business that is part of the fledgling philanthropic sector of Russia, he will lose important support for science that the state is no longer able to afford.

It will be interesting to see if Putin reverses the Justice Ministry, and deux ex machina, swoops in to appear as a liberal by contrast with his too-eager minions.

Former finance minister Aleksei Kudrin said the law on “foreign agents” was “damaging” to Russia, said

Zimin’s foundation has mainly been involved in promoting education and science and has not been associated with the opposition. Yet the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s successor, is always waiting to pounce.

Last year, NTV, a pro-Kremlin TV channel close to the FSB which often intrusively follows opposition members and human rights activists, filmed Zimin coming out of the office of the Moscow Helsinki Group, along with Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister. The camera crew peppered Zimin with questions about why he was visiting Ludmila Alexeyeva, chair of the group and whether he was funding the group. Faced with the “foreign agents” issue herself, Alexeyeva decided to decline foreign grants and curtail the group’s activities accordingly.

Blogger Oleg Kashin pointed out in an interview that nearly all Russian business is dependent on the state (translation by The Interpreter), which made it very difficult for any independent media or organization to survive in Russia:

“In one form or another, I think, every businessman in
Russia is connected to the government, or depends on the government or
at least is afraid of the government to such an extent that he will
never invest in independent media or indeed in media in general because
media for any businessman is a zone of risk, and in the majority of
cases, if a businessman invests money in media, it means that he was not
just allowed to do so, but he was outright asked to do so — buy this
site, or give money to this team, we want this media to be under our

The only two businessmen he could cite as exceptions regarding their independence were Dmitry
Zimin and the founder of
Yandex, Ilya Segalovich, who died last year. Putin also attacked Yandex last year, complaining that it had foreigners on its board and was involved in Internet business “which was founded by the CIA.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Marine Le Pen Makes Low-Key Visit To Duma

Reuters reports that Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right Front National (FN), arrived earlier today at the State Duma in Moscow.

According to the report, parliamentary officials said that Le Pen was due to meet Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the Duma and the fourth most powerful official in Russia.

Le Pen’s visit was surprisingly low-key.

Alain Vizier, the FN’s communications director, told AFP that he had not been informed of Le Pen’s agenda, nor did he have any details on the content of her discussions in Moscow.

Having first been invited to the meeting, both Russian and foreign media were told today that it would proceed without press access and that the live broadcast on Russian TV was cancelled.

The Russian authorities have not commented on the ban on press at the meeting. An AFP reporter said that Le Pen had gone for a walk on Red Square before heading to the Duma.

The State Duma website published a photo of Le Pen shaking hands with Naryshkin:


Later this afternoon, Russia’s Interfax reported on comments made by Le Pen following her meeting.

The Interpreter translates:

“The problem is that the French government, both Hollande’s current one and Nicolas Sarkozy’s former, have been heavily influenced by the United States,” said Le Pen on Tuesday.

She noted that “the USA has played an important role in bringing [European Union] sanctions against Russia.”

Le Pen expressed hopes that “France will regain its freedom of expression and diplomatic freedom.”

“But I doubt that the Hollande government will be able to change anything,” said the leader of the Front National.

The state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reported that Le Pen criticised France’s decision to suspend the delivery of two Mistral-class assault ships to Russia following the invasions of Crimea and the Donbass. 

The Interpreter translates:

“The decisions that were taken on the Mistrals, the incomprehensible behaviour of the French leadership, who refused to come to the recent commemorative events (May 9 in Moscow) – I think that this is blatant obedience to the USA’s position.”

Oleg Bochkarev, deputy head of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission, announced today that Russia is no longer seeking the delivery of the warships, but demands only financial compensation.

For his part, Naryshkin said that he and Le Pen had discussed “the prospects of developing Russo-French inter-parliamentary relations.”

RIA Novosti reports that Le Pen said that she would now conduct meetings with Naryshkin twice a year, adding (translated by The Interpreter):

“Developing situations in the world require us to be able to exchange opinions on such important topics as the crisis in Ukraine, the deteriorating situation with ISIS, the danger of terrorist attacks in our respective countries, the global financial situation, because we are not immune to a new economic crisis, particularly in connection to the problems in Greece and Italy,” said the French politician.

She also suggest that Russia was not indifferent to what was going on in Europe. “Therefore I am pleased to be able to regularly exchange views with Mr Naryshkin on important topics, on which, I must say, we often have similar opinions when analysing the situation.”

Naryshkin visited France in April last year, despite being placed on EU sanctions lists following the annexation of Crimea.

The Duma speaker travelled to Paris, having been invited to attend celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Russia’s membership of UNESCO. The invitation from the international organisation allowed him exemption from sanctions prohibitions due to a 1954 agreement between UNESCO and France. 

While the French Foreign Ministry issued a warning to MPs that that they should avoid meeting with Naryshkin, who was also barred from entering the French Parliament, due to his sanctioned status, Marine Le Pen ignored the instructions, claiming she was not aware of them. 

The relationship between the FN and the Russian authorities has been growing close in recent years, with the receipt of a €9 million loan from a Kremlin-linked Russian bank last year (allegedly the first installment of a €40 million loan), and the appearance of Emmanuel Leroy, a close and influential adviser to Le Pen, under the guise of a charity representative, in Donetsk earlier this month.

Here is Leroy, carrying a sack of potatoes and talking about the charity he was representing – Urgence d’Enfants Ukraine, an organisation headed by Alain Fragny, a former organiser for Bloc Identitaire, another French far-right movement, in separatist-held Donetsk.

— Pierre Vaux
Depardieu, Kobzon to Give Concerts in Donetsk

French actor Gérard Depardieu, an ardent support of President Vladimir Putin who emigrated to Russia, will give a free concert in Donetsk, reports.

Natalya Kamynina, head of the department of culture and international relations of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” made the announcement.

Earlier Depardieu, who was granted Russian citizenship said “I am prepared to die for Russia, because the people here are strong; I don’t want to die like a fool in today’s France.”

Iozif Kobzon, a popular Russian singer and supporter of the Russian-backed separatist, will also give two concerts in May in the Donbass, says

DNR Culture Minister Aleksandr Paretsky said:

On May 28, we expect the arrival of the Russian stage singer Iosif Davydovich Kobzon, honorary citizen of the DNR. The artist will give two concerts at the Theater of Opera and Ballet.

Earlier this year Kobzon came to Donetsk to visit the wounded Buryat tank driver Dorzhi Batomkunuyev in a Donetsk hospital. Kobzov has a seat in the State Duma from the Buryat Republic,  which some critics believe he obtained in order to claim immunity from prosecution regarding various investigations of corrupt dealings.

Kobzon is on the US list of persons sanctioned for their role in the forced annexation of the Crimea, and was already barred from entry to the US due to suspicion of his ties to mafia groups.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick