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CORRUPTION

The Pool. How Yakunin siphoned off billions of dollars from the Russian budget and laundered them in Europe

Anastasia Kirilenko

The Insider continues its series of articles about Vladimir Yakunin. In the first part, we told how that KGB officer had been connected to the mafia and the scams of the 1990s, firmly linking him to Vladimir Putin. In this part, The Insider describes how Yakunin became the holder of the state corporation's “pool”, collected through kickbacks for government contracts and transferred offshore through the “Moldovan laundromat”. The total damage to the Russian budget from the theft of taxpayers’ money amounted to more than $20 billion. After the unprecedented theft from Russian Railways became public, Yakunin was forced to resign, but he is still in the Kremlin's payroll, as he spends some of the money stolen from the budget to promote Kremlin propaganda in Europe. Astonishingly, he is almost the only one of Putin's inner circle who has not yet been subjected to EU sanctions.

ALL CARDS
  • Shadow accounting of Russian Railways

  • Cascade of Pools

  • A Moldovan Scheme and a Moldovan Killer

  • Solntsevo gang, Russian Railways and Moldova

  • Who is Renato Usatii

  • Pool money to promote the Kremlin's agenda

  • Who spread disinformation with Yakunin's help

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Shadow accounting of Russian Railways

On the evening of March 20, 2012, banker Herman Gorbuntsov was returning from work and approaching the door of his home on Byng Street in East London when the killer jumped him. The killer fired eight shots, left Gorbuntsov bleeding on the doorstep of his house and fled. The banker miraculously survived, though he lay in a coma for a long time, and the police soon found out the name of his attacker – Vitalie Proca, a well-known killer in Moldova. The killer managed to escape to Russia (he was later extradited to Romania where he was sentenced to 12 years in prison). Why did the Moldovan killer make an attempt on the life of the Russian businessman? Gorbuntsov was in possession of invaluable information: he had taken out of Russia the shadow accounting data of Russian Railways, which had passed through two banks he owned and co-owned (Inkredbank and STB) and had been laundered through Moldova.

German Gorbuntsov
German Gorbuntsov

By those shadow accounting data (available to The Insider), one can see, among other things, transactions codenamed “pool”. Gorbuntsov himself claims that “pool” means “pooled funds,” i.e. money of corrupt origin informally belonging to the heads of the state corporation. The Insider already wrote about how the “pool” was replenished: it was done by the KUM group of companies affiliated with Yakunin, registered to a Cypriot offshore entity and named after the first letters of the names of three partners: Andrei Krapivin, Boris Usherovich and Valery Markelov (Andrei Krapivin passed away in 2015 and his business was inherited by his son Alexei). Boris Usherovich is on Russia's international wanted list and has been seeking asylum in Great Britain. Valery Markelov is in pre-trial detention on charges of bribing Interior Ministry Colonel Zakharchenko, who became widely famous when stacks of cash and gold bars worth 8 billion rubles were found in one of his 13 apartments during his arrest (those were, as it has become clear, the funds to replenish the “pool”). Together, all the three men ran a scheme known as the “Moldovan Laundromat” to siphon off billions from Russian Railways.

Gorbuntsov says that Markelov, Usherovich and Krapivin were introduced to him in 2004. At that time, all of them joint the capital of his banks to service the Russian Railways schemes. By 2009 (as Gorbuntsov heard from Usherovich) the KUM group owned assets worth $3.5 billion. In fact, all the KUM group did was stealing Russian Railways' funds, Gorbuntsov explains. Krapivin was responsible for working with the management of Russian Railways (i.e., Vladimir Yakunin), Markelov - for dealing with the law enforcement agencies, and Usherovich interacted with the mafia (he made no secret of his acquaintances within the Solntsevo gang).

Cascade of Pools

Russian Railways contractor Vitaly Ginzburg, who worked directly with Krapivin, told The Insider how the “pool” structure (or more specifically, the whole “cascade of pools”) was created:

“It all started when my company Economic Systems was installing security and energy systems in the Ministry of Railways (MPS) building in 1999. They didn’t ask for kickbacks. But in 2000, we were already working on the MPS hallway. And they told me: “We have a general contractor fee of 35%”. When I refused, they told me: “If you're so honest, give us an overestimate and we'll deal with it.” In the end they presented some ridiculous complaints and deducted 35% from my fee, but I won the arbitration. And then Krapivin came along in 2002. I was asked to build the Southern Regional Transportation Management Center, and Krapivin immediately said I should make a payment to the “pool”. He explained the hefty payments to the “cascade of pools” by the fact that it had multiple beneficiaries. In 2002, the “pool” charge was 15%. By 2005 it rose to 30%. There were hints that the money was used at the direction of the Russian presidential - in particular, two of German Gref's deputies had access to the “pool”. Before 2005 Krapivin was a sane person who wanted to promote technological innovations in the Russian Railways, but after 2005 all the conversations with him went something like this: “Andrei, we have already stolen a billion, two billion, let's actually do something”, so in 2006 I quit.”
In 2002, the “pool” charge was 15%. By 2005 it rose to 30%

Ginzburg, at The Insider's request, evaluated the shadow accounting spreadsheet provided by Gorbuntsov, and he had no trouble deciphering the entries:

“BU” is, of course, Boris Usherovich. Yuri is most likely Obodovsky. Markel is Markelov. Pool means Yakunin. Semenych? I do not know, but I can assume it’s Vladimir Semenovich Golubev, a well-known St. Petersburg crime boss. He had direct and personal relations with Yakunin. He called Yakunin by his first name in my presence. Ivitsa is most likely one of the managers, Mikhail Zhivitsa. He was a relative of Usherovich. It looks authentic.”

“The persons planted [by the KUM group] into Russian Railways made sure that documents were signed without any work actually being done and that the overpricing was justified. The most striking case that initiated my breakup with the KUM group was when a building was erected multiple times on paper in the Chelyabinsk region at the expense of Russian Railways. No actual construction work was performed, and when it was time to accept the building they found “shortcomings” whereafter the building was “demolished” and the “construction” started all over again,” Gorbuntsov writes in the “interrogation act with consent of the examined person” he drew up in Cyprus (available to The Insider).

Gorbuntsov says that at a corporate retreat, people from Russian Railways gifted the building to the local transport division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The police intended to use the building, and when it was not built, they were offended and launched a probe. Gorbuntsov says he was questioned by an investigator from Chelyabinsk. That's when the banker first became indignant, and that's how he started to feel at odds with the KUM group. According to Gorbuntsov when he hurriedly left Russia his conflict with his partners was already in an active stage. So, he decided to secretly take along with him the electronic transactions database of Inkredbank and Capital Trade Bank (STB), designed specifically for companies affiliated with Russian Railways.

The STB bank has another codename in its database, “Tokyo client,” with as many as 400 accounts opened. In the first half of 2008 alone, the MPCentre ZHAT company from the Tokyo group received 2.27 billion rubles from the Directorate for the Construction of Communications Networks (DKSS). Of those, 1.93 billion rubles was paid to a subcontractor. The remaining 340 million (15%) was spent on “other needs,” with 200 million rubles transferred to other Tokyo accounts without any explanation. Geographically, DKSS was located next to Interprogressbank, co-owned by Krapivin, Usherovich, Markelov and Gorbuntsov.

From 2011 to 2014, two companies from Belize and Panama (Redstone Financial Ltd. and Telford Trading S.A.) owned by Alexei Krapivin (the son of the then still alive Andrei Krapivin) alone received $277 million in their accounts at the Swiss bank CBH Compagnie Bancaire Helvetique SA. Almost all of the funds came from offshore shell companies in whose favor Moldovan bailiffs had been transferring funds from Russian bank accounts. Russian investigators have not yet shown any interest in those coincidences.

Alexei Krapivin
Alexei Krapivin

In 2014, in order to consolidate its contracts, the KUM Group established a company called “1520.” Entities controlled by that company immediately began winning major tenders, for example, for the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline. In 2019, the Russian investigators suspected that Colonel Zakharchenko had helped 1520 steal $250 million during the operation of the “Moldovan scheme.” But Alexei Krapivin, for some reason, was not affected, and his company 1520 continues to receive government contracts. In 2019, Krapivin Jr. headed another of Yakunin's corrupt construction projects - the Ust-Luga port.

There were simply no contractors left who would not agree to pay kickbacks. In 2017, Vitaly Ginzburg left Russia, and two years later he was put on the wanted list and arrested in the Czech Republic at the request of the Russian Federation. The Czech Republic, after examining the charges of embezzlement and non-payment of loans in Russia, found them unfounded and granted Ginzburg political asylum in early 2021. Prior to that, the accusations had been checked by Latvia, which also did not believe them and granted Ginzburg a residence permit. Ginzburg explains his persecution by his disloyalty to the “pool cascade system”: “I asked that the question be relayed to Putin, whether something could be finally built, but I was told to calm down - no one would relay such a question.”

Vitaly Ginzburg
Vitaly Ginzburg

A Moldovan Scheme and a Moldovan Killer

Moldovan accomplices were actively involved in the Russian Railways schemes. In 2014, Moldova officially requested international legal assistance from the Russian authorities. The request, available to The Insider, stated that Moldova had initiated criminal proceedings “for money laundering, presumably from the budget of the Russian Federation, in an amount exceeding 20 billion U.S. dollars.”

Moldova investigated fictitious loan agreements signed among creditors, debtors and guarantors. The scheme was very simple: Debtor companies from Russia allegedly failed to return loans to creditor companies, enabling them to claim repayment of their loans from the guarantor companies. Those companies were co-founded by Moldovan citizens (to give Moldovan courts jurisdiction over the disputes). Based on Moldovan court orders for reimbursement of non-existent debt, dozens of Russian firms (“loan guarantors”) meekly transferred billions to Moldindconbank from accounts opened at banks co-owned by Gorbuntsov and the KUM group as well as at First Czech-Russian Bank (infamous for issuing loans to Marine Le Pen) and others. On the same day or the next day, the funds went into the accounts of foreign companies in the Latvian Trasta Komercbanka (after the scandal, the European Central Bank revoked Trasta Komercbanka’s license).

Trasta Komercbanca was co-owned by Ivan Fursin, a member of the Solntsevo gang (The Insider wrote about those connections in detail). This may not be a coincidence, since the Solntsevo gang was directly involved in the embezzlement of Russian Railways’ funds.

Solntsevo gang, Russian Railways and Moldova

In 2009, the Solntsevo gang became interested in the KUM group’s money laundering operation. Although Usherovich never denied his friendship with the gang leaders, Gorbuntsov says that at first they did not take part in the embezzlement of Russian Railway money - simply because they had no idea of the “giant scale of operation”. But then things changed, and in 2009, FSB General Yevgeny Khokholkov had a meeting with Gorbuntsov (The Insider wrote about the ties between Khokholkov and the Solntsevo gang here).

At the meeting with Gorbuntsov, the Solntsevo gangsters learned about the true scale of Krapivin's operation. “Krapivin was very unhappy,” Gorbuntsov says. “During the meeting, it seemed like someone had stolen money from Krapivin and I was personally responsible for it. There were threats.”

Gorbuntsov left Russia for Moldova, and Usherovich, accompanied by the Solntsevo gangsters, forced the banker's wife to sign over her husband's asset, Inkred-Invest, to a third party. Gorbuntsov soon lost his Moldovan Universalbank as well.

The Insider has at its disposal a contract signed by the Moldovan businessman Renato Usatii on behalf of a Seychelles company for the purchase of the bank’s shares owned by Gorbuntsov. The document was countersigned by a Moldovan bailiff in accordance with the Moldovan court decision. Gorbuntsov calls it a hostile takeover and accuses Usatii of organizing an attempt on his life.

Who is Renato Usatii

Until 2011 nothing was known about Renato Usatii in Moldova or Russia, but then he suddenly emerged as a prominent Moldovan philanthropist and politician. At first, in Moldova, Usatii was mentioned as a person associated with the crime boss Caramalac, the Moldovan politician Oazu Nantoi told The Insider. However, Usatii claims to have earned his initial capital by supplying innovative technologies to Russian Railways.

Usatii and Caramalac
Usatii and Caramalac

Since 2005, Renato Usatiy has actually been referred to as “President/Head of Coordination, Planning and Development of VPT-NN LLC, a Nizhny Novgorod-based supplier of metal-cutting tools for Russian Railways.

Gorbuntsov believes that Usatiy was a “small cog,” but then the KUM group, with the knowledge of the Russian Railways management, chose him “to solve problems in Moldova. In Russia, Usatii was put on the wanted list in 2019 in connection with the “Moldovan laundromat” case.

Gorbuntsov's story is indirectly confirmed by the information about Usatii's connection to the Solntsevo gang, contained in the criminal case opened in Spain in 2017.

Renato Usatii (second from left) and Alexander Grinberg (third from left). Photo from the Spanish criminal case
Renato Usatii (second from left) and Alexander Grinberg (third from left). Photo from the Spanish criminal case

The Insider has already written about the defendants. Usatii was president of the Football Club Zarya Balti, and that club received sponsorship from Alexander Grinberg whom the Spanish Civil Guard considers a partner of the Solntsevo gang in Marbella. However, according to the Russian Commercial Register, Greenberg is a business partner of the brother of Anton Malevsky, the deceased leader of the Izmaylovo gang. Grinberg can be seen in the photos taken during one of Yakunin's forums on Rhodes.

“The Moldovan scheme was a working tool for turning non-cash rubles into hard currency. A company has to pay a debt based on a court decision, issued by a real judge in respect of a non-existent debt. Krapivin’s people had a problem with cash. And that's where Usatii came in. He, I assume, vouched to Usherovich for the safety of the money in Moldova, and so the scheme became huge. In addition, Usatii was involved in the attempt to assassinate me,” Gorbuntsov says.

Usatii, in turn, accused Gorbuntsov of wanting to kill him, but Britain refused to extradite Gorbuntsov to Moldova on that charge. The British police have not found the person who ordered the attempt on Gorbuntsov's life. In 2013-2014, Usatii, as part of the «international criminal community», withdrew more than 500 billion rubles from Russia through the Moldovan bank Moldindconbank, according to the official investigation in Russia. Moldovan oligarchs Vladimir Plahotniuc and Vyacheslav Platon are considered the main perpetrators - the Moldovans somehow managed to organize hemselves the theft of 20 billion $ from the Russian budget.

Pool money to promote the Kremlin's agenda

Vladimir Yakunin was fired from Russian Railways after the Moldovan laundromat scandal, but he faces no criminal prosecution in Russia as long as he spends some of the money stolen from the budget on all sorts of organizations promoting Kremlin propaganda.

Amazingly, Yakunin is still not under the EU sanctions. His Franco-Russian Dialogue in Paris and the Foundation for the Support of Historical and Cultural Research in Switzerland continue to operate, and the Dialogue of Civilizations Institute in Germany operated for many years until recently.

Anton Shekhovtsov, a political analyst who specializes in researching Kremlin disinformation in Europe, told The Insider that the Franco-Russian Dialogue, where Yakunin is now the “honorary president,” is like a “parallel Russian embassy.” The organization presents itself as independent of the state, but the French Commercial Register, as The Insider has ascertained, lists its two addresses: one on the Champs Elysees, where the Russian Railways office is located, and the other matches the address of the Russian House of Science and Culture in Paris, a representative office of Rossotrudnichestvo.

The co-founder of the organization is Thierry Mariani, a pro-Russian politician and member of the French National Assembly. He has regularly visited Crimea and has stated he admires the transparency of the vote to change the Russian constitution. In early April, the organization held an event titled “Russia-NATO: How to Avoid World War III.” During the event, Frederic Pons, a regular guest on the now-closed RT France channel and the author of a complimentary biography of Putin, said, “It is doubtful that we will know the truth about the tragedy in Bucha,” and proceeded straight to denouncing “the crimes of the United States.” The Franco-Russian Dialogue has repeatedly given the floor to former BFM TV journalist Anne-Laure Bonnel (most recently in May 2022), who justified Putin's “special operation”. Bonnell became famous for her statements about 13,000 Donbass civilians killed by “Ukrainian punitive forces” in 2014-2022. She made a chilling film about decapitated pregnant women and pensioners in Donbass whose ears were cut off by the Ukrainian military. However, she was unable to capture the evidence of the horrific crimes on film. The film contains only stories told by “DNR” figures, whose every word the journalist believes. The French media issued a rebuttal: in fact, there was a total of 13,000 casualties on both sides, primarily among the military. However, Bonnel's statements were picked up by conspiracy theorists around the world and by Russian propaganda.

Another Yakunin organization, the Dialogue of Civilizations Institute, declared “the easing of tensions in the world” as its goal; it operated in Germany. A source advising the German government told The Insider that “ President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is considered to be Yakunin's lobbyist in Germany.” In 2014, Yakunin praised Steinmeier publicly. On April 12, Bild learned that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky refused to meet with Steinmeier because of his closeness to Sergey Lavrov and his active lobbying for Nord Stream 2.

At another organization, Youth Time, Yakunin is a member of the board of trustees. The organization holds Youth Rhodes Forums in various countries, where Yakunin says he supports “young people's attempts to change the world for the better.” Youth Time was co-founded by Moldovan Maxim Braghis in the Czech Republic in 2010, according to the Czech company registry. The decision to establish the organization was made that same year at the Rhodes Forum, as the organization’s website says (without mentioning Braghis). According to the Moldovan population database studied by The Insider, Bragish is the son of former Moldovan Prime Minister and former Moldovan Ambassador to Russia, Dmitry Braghis. According to SPARK data reviewed by The Insider, Dmitry Braghis is the co-owner of SU 101 LLC, a company registered in Russia in 2018. Judging by its charter, the mysterious company (it proved impossible to locate its website, for example) is engaged in the construction of railroads and subways. In 2017, Moldova's ambassador to Russia, Dmitry Braghis, was recalled. A Moldovan diplomat told Kommersant that Braghis “had long been on the recall list” because “in Moscow he got too carried away with his business interests.” In an interview with The Insider, Maxim Braghis declined to comment on his family ties with Dmitry Braghis, first demanding an answer to the question on who provided such information. Maxim Braghis also refused to answer a question about his acquaintance with Vladimir Yakunin and said that he “didn't care about the sanctions.”

Yakunin began his political activities in the Czech Republic long ago. In 2002, he traveled to Prague in search of a supplier of spare parts for Czech locomotives used by Russian Railways. Czech businessman and Club Russia organizer Czechoslovak army colonel Zdenek Zbytek told Voxpot that was when Yakunin met the politician Milos Zeman. Since 2003, Milos Zeman and Zbytek had been regulars at the Yakunin Rhodes Forums. By then, Zeman had lost the election in the Czech Republic. But in 2007, at another Rhodes forum, it was decided to bring Zeman out of retirement, Czech banker Jan Struž, who had attended the forum, confirmed to Voxpot portal. A complimentary report in 2009 about Zbytek and his friends Zeman and Yakunin promised Czechs that “Zeman will return to politics soon.” Zeman did return and became president of the Czech Republic in 2013.

Vladimir Yakunin's family has also been actively involved in his advocacy activities. His wife Natalia Yakunina - who was also a British resident - has joined the board of her husband's Foundation for the Support of Historical and Cultural Research in Switzerland. She is listed twice in the Swiss Commercial Register - as “Natalia Viktorovna Yakunina, a St. Petersburg resident”, and as “Natalia Yakunina, a London resident”. Natalia takes part in many propaganda events financed by her husband. In 2018, the “World Congress of Families” was held in Chisinau with the participation of then-Moldovan President Igor Dodon (and his wife - her foundation provided financial backing). Ignacio Arsuaga, a longtime guest and co-organizer of Yakunin's Rhodes Forums, spoke at the congress about the “totalitarian ideology of political correctness,” while Elena Mizulina berated Igor Dodon for his indecision. Participants, including Natalia Yakunina, discussed the world conspiracy, “pederasts,” and “salvation from the globalists.”

The father and the son
The father and the son

Vladimir Yakunin's son Andrey states that he “has never voted for Putin” and “is against the invasion of Ukraine, like many Russians.” Andrei Yakunin estimates his investments in Italy, where he is currently staying, at €150 million, but says he is far from being a Forbes list oligarch. However, according to The Insider’s sources, it was Yakunin Jr.'s Luxembourg fund that was in charge of legalizing the huge amounts of cash stolen from Russian Railways under his father's leadership.

A Luxembourg's foundation called VIYM with an office in London was acquired by Andrei Yakunin in 2006 (Yakunin Jr was 31 at that time). By 2012, the organization was ready to invest $500 million in the hotel business in Russia. In the foundation's name one can guess «Vladimir Ivanovich Yakunin»'s acronym although Yakunin Jr. calls himself an independent businessman. The son of the oligarch Yakunin has not yet encountered any problems - despite the fact that Russian Railways money stolen under the “Moldovan scheme” most likely ended up in the UK and was laundered through the Yakunin family business empire, Gorbuntsov claims. Andrei Yakunin and Alexei Krapivin have known each other since childhood, but Gorbuntsov knows nothing about their joint business projects.

Who spread disinformation with Yakunin's help

Many active disseminators of disinformation are among the staff of the Dialogue of Civilizations (DOC) Institute. The biggest star of Yakunin's international forums is a participant of the Dialogue of Civilizations forum on the Greek island of Rhodes in September 2014, former Bundesrat Chairman, Chairman of the German Social Democratic Party and Prime Minister of Brandenburg Matthias Platzeck, who since 2014 has headed the public organization “Russian-German Forum.”

The core subject of Platzeck's speeches after Russia's annexation of Crimea is his calls for the West to recognize that the peninsula belongs to Russia and to normalize its relations with Russia by renouncing the policy of sanctions. Thus, in November 2014, he stated in an interview with the German newspaper Passauer neue Presse:

“A wise man changes his mind - a fool never does that... The annexation of Crimea must be retroactively formalized in accordance with international law in a way that is acceptable to all. <...> We must find a solution so that Putin does not leave the field as a loser.”

At the same time, in Die Zeit, Platzeck called on the West to be “more accommodating” to Russia and Vladimir Putin and to recognize the annexation of Crimea to Russia.

In January 2021, he stated that “if European countries do not begin to build mutually beneficial relations with Russia, it may happen that Europe will be left without allies.” He argued that Europe's tough stance would push Russia closer to China. The thesis is quite controversial: so far, no sign of China's interest in such a rapprochement has been seen. According to Platzek, Russia is “tired of constant reproaches' from its Western partners,” while Europe “endlessly 'points its finger' at Moscow, believing that the world should be organized exactly as Europe sees it.

One of Yakunin's closest associates, who co-founded the Dialogue of Civilizations research institute, was Peter Wolfgang Schulze, a professor at Göttingen University who died in 2020 and was in the past head of the Moscow branch of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation affiliated with the SPD. An ideological opponent of Atlanticism, Schulze proposed a rapprochement with Russia as a counterweight to the pro-American course of the EU countries.

In his April 2014 commentary for RIA Novosti on the situation in Ukraine, he called for its “federalization,” calling the Ukrainian government's likely use of force against separatists in eastern Ukraine an occupation:

“If there is an occupation of eastern Ukraine or any part of it, its population, especially the Russian-speaking population, will of course boycott the elections. Or at least will try to do so. The most acceptable situation could arise if the authorities in Kiev meet the demands of this region and opt for broad political decentralization or federalization of the country.”

In 2015, Schulze wrote in Tagesspiegel:

“The war threat, in particular caused by some Central European and Baltic states, is being primarily used for domestic political purposes while foreign policy seeks to instrumentalize the EU for a more confrontation-oriented policy vis-à-vis Russia. The U.S. is acting in the background.”

One of the most colorful figures among the Dialogue of Civilizations experts is Alexander Rahr, the Gazprom advisor on European affairs, a German with Russian roots who calls himself the grandson of General Wrangel's adjutant. Like his other associates at Yakunin's institute, he advocates the lifting of sanctions against Russia and recognition of Crimea as a Russian territory. The title of his book, published in 2021, is characteristic: “Insolence. How Germany Put Its Reputation in Jeopardy with the Russians.”

In a 2012 interview with the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, Rahr said:

“Modern Europe is not just ignorance. It is a RENOUNCEMENT of knowledge. Ten years ago, Russians told me: “You Germans are so sly! You avoid speaking with us about strategy, and you wait for us to lay our cards on the table.” Another ten years have passed, and now I hear: “We have the impression that the Germans are not hiding their thoughts from us. There's nothing to hide. They just don't have any! The Germans really have had their brains amputated.”

Rahr often makes up arguments to justify his position. For example, he argued that only Europe suffers from the EU sanctions against Russia, while the Russian economy has adapted to the sanctions regime. According to him, “Western producers are just biting their elbows and saying they have lost the Russian market in those seven years. And who has gained from it? The Chinese, the Turks, the Indians, the Asians with their production. It is enough to look at changes in the GDPs of the European Union and Russia to understand who was actually harmed by the sanctions.”

Alexander Rahr
Alexander Rahr

Rahr blames the tense relations between the EU and Russia solely on the European side. Thus, in 2021, echoing Sergey Lavrov, he claimed that the EU had unilaterally destroyed the entire system of relations with Russia, citing made up facts - for example, that Lithuania and Poland had allegedly blocked the signing of the EU-Russia partnership agreement. In reality, those two countries did object to negotiations with Russia on a new agreement but could not have blocked it in any way: a decision to negotiate does not require a consensus of all the EU member states. The negotiations continued despite the position of Lithuania and Poland and stopped only after the 2014 events in Ukraine.

Another prominent person at the Yakunin events is Helga Zepp-LaRusch, a German political activist and the widow of the American populist politician Lyndon LaRouche convicted for fraud. Zepp-LaRusch heads the dwarf far-right party Civil Rights Movement Solidarity (Bürgerrechtsbewegung Solidarität); she is a proponent of the anti-Semitic theory of a “Zionist occupation government.” Zapp-LaRouche is a frequent critic of the Western democratic system in the Russian media, nor does she shy away from fictitious arguments or outright conspiracy theories.

In 2016, in an interview with TASS, she argued that “almost all major world conflicts today are caused by the Anglo-American empire's attempts to ensure and maintain a unipolar world as it was in the past. In the same interview, she stated that “more and more countries are realizing the futility of sanctions” against Russia.

In 2018, in an interview with the Russian news agency Sputnik, Zepp-LaRouche said that the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal “resembles a new Litvinenko case fabricated by the intelligence services as a pretext for anti-Russian escalation,” and also claimed that British intelligence services probably interfered in the 2018 U.S. presidential election to prevent the election of Donald Trump, who had promised to improve relations with Russia.

In 2020, when Vladimir Putin published an article about World War II, she claimed that his reasoning “could prevent World War III.” In doing so, she accused Western powers of supporting Hitler in the years before the war. Among the American politicians who supported Hitler, she named Averell Harriman, advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt, later ambassador to Great Britain, Secretary of Commerce, Governor of New York State, and Deputy Secretary of State.

In reality, the only thing that connected Harriman to Hitler's Germany was that his brother worked in an American bank, formerly a branch of a Dutch bank controlled by Fritz Thyssen, who had financed the Nazi Party before Hitler came to power.

In France, Yakunin's partner in propaganda projects is Thierry Mariani, former Transport Minister and member of the European Parliament, elected on the list of the Rassemblement Nationale. Together with Yakunin, he heads the Franco-Russian Dialogue association, founded in 2004 under the patronage of presidents Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin. Mariani has visited the annexed Crimea several times as part of delegations of minor politicians and has made statements calling for the peninsula to be recognized as belonging to Russia. One such trip in 2015 cost him his position as vice president of the European People's Party group at PACE.

Thierry Mariani in Crimea
Thierry Mariani in Crimea

Mariani praised the 2017 elections in Sevastopol, calling them “calm and democratic,” but especially praised the vote on the amendments to the Russian Constitution:

“Voting went on for days, and the people we talked to really liked it. I think why don't we adopt this in France. I think this vote is a very important page in history, because the Constitution is the basic law of any country, and the fact that citizens are now being asked their opinion about their future is important, it should happen that way in every country.”

He was not in the least embarrassed by the fact that the multi-day voting procedure with numerous polling places outside the polling stations made the work of independent observers practically impossible.

Prince Alexander Trubetskoy, executive director of the Franco-Russian Dialogue, has also visited the annexed Crimea several times.

“One of the tasks of our association is to help ensure that an objective picture of Russia is formed in French society. Of course, we got slammed by the Ukrainian powers-that-be for Crimea, but we regard this as a bad joke. The French government does not share our position, but this is a manifestation of civil liberty; we are free in our assessments. I've been to Russian Crimea four times myself,” he said in an interview with the Russian World portal.

Together with Yakunin, Trubetskoy participated in the opening of the new Orthodox Trinity Cathedral on Quai Branly in Paris; the first liturgy in the new church was served personally by Patriarch Kirill.


With the input of Vojtech Bohac (Voxpot), Yuri Bershidsky and Yana Sakhieva.

The IJ4EU fund supports cross-border investigative journalism
The IJ4EU fund supports cross-border investigative journalism


To be continued

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