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Compatriots 3. How descendants of White Russian emigres became the Kremlin's key agents of influence in France

The Insider continues its series of reports on how the Russian diaspora has become a stronghold for Putin's regime abroad. They are actively working to advance the interests of the Kremlin, even during wartime. In France, the descendants of the White émigré nobility are the main resource for Russian “soft power.” Despite being native French citizens, many have collaborated with the Russian authorities for years, aiding in the recruitment of allies among the French opposition and business community, and promoting the narrative of Western Russophobia and the genocide of the inhabitants of Donbass. Today, with the support of the Russian Foreign Ministry, many organizations associated with them are acting against NATO and the “government in Kyiv.” We are only able to reveal fragments of this “web,”  as its true scale has yet to be established. 

See Compatriots, Part 1 and Part 2

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  • Monarchists of long standing

  • Orthodox Chekists

  • Russia's Envoys

In late 2014, an online letter titled “Solidarity with Russia” was circulated, bearing the signatures of over a hundred representatives of the Russian nobility living abroad. The letter was authored by Prince and Princess Dmitry and Tamara Shakhovsky with the assistance of a group called Russian Bridge. The declaration's authors expressed their frustration at the constant “slander against contemporary Russia, its leadership, and its president” and their outrage at the “shameful silence” from European authorities and media regarding the “crimes” allegedly committed by the Ukrainian army in Donbass.

In an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Prince Dmitry Shakhovsky, who heads the Union of Russian Nobility in France, admitted that for the descendants of the white emigration, “Crimea has never ceased to be Russian”:

“There is a sense that right now we are returning to... “recreating Holy Russia.” <...> Throughout my life, I have defended the values passed down to me by my parents, with the foremost being the unity of the Russian land. Thus, when this unity is strengthened, as it was with the annexation of Crimea, it signifies the country's return to its roots and a testament to its resilience.”
Prince Dmitry Shakhovsky (far right) and his wife Tamara Shakhovskaya (far left)
Prince Dmitry Shakhovsky (far right) and his wife Tamara Shakhovskaya (far left)

As Shakhovsky was honored with the 2019 “Contribution to International Cooperation” award by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he declared that “faith in Russia should be the cornerstone of our beliefs. This faith is crucial for the salvation of the entire world.” His two sons, Ivan and Illarion, both reside in Moscow. Ivan has worked as the deputy chairman of the St. Petersburg Committee for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture in recent years, while Illarion is associated with Konstantin Malofeev's Safe Internet League. Malofeev is widely regarded as the Kremlin's liaison to the descendants of the “old” Russian emigration and, through them, to representatives of conservative European circles.

Monarchists of long standing

Prince Zurab Chavchavadze, who was born in Paris and formerly served as chairman of the Supreme Monarchy Council and representative of “the head of the Russian Imperial House” in Russia, was one of Malofeev's closest associates in this area. Malofeev, the founder of the Tsargrad TV channel, recounted meeting the prince when he was just 16 and described him as “a guide to the world of pre-revolutionary Russia and Orthodoxy, the Russia that we have lost.” Chavchavadze is involved in almost all of Malofeev's ventures: he served as the director-general and a member of the board of trustees of the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, was in charge of the eponymous private Orthodox Gymnasium in the Moscow suburbs and served as a member of the supervisory board of the Double-Eagle monarchist society, which advocates for the restoration of the Russian Empire. He also assisted the Orthodox oligarch in forming connections with the French far-right.

Chavchavadze assisted the Orthodox oligarch Malofeev in forming connections with the French far-right

During 2014-2015, a series of investigations by the French media revealed connections between Marine Le Pen's National Front (later renamed the National Union) and the Kremlin. Mediapart discovered that the National Front received a €9 million loan for their election campaign from the First Czech-Russian Bank, whose owner was businessman Roman Popov, known to be close to Gennady Timchenko. A few months later, another €2 million was deposited into Jean-Marie Le Pen's company account from a Cypriot entity owned by “former KGB officer” and former head of VEB Capital, Yuri Kudimov. Observers viewed the financial aid from Moscow as a clear reward for the extreme right's support of the annexation of Crimea and, generally, Russian policy towards Ukraine.

According to Canal+, Jean-Marie Le Pen met with the odious philosopher Alexander Dugin and Konstantin Malofeev during a secret visit to Moscow in October 2014 arranged by Zurab Chavchavadze. In an interview, Chavchavadze admitted having known Le Pen's family for a long time and said that Malofeev and the National Front leader had first met in Paris. When asked if Malofeev had provided financial support to the French nationalists, Chavchavadze gave an evasive answer: “You will never be able to prove it.” As for Le Pen, he confirmed that Malofeev had helped him obtain a loan for his election campaign.

Zurab Chavchavadze and Jean-Marie Le Pen, Moscow, 2014
Zurab Chavchavadze and Jean-Marie Le Pen, Moscow, 2014
Spécial Investigation / Canal+

In Vienna at the end of May 2014, Malofeev and Chavchavadze hosted a closed forum to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the formation of the Holy Alliance. The event was described by the Swiss publication Tages-Anzeiger as a gathering of nationalists who aimed to establish a pan-European conservative movement to counter the gay liberal lobby that dominated Europe. Alexander Dugin was the keynote speaker, and attendees included Aymeric Chauprade, MEP and international affairs advisor to Marine Le Pen, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, the National Front leader's niece, and leaders of right-wing radical movements from Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, and other countries. Many of their members had previously served as international observers at the illegal referendum in Crimea. During the event, the guests addressed panegyrics to Vladimir Putin, hailing him as a “savior” and a reincarnation of Alexander I, who had initiated the creation of the Holy Alliance of European Monarchies following the overthrow of Napoleon.

The guests addressed panegyrics to Vladimir Putin, hailing him as a «savior» and a reincarnation of Alexander I

Chavchavadze allegedly introduced Malofeev to Alexander Borodai, who had previously worked as a PR consultant for Malofeev before becoming the leader of the self-proclaimed government of the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR). In an interview with Russkaya Narodnaya Liniya, the prince claimed to have known Boroday since he was a child through his father, and to have met Igor Strelkov (Girkin) through him. In the summer of 2014, while serving as the director of the St. Basil the Great Foundation, Chavchavadze signed a cooperation agreement with Borodai (Malofeev is considered one of the main sponsors of pro-Russian forces in Crimea and separatists in Donbass). Officially, the agreement aimed to organize the collection of humanitarian aid for the population affected by the conflict in Donbass. The Georgian prince recounted his first encounter with Strelkov as follows:

“During our discussions with Igor [Strelkov] and Konstantin Malofeev, we found it necessary to clarify our positions as we were about to collaborate with Strelkov, who joined our Basil the Great Foundation even prior to the Crimean events… It turned out that Strelkov was a monarchist, and both Konstantin Malofeev and I were, as they say, long-standing convinced monarchists. Our conversations also revolved around Putin, and my stance was straightforward - without Vladimir Vladimirovich, Russia would not have existed in 2002 or 2003. Our country would have been sold off. I saw that Strelkov shared these notions, and we concurred on the significance of Putin's role.”

Orthodox Chekists

The Large Families and the Future of Mankind international conservative forum took place in Moscow in September 2014. The St. Basil the Great Foundation and the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation, a project headed by Vladimir Yakunin, initiated the event. Yakunin, the former chief of Russian Railways, also maintains significant connections among the descendants of white emigrants. In 2010, he organized a sea voyage for them to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the departure of General Wrangel's flotilla from Crimea. During the expedition, the participants retraced the steps of their ancestors, but in reverse, from Europe to Sevastopol, which symbolized the exiles' return to their native shores. At the time, state media expressed enthusiastic support, describing the journey as “a symbolic end to the Russian Civil War.”

Around 200 advocates of “traditional values” - including public figures, officials, and scientists - from various countries attended the “family” forum. Aymeric Chauprade, mentioned earlier, was one of the esteemed guests seated alongside Malofeev, Yakunin, Patriarch Kirill, and Elena Mizulina at the plenary session. During his speech, Marine Le Pen's advisor accused America of waging a war of ideas against Russia and China, and hailed Moscow as a spiritual guide for other nations. Interestingly, a few years later, Chauprade would become a member of the European Parliament's security and defense subcommittee, while Dmitriy Peskov's daughter Elizaveta would intern in his office. To this day, Chauprade remains openly pro-Russian, using his Twitter account to criticize the West for supporting Kyiv and predicting Russia's triumph over European hubris and foolishness.

Le Pen's advisor accused America of waging a war of ideas against Russia and China, and hailed Moscow as a spiritual guide for other nations

As The Insider found out, a distinct group of guests attending the forum comprised “Prince A.A. Trubetskoy's French politicians.” Led by Thierry Mariani, a Member of the European Parliament and a key lobbyist for the Kremlin in France, the delegation was received by Sergey Naryshkin, Chairman of the State Duma, around that time. The speaker expressed gratitude to his foreign colleagues for their “independent assessments” and “balanced position” on the Ukrainian issue. Many of them had openly criticized the West's policy towards Russia, frequently visiting Crimea and justifying its annexation. For instance, Mariani deemed the annexation of Crimea as “a historical inevitability.”

Accompanying Mariani's group during their meeting with Naryshkin was Prince Alexander Trubetskoy, the Chairman of the French Imperial Guard Memorial Society, who also assists the Kremlin in identifying potential allies in France. Alexander, a descendant of Eurasianism ideologue Nikolai Trubetskoy, has been trading with the USSR since the 1970s, supplying communications systems to various organizations including the Ministry of Civil Aviation, RAO UES of Russia, the Academy of Sciences, and ITAR-TASS. Among his prominent partners in Russia was Igor Shchegolev, the former Minister of Communications and current Presidential Envoy to the Central Federal District. Trubetskoy first met Shchegolev in the early 1990s when he worked as an ITAR-TASS correspondent in Paris, and was actually an undercover officer of the KGB's First Main Directorate. Shchegolev also has close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church and is a friend and key supporter of Konstantin Malofeev. At Shchegolev's suggestion, Trubetskoy was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Svyazinvest telecommunications holding company in the fall of 2011.

Alexander Trubetskoy
Alexander Trubetskoy

According to a profile of Prince Trubetskoy in Vedomosti, “many individuals who played a significant role in his career are believed to be former KGB officers.” Trubetskoy became friends with Alexander Avdeev, who had been a security officer and later became the Minister of Culture. In the early 2000s, Avdeev was Russian ambassador to France and was “very interested in improving relations between Russia and the descendants of immigrants,” Trubetskoy said. Avdeev invited Trubetskoy to co-found the Franco-Russian Dialogue (FRD) association in 2004, which was established under the patronage of Putin and Jacques Chirac to promote bilateral cooperation. Trubetskoy later became the executive director of the association, and coincidentally, Vladimir Yakunin and Thierry Mariani also held leadership positions in the organization.

The Franco-Russian Dialogue was composed of politicians, businessmen, and top managers from some of the largest companies in both countries, ranging from Vnesheconombank and Rosoboronexport to Total and Renault. According to Trubetskoy, the association “helped with its contacts at a very high level.” This included lobbying for deals, arranging trips for French parliamentarians to Moscow and vice versa, and, after the annexation of Crimea, “pushing through” the lifting of sanctions against Russia. The Russian Embassy in Paris and Rossotrudnichestvo also participated in the organization's work, the former by providing its premises for meetings. In April 2016, Mariani, who was then a member of the National Assembly from the center-right opposition party Republicans, submitted a draft resolution to the lower house of parliament calling on the government to lift the sanctions as they were “completely ineffective” and threatened the French economy. A few months later, another prominent member of the Dialogue, Yves Pozzo di Borgo, submitted a similar resolution to the Senate. Both resolutions were approved by a majority vote, but they were only advisory in character.

Sooner or later, the French authorities were bound to look into the FRD. According to Le Monde, in September 2021, the Paris prosecutor's office launched two investigations against the association - on suspicion of corruption, abuse of influence and trust, and money laundering. Mariani and Di Borgo are at the center of the proceedings.

Thierry Mariani
Thierry Mariani

Despite this, the Franco-Russian Dialogue continues to operate as a Kremlin-affiliated group. It advocates for continued cooperation with Russia by arranging meetings, interviews, and conferences with Moscow-loyal experts and propagandists like Peter Tolstoy. The themes discussed during these events align with the Kremlin's agenda, including topics such as “The American Plan to Dismantle Russia,” “What They Don't Tell You About Ukraine,” and “Do France and Europe Really Need NATO?” On the French side, Thierry Mariani remains the organization's head, while Vladimir Yakunin serves as its honorary president, and he is still not on the EU sanctions list. As previously reported by The Insider, the French commercial registry lists two addresses for the organization: one is the office of Russian Railways on Champs Elysees, and the other matches the location of the Russian House of Science and Culture in Paris, which is a branch of Rossotrudnichestvo.

Yakunin and Trubetskoy have also collaborated on matters related to the church. In late 2016, they participated in the consecration of the new Trinity Cathedral on Quai Branly in Paris, located near the Eiffel Tower. The first liturgy in this largest Orthodox church in Europe was personally led by Patriarch Kirill. The church is situated within the grounds of the Russian spiritual and cultural center of the Moscow Patriarchate, which includes a Russian-French school, exhibition and concert halls, several high-end apartments, and offices of the Russian Embassy. The land on which the center is built was purchased by the Executive Office of the Russian President.

The French intelligence community strongly opposed the construction of the Trinity Cathedral in the heart of Paris. The “spiritual center”, located adjacent to the Alma Palace - one of the official residences of the French president - is considering to be a potential hub for Russian espionage. “The church is very close to the Foreign Ministry and not far from the Elysée Palace. There are fears that negotiations in these two important state buildings will be wiretapped from there,” said in an interview with RFI journalist Nicolas Hénin, author of the book “Russian France: an Investigation into Putin's networks.”

Russia's Envoys

At the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots (CCRC) congress in late November of last year, Trubetskoy was presented with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs badge of honor “For Contribution to International Cooperation” by Ambassador Alexei Meshkov. In his acceptance speech, the prince spoke in a grandiose manner about the spiritual superiority of the “Russian world” over the Western world. He referred to the war in Ukraine as “events in the south of Russia” and described members of the diaspora as Russia's representatives abroad, who must proudly defend “our Russianness” at all times.

Alexander Trubetskoy told Vyacheslav Nikonov (head of the Russian World Foundation), host of the talk show “The Big Game” on Channel One, about how he himself is coping with the task. All of the prince's efforts today are focused on fighting “anti-Russian propaganda” in France – and on spreading Kremlin propaganda:

“The French media frequently invites Ukrainians, but Russians are not given the same opportunity. Moreover, [there are doubts among some people], even among my acquaintances, whether our actions are appropriate or not. It is our responsibility to constantly address such concerns, and this is the primary task of my association, [the Imperial Guard Memorial Society].”

In addition to regular CCRC members, activists from the SOS Donbass movement, which has organized pro-Russian rallies in France, also spoke at the November congress. Their main message is that weapons supplied by NATO countries to Ukraine are in fact used to kill civilians in Donbass or end up being sold on the black market. In the fall, the movement's founder, Anna Novikova-Bernet, sent a petition to the French parliament demanding that arms supplies to Kyiv be stopped.

SOS Donbass claims that weapons supplied to Ukraine are used to kill civilians in Donbass or end up being sold on the black market

On January 21, the most recent demonstration in support of Donbass was held in the city of Tarb, located in the southwest of France. The group of protesters, consisting of around 40 individuals, displayed the flags of France, Russia, and the self-proclaimed DNR, and exhibited banners bearing slogans such as “STOP NATO” and “No to Fascism.” Another demonstration of a similar nature was organized on the Champ de Mars in Paris last November.

There is no doubt that the representatives of SOS Donbass, present at the congress of compatriots arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Rossotrudnichestvo, have strong connections to the Russian authorities. It is also interesting to note that Novikova-Bernet's main media collaborator is Adrien Boquete, an “independent war reporter” from France who frequently appears on Russian TV's First Channel and is known for debunking supposed Ukrainian “fake news” about Bucha. Boquete advocates for his followers on social media to donate to SOS Donbass and join their protests.

Anna Novikova-Bernet and Adrian Boquete
Anna Novikova-Bernet and Adrian Boquete

Another organizer of anti-NATO protests is the France-Russie Convergences (France-Russia-Concord) association, which also acts with the approval of the Foreign Ministry. Thus, in June, its representatives were invited to the Russian Consul General in Marseilles to celebrate Russia Day. Dmitry de Koshko, a prominent CCRC functionary, writer and former AFP journalist, whose glorious ancestor Arkady Frantsevich Koshko was the chief of the Moscow detective police and controlled a huge network of police informers, is believed to be behind the association.

In late August, the association held a commemorative event in Nice to honor Daria Dugina. “Dasha followed in the footsteps of her father Alexander Dugin and together they pursued the Eurasian path. It's a path beyond nationalism, liberalism, and communism, which Eurasians consider Western ideas,” Mr. de Koshko told TASS. <…> ”If Eurasia becomes a major economic and political power, it will spell the end of the Anglo-Saxon empire's world dominance.” Today, de Koshko is a strong opponent of what he calls “anti-Russian propaganda” in the European media. He has even launched a website called StopRussophobie to monitor content he deems to be Russophobic.

Dmitry de Koshko
Dmitry de Koshko

Georgy Shepelev is also a noteworthy figure as the chairman of the Council of Compatriots in France, a historian, and lecturer at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO) in Paris. Some years ago, he filed a libel lawsuit against Cecile Vessier, a professor of Slavistics at the University of Rennes-II (Brittany), who in her book “Kremlin Networks in France” detailed the Russian “soft power” in France and how the CCRC, led by Shepelev, was used to advance the Kremlin's agenda. Shepelev had portrayed himself as a fighter against the Russian regime in 2011-2012 by organizing demonstrations in Paris in support of the “Bolotnaya movement” and coordinating the Facebook group “Supporters of democracy in Russia.” However, he later took a very different stance.

In a conversation with The Insider, Cecile Vessier recalls how Shepelev repeatedly invited her to a reception at the Russian embassy in February 2013: “I was very surprised by this. Of course, the question arose as to whether he had really changed his views so much or whether his speeches against Putin were a provocation from the beginning.”

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