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Thursday, October 30, 2014

One of Vladimir Putin’s favorite businessmen wants to start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

   


If being the subject of international sanctions is causing Konstantin Malofeev any stress, he’s not showing it. “The sanctions are a very stupid instrument that only Obama and his administration could believe will have any impact. It has not damaged my business,” he says. The 40-year-old multimillionaire, though, does allow that the sanctions have “had some impact on my personal movements. I cannot go on vacation in the Alps. This weekend, my Greek friend who invited me to be the best man at his wedding had to come to me to have his wedding with 90 Greeks, instead of me going to him. That’s the impact that it had.”

The reason Malofeev’s Greek friend had to be so accommodating is that he has been accused by Ukraine’s government of financing the rebels in eastern Ukraine on behalf of the Russian government. Both Alexander Borodai, the former prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and Igor Strelkov, formerly one of the main commanders of the rebel forces, are ex-Malofeev employees. Malofeev himself is now subject to sanctions from the EU and Canada—though not the United States, despite his distaste for Obama—including a travel ban and a freeze on his foreign assets.

Sitting in a conference room decorated with Orthodox icons in his Moscow office, Malofeev dismisses accusations that he has provided any weapons to the rebels. “We have an agreement between the Donetsk People’s Republic and my foundation,” he says, but “it’s only food, medicine, and other things that could be used only for humanitarian purposes.”

    

Malofeev’s involvement in Ukraine may be what attracted the attention of Western governments, but that’s not the only reason he warrants scrutiny. In many ways the deeply religious private equity maven personifies Western liberals’ worst fears about Russia’s recent turn toward nationalism and social conservatism. 

With close ties to the president’s inner circle, he also represents a new type of power player that has emerged since Putin’s return to the presidency. At a time when the Russian government has been making life difficult for unruly oligarchs, Malofeev—intensely conservative, patriotic to a fault—is the type of businessman who’s well-positioned to prosper. But while he may at first look like just another Putin crony, his views are actually much more extreme than those of the typical loyalist, and much stranger.

Malofeev, who’s been called “Putin’s Soros” for his close ties to the Kremlin elite, certainly isn’t alone in being a staunch supporter of Russia’s crackdown on “gay propaganda.” As much as anyone in Russia, he’s put his money where his mouth is, sponsoring conferences on traditional family values attended by gay marriage opponents from the U.S. and Europe. “An adult person can choose the own way he wants to entertain himself in the bedroom,” he tells me. “But the state and taxpayers should not support teaching children different ways of sexual perversion. “

He is also adamant that the Russian people must be protected from perversion online. The Safe Internet League, of which he is one of the primary backers, successfully lobbied for the creation of an Internet blacklist law that went into effect in 2012. 

The law, billed as a crackdown on child pornography and other illegal material, was criticized by human rights groups as a potential prelude to greater online censorship. (To wit, videos by the band Pussy Riot have been blocked within Russia on the grounds that they are “extremist” content, and there is now a controversial law requiring bloggers to register with the authorities.) But the father of three says these fears are overblown and that the law was purely meant to protect children. 

Prior to the legislation’s passage, “there was not any limit on the Internet in Russia and the Russian Internet was the most dirty Internet in any developed country,” he says. He described Russia’s control over the Internet as “very light” compared with that of the United States.

Malofeev, whose St. Basil the Great Foundation is the country’s largest Orthodox charity, says that these cultural issues don’t stop at Russia’s borders. His mission is larger than just restoring Orthodoxy in Russia. Rather, it’s a global struggle.

“Just as Christians in the West in Ronald Reagan’s time helped us against the evil of communism, we now have to return our debt to Christians who are suffering under totalitarianism in the West,” he says. 



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