Vladimir Yakunin’s Western Allies Criticise Sanctions

The World Public Forum has published a statement about the sanctioning of its co-founder, Vladimir Yakunin:

We, the undersigned people from various countries around the world, including the USA, express our great dismay about President Obama’s list of sanctions on top Russian officials. The world in 2014 does not need a new Cold War. It needs de-escalation instead of a spiral of sanctions. The solution of the Ukrainian and Crimean crisis is dialogue and diplomatic efforts which include all parties concerned instead of individualized sanctions.

We consider it to be a particular mistake to “sanction” Vladimir Yakunin who is not only President of Russian Railways but also the founder and president of the World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations which enjoys consultative status in United Nations’ ECOSOC. For more than a decade Vladimir Yakunin has devoted a lot of efforts and activities to dialogue among different religions, cultures and nations as the alternative to armed conflicts. He has stood up against hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism as well as Islamophobia.

Many people around the world know of and greatly value Dr. Yakunin’s extraordinary and tireless work for peace and justice and the resolution of conflicts…

The letter is signed by Walter Schwimmer, Former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, followed by Fred Dallmayr of the University of Notre Dame and various academics. Schwimmer has also penned his own statement:

The solution of the Ukrainian and Crimean crisis is dialogue and diplomatic efforts which include all parties concerned, as former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, stated in response to President Obama’s list of sanctions of Russian top officials. The world of 2014 does not need a new Cold War. It needs de-escalation instead of a spiral of sanctions. We fully share Mr. Schwimmer’s view that it is a particular mistake to “sanction” Vladimir Yakunin, not only President of Russian Railways but founder and president of World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations. Vladimir Yakunin has devoted since more than a decade a lot of efforts, time as well as activities, to dialogue among different religions, cultures and nations as the alternative to armed conflicts. He has stood up against hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism as well as Islamophobia. His efforts are appreciated by many people throughout the world, including the United States of America. We want Vladimir Yakunin to continue without interruption and hindrance his work for a better and peaceful world where dialogue prevails. We demand that President Yakunin enjoys free access to all United Nations Headquarters including New York as chairman of an NGO with consultative status in UN Economic and Social Council.

As I’ve noted previously, Yakunin’s WPF has made links with an extraordinary array of top-tier academics, religious leaders, and emeritus politicians (along with some rather more eccentric figures), who have spoken at conferences in Rhodes and Vienna and written for WPF publications. However, Yakunin’s enthusiasm for “dialogue” actually means rallying conservative forces against Western liberalism, styled as “neo-liberalism”: just last month he suggested that human rights is deployed in international relations to “de-sovereign states”, and in 2011 he gave a WPF speech in which he opined on the “incompatibility between the neo-liberal interpretation of the system of human rights and the system of human values” and explained that “the universal urge to have the ‘freedom’ to say ‘anything and in any form’ has a temporary character and is beginning to fade away”. Yakunin has also denounced anti-Putin protestors in Russia as having ” no connection with democracy” and as “a direct threat to the sovereignty of our country.”

By suggesting a clash between how “human rights” have been understood and “human values”, Yakunin is speaking generally, but he is also alluding to Russia’s increasingly authoritarian opposition to homosexuality. Yakunin has links with a number of US “family values” activists – most notably, Allan Carlson, Don Feder and Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families. But the Ukraine crisis has provoked dissension within the US conservative movement: Feder recently published a boiler-plate rant entitled “Putin Doesn’t Threaten Our National Security, Obama Does”, which prompted Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media to issue a rebuke that “conservatives opposed to Obama’s agenda do not have to ignore, excuse, or rationalize Russian aggression in Ukraine” (however, Kincaid managed to outdo Feder in the “most absurd article title” stakes, with “Putin Now Threatens Nuclear Attack”).

A further link between Yakunin and US conservatives is somewhat stranger: another co-founder of the World Public Forum is a Greek-American businessman named Nicholas Papanicolaou. However, Papanicolaou is also the “Grand Master” of a chivalric order which had been known to meet in Rhodes around the same time as WPF events. The order’s Grand Chancellor is none other than “Jerry” Boykin, while a “Deputy Member of the Supreme Council” is the neo-Pentecostal evangelist Rick Joyner.

Last week, the New York Times profiled Yakunin as part of a piece on “Foes of America in Russia” (links added):

 …there are important stakeholders who, faced with the threat of sanctions last week, have advocated that Russia cut itself off from the West. The most obvious among them is Vladimir I. Yakunin, president of Russian Railways and one of Mr. Putin’s trusted friends, who in a recent interview with The Financial Times described the struggle against a “global financial oligarchy” and the “global domination that is being carried out by the U.S.” On Tuesday, Mr. Yakunin presented plans for a Soviet-style megaproject to develop transportation and infrastructure in Siberia, a move toward “an economics of a spiritual type,” he said, that would insulate Russia from the West’s alien values.

Jihadi Murder Videos Include “Sacrifice” Element

From Bob Unruh at WorldNetDaily:

Christians’ Throats Slit in Pagan Slaughterhouses

After exposing videos of “ritual human sacrifices” of Christians by Muslims, a former Palestinian Liberation Organization member-turned-Christian has discovered a new set of shocking videos that show human slaughterhouses in which non-Muslims are executed.

…The witness video, translated by Shoebat’s organization, Rescue Christians, includes the testimony of Saif Al-Adlubi, who inexplicably was identified for “sacrifice” but then not killed before government soldiers arrived.

In recent days, Shoebat has drawn attention to a number of gruesome and distressing murder videos apparently recorded by jihadis in Syria, in which the killers tell their victims that they are to be sacrificed. It’s a detail that only an Arabic-speaker could catch, and it’s of some interest for understanding the mindset of the most cold-blooded and psychopathic of the jihadis.

However, this being Shoebat, he wants us to draw a more wide-ranging conclusion:

“This is the reality of Islam, it is a pagan and utterly depraved and sadistic religion. It takes the soul of a man and purges any remnants of human affection from his very being. Look to your own soul, and understand your own obligation to help the Christians,” Shoebat said.

Shoebat and his son have in the past promoted a bizarre and unsustainable theory that Allah is in fact a Babylonian “god of violence and revolution”. But it should be hardly worth saying that “human sacrifice” is not a part of Islamic teaching or practice: the notion of “sacrifice” in the videos emerges out of a context of extreme violence, rather than being the causative agent of violence.

Shoebat’s own motive, of course, is that we should regard all Muslims with disgust and horror, wherever and whoever they are – he has in the past expressed a wish that “nukes” would “take care of the whole problem” of Islam “once and for all”. Not many “remnants of human affection” there.

The video of Al-Adlubi bears the logo of the Dubai-based Al Aan TV; other videos highlighted by Shoebat have come from sources such as SyrianTube or the recesses of Liveleak; however, Shoebat appears to confirm that some material has been brought into the public domain by his organisation:

…Al-Adlubi said the victims included Armenian and Syrian Christians along with Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Said Walid Shoebat: “The stories told by Al-Adlubi and [Kamil] Toume add up. Toume sent us some footage that circulated the Syrian community after the human slaughterhouse finally ended, and the ugly remaining evidence was revealed when Umm Muhammad’s slaughterhouse in the Siba’ district in Homs was busted by Syrian police three years ago in August 2011.

I previously discussed Rescue Christians at the end of last year; Shoebat’s manager Keith Davies stopped by with a comment.

Fake Ex-Terrorist Is “Keynote Speaker” At Holocaust March of Remembrance Event

A press release from March of Remembrance, Houston:

Over 200 Christian leaders, including pastors from many Christian denominations, gathered to raise awareness of the upcoming Third Annual Holocaust March of Remembrance Houston, which will be held at multiple locations across the Houston area on April 26-27, 2014.

The luncheon, sponsored by the Houston Area Pastor Council and hosted by Houston’s First Baptist Church, were honored to have Holocaust survivors Ruth and Larry Steinfeld and Al and Sarah Marks in attendance, along with National Rabbinic Advisor Rabbi Dan Gordon, from Temple Beth Torah, and Kamal Saleem, a former Muslim Brotherhood member… Mr. Saleem, the keynote speaker, shared his remarkable story of turning from hatred of Jews and Christians, to serving the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This is utterly grotesque: Saleem’s story is indeed “remarkable”, but it’s not as surprising as the fact that groups continue to give a platform to a man whose absurd self-history has been so comprehensively exploded, and whose conspiracy theories include the claim that Obama is a secret Muslim working to create a USA in which “one day we’ll be wearing ragheads”.

Here’s a summary of his memoir, Blood of the Lambs:

He gets those emphatic rivals, the PLO and the Muslim Brotherhood, both to recruit him. He recalls the intricate details of raids he carried out at age seven. Abu Jihad himself teaches him how to use an AK-47. He is shown off by Yasser Arafat as a model warrior. In Libya at age 14 he has Muammar Qaddafi gushing in gratitude. In Iraq, he waves to Saddam Hussein… No major war of liberation in the Arab world seems to have gone off without his expertise.

The story is made worse by nonsensical details such as his claim to be related to the “Grand Wazir of Islam”. His true background – including information from an old roommate from 1981 who is dismissive of his claims – was explored by Tim Murphy for Mother Jones in 2012.

Saleem is also described as a member of the Holocaust March of Remembrance’s “Leadership”, billed in second place as “Honorary Ambassador.”

Mark Driscoll’s Church: ResultSource Link “Unwise”

From the website of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church:

In 2011, outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source to market [Driscoll's] Real Marriage book and attain placement on the New York Times Bestseller list. While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again. The true cost of this endeavor was much less than what has been reported, and to be clear, all of the books purchased through this campaign have been given away or sold through normal channels.

Driscoll lately doesn’t seem able to produce a book without controversy: late last year, there were accusations of plagiarism in relation to another title.

The church’s link to ResultSource (there’s not supposed to be a space between the two words) was first reported last week by Warren Cole Smith of World magazine, including details of how ResultSource bypasses measures designed to exclude bulk sales from the bestseller list:

According to the terms of the contract between ResultSource and Mars Hill, “RSI will be purchasing at least 11,000 total orders in one-week.” The contract called for the “author” to “provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the make up of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state… RSI will use its own payment systems (ex. gift cards to ensure flawless reporting). Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards. RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc).”

ResultSource has itself been a focus of controversy before; in 2010 it shifted “hundreds” of unsolicited copies of a book by Steve Poizner, a politician in California, through Amazon ahead of Gubernatorial nominations. One copy went to a man named Matthew Donnellan; Capitol Weekly reported:

…Wanting to make sure his credit card number hadn’t been stolen, he called Amazon. The Amazon representative he reached told him the book was purchased with a gift card — and that card had also been used to buy copies of “Mount Pleasant” for 249 other people, all of whom had first names that began with “M”.

…Donnellan kept asking Amazon questions. He was told the card was purchased under the unlikely-sounding name “Joe Shome.” But the actual card was paid for by one Mat Miller, of the San Diego-based firm Pink Moon Media. The same person told Donnellan that Miller bought “a number” of other gift cards.

The name “Mat Miller” also pops up on Google as a contact for ResultSource, Inc. This Carlsbad-based company bills itself as “The leader in book marketing and thought-leadership promotion.”

ResultSource was subsequently profiled by the Wall Street Journal a year ago; according to the report, “Amazon.com Inc. said it has stopped doing business with ResultSource”. However:

At least one publisher, John Wiley & Sons Inc., recommends ResultSource to a small number of business authors. “We view it as a marketing tool that targets sales and the timing of those sales,” a Wiley spokeswoman says.

ResultSource CEO Kevin Small sees himself as a literary agent – in a 2011 interview, he explained that his promotional work also includes building social media platforms for authors:

“The clients that I work with are not allowed to publish books until they have all of their social media basis covered so that has to be in place. No author of mine that I work with will be allowed to publish, is allowed to publish anything unless they have the platform in place at all.”

It should be noted that Small’s background is in promoting business and leadership speakers – a specialist area of publishing in which book sales are closely linked to the charisma and brand-value of the author. According to a bio-blurb (links added):

In 1996, Kevin Small was recruited by the leadership development author John C. Maxwell. Kevin was tasked with the creation of a platform that would be used to bring Maxwell’s leadership books to market. As the President of Maxwell’s company, Kevin launched a satellite event training series that would enroll over 1 million students while rolling out an integrated publishing platform that launched four New York Times bestselling leadership titles.

…In March of 2005 Kevin founded The Marcus Buckingham Company around bestselling author and Gallup Researcher, Marcus Buckingham. For the next three years Kevin built a research and training company around Buckingham’s body of work developed after Buckingham left The Gallup Organization. Kevin served as the Executive Producer for Buckingham’s award winning film, Trombone Player Wanted, and launched the book, Go Put Your Strengths To Work, which was debuted with a dedicated Oprah show and a national book tour.

Maxwell is also a pastor; motivational speaking forms a significant strand within American evangelicalism, and Small is himself apparently a person of faith: the bio-blurb comes from a site for an evangelical “marriage mentoring ministry”. Copyright pages viewable on Google Books show that a couple of titles from the Christian publisher Thomas Nelson (Driscoll’s Real Marriage publisher, now owned by HarperCollins) have been published “in association” with ResultSource.

ResultSource’s approach can be defended: in Driscoll’s case, his books are ultimately going to real potential readers. There is also a problem with rankings in that a steady-seller over a long period may actually do better than a book that enjoys a short-term “spike”, but not get the same kind of recognition; why not, then, strategize to have a greater number of potential readers get the book in a short period? ResultSource is quite open about what it does, and authors are happy to acknowledge its services. But the bottom line is that its “1,000 different payment types” is surely an active attempt to conceal the true, artificial, nature of purchases, with a view to creating a misleading impression.

Perhaps the lesson is that rankings – whether on the New York Times or on Amazon – should not be taken very seriously, and that a book’s worth and true influence are better determined through other measures.

(H/T Warren Throckmorton)

Daily Mail Claims Alleged “Operation Trojan Horse” Plot Goes Back To 1990s

The Daily Mail has a front-page follow-up on the “Operation Trojan Horse” story (which I discussed yesterday), by Lucy Osborne:

Muslim school headmistress reveals she was driven out of job by fanatics who ‘saw her as the enemy, because she was too moderate’

…In a letter seen by the Mail, a fanatic brags about enlisting four radical parents to help oust her in 1993.

She said: ‘I was the victim of a pernicious, well-orchestrated smear campaign I have never been able to recover from.

‘People need to know this is a dangerous, well-organised and sinister group who have the capacity to destroy. They are producing fear in society and playing on paranoia. They are extremely powerful.’

The 69-year-old believes she was seen as an enemy because she was too moderate a Muslim. She was confronted with a number of allegations, including one of financial mismanagement.

Despite protesting her innocence her dismissal followed in 1994.

Details of the case were reported at the time by British Muslims Monthly Survey, and are available on the website of Birmingham University. It recorded in 1994 that:

Mrs [Noshaba] Hussain was appointed in unusual circumstances whilst having had no paid primary school teaching experience and being under investigation concerning financial irregularities at the Muslim Women’s Training Centre which she used to manage.

The Birmingham Post revealed (23.10.93) that there had been a series of three advertisements for the post when Mrs Hussain was appointed, the first two carried the standard requirement for appropriate teaching experience but the third, which had apparently not been approved by the Authority and on the basis of which Mrs Hussain was appointed, did not carry any mention of such a requirement. Further, the same newspaper reported that irregularities had been found in Mrs Hussain’s record of service which she had thrice been asked to clarify but had declined so to do.

The Mail does not go into any of these details, let alone explain how the whole thing was actually a conspiracy by fanatics. Indeed, the report avoids even mentioning the name of the ex-head or of the school. The Mail article also contains a text box with excerpts from the document, introduced as “The letter brags of the ‘Trojan Horse’ plan working ‘perfectly’ as early as 1993. Below are selected extracts”, but the material then given instead refers to recent events in two other schools.

Frustratingly, the complete text of the “Operation Trojan Horse” document is still (apparently) not available online, although the same four pages from it have been uploaded to Scribd by users with the names “Wigwammer” and “Truthy101” – Wigwammer has uploaded photos of photocopies, and these same photocopies appear to have been scanned independently by “Truthy101″ (with some redactions added). The relevant passage is on the third page:

The parents MUST be given direction and told not to discuss this with anyone, you only need a maximum of 4 parents to disrupt the whole school, to send in complaints, to question their child’s education and to contact their MP and local Authority. We did this perfectly to Noshaba Hussain from Springfield School. However the Governors reappointed her so now we have another plan in place to get her out.

“Truthy101″ has also uploaded a new copy of the 1994 article from the British Muslims Monthly Survey, as well as a press release by Tahir Alam, who is currently chairman of the governors at Park View School. Alam was named in the document as one of the plotters – he has already dismissed the document as a “malicious fabrication” in comments to the media, and in the statement on Scribd he apparently adds:

The document refers to a headteacher at Springfield School and how the alleged ‘plotters’ attempted to remove her but did not succeed; and how they are still trying to remove her now. A simple Google search has revealed that she was headteacher of Springfield Primary School around 1993 and has not been at the school for a very long time. My involvement in education started in 1997. This factual inaccuracy further undermines the veracity of the whole document and shows it is a complete concoction.

…Finally, I have managed to obtain four pages of a scanned copy of the original ‘Trojan Horse’ document, which I have attached so that you can make your own mind up.

UPDATE (12 March): The Times has a delved a bit deeper, in a piece by Dominic Kennedy, Greg Hurst and Ruth Gledhill (re-posted at Islamophobia Watch):

Raghib Ahsan, a former Labour councillor for the area who went on to become chairman of governors at the school, was astonished to be told about the claim in the letter. “That’s a total lie,” he said: “We got rid of Noshaba Hussain. There was no religious issue. There was no such thing, if they are trying to take credit for it I was Sparkhill councillor at that time.”

The story raises some unfortunate difficulties for Lucy Osborne at the Daily Mail: why did she not contact Ahsan herself, and why was her report so lacking in specific and highly relevant details that were readily available elsewhere?

The Times also suggests that the document authors appear to be unaware that Hussain’s dispute was as long ago as 1993 (a point obscured by the Mail‘s text-box intro), and suggest that this is evidence that the document may be a forgery. Also:

The crudeness of the apparent forgery is underlined by another error. The letter identifies two Birmingham schools where the plotters claim credit for removing head teachers late last year. However, the author appears to have muddled up their departure dates.

Correction: I originally overlooked the reference to Hussain on the third page.

Newspapers Cite Anonymous Photocopies As Evidence Of Islamist Plot in Birmingham

This one is being widely reported; from the Birmingham Mail:

An alleged plot by Islamic fundamentalists to take over Birmingham schools by ousting headteachers and staff through dirty tricks campaigns is being investigated by education chiefs.

The city council and the Birmingham Mail have received documents which purport to show Jihadists are targeting schools and orchestrating false allegations against staff, including non-Muslims, in an operation dubbed Trojan Horse.

…The documents claim to be leaked written correspondence from one Birmingham fundamentalist to another in Bradford and details plans to roll out Trojan Horse to Bradford as well as Manchester.

…The alleged plot is said to involve recruiting Salafi parents and staff – hard-line followers of Islam – to help spread false allegations about school leaders, including claiming sex education is being promoted to Muslim schoolchildren or Christian prayers.

…Peter Hay, Strategic Director for People at Birmingham City Council, alerted city councillors to the anonymous documents on February 10 and revealed some heads had also received them.

If genuine, the documents would provide important and sinister new information about the context of some events that have recently occurred at schools in Birmingham: the letter suggests “planting the seed” of false allegations of SAT-cheating against Tina Ireland, the head of Regents Park Community School, and we know that Ireland was forced to resign due to just such an allegation. The documents also appear to predict that  Balwant Bains, the head of Saltley Schools, would “soon be sacked”, and Bains resigned in October due to conflict with governors.

The Birmingham Mail is careful to use quotation marks in its headline (“‘Jihadist plot to take over Birmingham schools’”) to reflect the fact that the origin of the documents is currently unknown; the Daily Mail, however, goes with “Revealed: Islamist plot dubbed ‘Trojan Horse’ to replace teachers in Birmingham schools with radicals”, consigning the detail that authenticity has not yet been established to several paragraphs into the story. The earliest source, an article by Richard Kerbaj and Sian Griffiths in last week’s Sunday Times, slips from “an apparent plot” in the lead-in to “the revelation” shortly thereafter. That piece also describes the “anonymous documents” as having been leaked to the paper.

The alleged correspondence is variously described as “documents” or as just “the leaked document” or “a letter“. Several pages have been uploaded to Scribd by someone using the name wigwammer (H/T Islamophobia Watch); they are typed photocopies, and the document appears to be one continuous item.

Co-ordinated efforts by hardliners may be the key to understanding what’s happened in Birmingham, but it seems to me that there’s a good chance that such a comprehensive “smoking gun” is be too good to be true: the plot is laid bare in detail, while the author’s malice is made unambiguous through conspiratorial language worthy of a villain in a pulp thriller:

We have caused a great amount of organised disruption in Birmingham and as a result now have our own academies and are on the way to getting rid of more headteachers and taking over their schools. Whilst sometimes the practices we use may not seem the correct way to do things you must remember that this is say ‘jihad’ and as such using all measures possible to win the war is acceptable.

Yet the identity of the writer remains impossible to pin down.

There are also a couple of other concerns: the name “Operation Trojan Horse” is generic and again clunkily conspiratorial, and seems an unlikely title for Islamists to adopt; second, aside from the vague reference to “jihad”, the letter lacks the kind of insider religious rhetoric and self-justification one might expect to see in correspondence between fundamentalists.

Of course, the letter may indeed be genuine – but I think it’s a bit early to be pronouncing on its “revelations”.


Two developments:

First, one headmistress named in the document as having been ousted by the conspiracy has told the Daily Mail that she was indeed removed by “a dangerous, well-organised and sinister group”. However, the woman, named Noshaba Hussain, was dismissed in 1993 and the Mail‘s report does not address specific concerns that were raised about her at the time. The man who was chairman of the school’s governors in 1993 has now told the Times that “there was no religious issue”. I discuss all this here.

Second, the Guardian has further details of a possible motive for creating a fake document:

The teaching assistants – three Muslim women of Pakistani origin and one white, non-Muslim woman – are suing the school for unfair dismissal, claiming they were ousted after someone faked resignation letters carrying their signatures.

…They say they told Adderley they had no intention of quitting and that their signatures had been forged after they raised grievances about their treatment at the school with the local authority.

It is thought that detectives, as well as the council, are examining whether the Trojan Horse plot could have been concocted to support Adderley school’s case at tribunal… A legal source said a handwriting expert had provided a forensic report for the tribunal that strongly suggests none of the teaching assistants signed their own resignation letters.

The “Trojan Horse” document supposedly outlines the “resignation letters” conspiracy:

…These sisters are a great example of what can be achieved by only three people, along with an English woman who is their close friend, have raised an allegation of fraudulent resignation letters against the Head (even though they did actually write the letters themselves), they got the whole movement of the letters witnessed by not one but three witnesses just to be sure there was no chance of comeback on them. The letters were witnessed from the moment they were written to the time they were delivered to the school so that no one could doubt their word when they say there were no resignation letters in the envelope, only other health related matters.

This suggests to me three possibilities: (a) fake resignation letters, followed up by a bogus document created to discredit claims that the letters are fake; (b) real resignation letters (although perhaps with concocted fake  signatures) which are being denied in order to “frame” the school, but which have now been confirmed through an anonymous true document that has very conveniently come to light; (c) a bogus document created as part of a real Islamist conspiracy, as a double-bluff.

The Guardian adds that the “Trojan Horse” document “misnames senior officials at both Birmingham and Bradford councils.” Like the Times, the paper also points out that the document’s author does not appear to be aware that Hussain was dismissed as long ago as 20 years ago, and that the author seems to think – incorrectly – that Hussain has been reinstated.

Russian News Service Interfax Pushes “Ukrainian Prime Minister Is a Scientologist” Claim

From Russian news service Interfax:

Acting Ukrainian president is a pastor and its prime is a scientologist

…Acting President, speaker of the Verkhovnaya Rada Alexander Turchinov is a Baptist pastor and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is a scientologist. His sister chairs a major scientologist organization in the USA, Ukrainian media write.

The slippage from “is a scientologist” in the headline to the qualifying “Ukrainian media write” is somewhat anti-climatic. In fact, Turchinov’s association with the Baptists is already well documented, but Yatsenyuk is actually a Greek Catholic.

Tony Ortega looked into the Scientology claim towards the end of last month, and contacted  Yatsenyuk’s niece about it. She was direct:

“That’s crap,” she said. “We don’t even know what Scientology is.”

The story appears to go back to a 2009 article by a certain Igor Davydov, posted to a Russian site called Materik. Davydov, without feeling any need to provide documentation, explained that Yatsenyuk regularly meets David Miscavige, that he is OT-6 and that his sister Alina is OT-4, and that the Church of Scientology collects intelligence on behalf of the CIA.

The following year, a site called Discussion Club-SUMMIT published similar claims in a piece by Maxim Terekhov called “Does the Fighter Against Corruption Belong to a Sect?” The post has since been deleted, but is available on Wayback. According an automatic translation into English (tidied slightly):

In May of this year in the Ukrainian Internet, it was reported that A.Yatsenyuk is an adept of the international totalitarian sect “Church of Scientology”. It is reported that he graduated from a Kiev school of Dianetics and joined this organization in 1998, as a consultant to the credit department of the bank “Aval”. In the same year he signed a contract with the so-called Maritime Organization – the elite structure “of the Church of Scientology.”

From here, the story made its way into English via Wikipedia (relevant paragraph since deleted), where it recently inspired a certain Tom McGregor (a self-described “conservative Republican” who works for China Radio International) to compose an article for a site called Dallas Blog. However, McGregor decided the story needed spicing up with a bit of added conspiracy-mongering, resulting in the wonderful headline “Soros Hires Scientologist to Conquer Ukraine“.

The Scientology claim has also recently resurfaced on a Russian site called Nakanune, under the headline “Who is Behind the Bandera Nazis?”. The article is full of dark hints about “neoconservatives”, “Zionists”, and the “Jewish lobby”, and about Victoria Nuland’s Jewish heritage.

It is true that Yatsenyuk has a sister who lives in the USA, and the whole Scientology conspiracy theory appears to have been extrapolated from this mundane detail.

Nation Probes US Evangelical—Russian Orthodox Links

Somehow I managed to miss January’s Nation article by Adam Federman on links between US Evangelicals and what the magazine calls “Russia’s ‘Pro-Family” Right”. Federman takes a particular interest in Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, who chairs the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department of External Church Relations:

In February 2011, the 47-year-old Alfeyev traveled to Washington, where he met with prominent evangelical and “pro-family” leaders; and then to Dallas, where he addressed thousands of members of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church and emphasized the importance of “creat[ing] new alliances”, especially around issues of marriage, abortion and the family. Alfeyev also visited the Dallas Theological Seminary and had an hour-long meeting with George W. Bush. 

…Alfeyev’s visit was organized by Jerry Fullinwider, an oil executive and elder of the Highland Park church who, until recently, had business interests in Russia. Fullinwider, a member of the Koch brothers’ circle of major donors—those who have given more than $1 million to Koch-related causes—met Alfeyev through his friend Bob Foresman, head of Barclay’s Capital in Russia.

The Dallas Morning News reported on the 2011 trip at the time, while the Presbyterian Church (USA) website later mentioned that it had been organised by Foresman and “John Bernbaum, an American evangelical who is founder and president of the Russian-American Institute in Moscow”. Foresman’s own involvement with the Institute was noted in a 2011 Agweek profile of Howard Dahl, a businessman who sells agricultural equipment in Russia:

Dahl breakfasts with Bob Foresman, Russian country head for Barclay’s Capital. The two are board members of the Russian American Institute, a Christian liberal arts college. They and others have invested some $22 million into a facility for the purpose of turning out undergraduates. The college opened in 1996, but it recently has faced demographic and economic challenges. They talk about how they can partner with the Russian Orthodox Church and train people for “family support” work – family ministry, social work and English language.

Foresman was also present during at a 2011 meeting between Alfeyev and Michael McFaul, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and senior director of Russian and Eurasian affairs at the National Security Council. Alfeyev was accompanied by Alexei Timofeyev, of the Russian Embassy in Washington.

Fullinwider, meanwhile, has been involved in the oil business in Russia since the end of the USSR, and his VF-Russia, Inc also has a presence in Iraqi Kurdistan (full profile here).

The Nation further notes that Alfeyev later visited the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which has provided funding for the St. Gregory the Theologian Charity Foundation, an initiative of “Alfeyev, Russian billionaire and pharmaceutical magnate Vadim Yakuni [of Protek], and Leonid Sevastianov, a 35-year-old international business consultant and head of Stratinvest.ru”. Alfeyev sees the St Gregory Foundation as part of “a strategic alliance with the Catholics”, and in 2012 he had a meeting with Pope Benedict.

Other sections of Federman’s article examines the World Congress of Families and Vladimir Yakunin (not apparently related to Vadim), subjects I have looked at a number of times now (including an event held in London with Christian Concern).

The WCF responded to the Nation with a counter-article emphasising opposition to abortion and suggesting that there is “a huge incentive for Russians to think seriously about what it will take to reverse their nation’s demographic slide”.

Kenneth Copeland and a Message from the Pope

From the National Catholic Register:

…Pope Francis sent a video message to a gathering of U.S. Pentecostal leaders, voicing his “yearning” that separation between Catholics and other Christians may end.

…Pope Francis’ message was delivered to a meeting of the Fort Worth, Texas-based Kenneth Copeland Ministries by Pentecostal Bishop Tony Palmer, who had recorded it on an iPhone in a Jan. 14 meeting with the Holy Father. Palmer knew Pope Francis from his time in Argentina, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. The video was later uploaded to YouTube.

Like most people, my initial reaction was to think (like this lady): “You’re joking? The pope?”. Copeland is primarily a US Christian Right ideologue, and his “Word of Faith” Prosperity Gospel theology is to many outside observers – both Christian and non-Christian – predatory and intellectually risible. However, it’s unlikely that Francis knows much about Copeland – Francis’ message was to Pentecostals in general, rather than being an endorsement of Copeland’s controversial “Ministry”.

Copeland’s website has some background to the link with Palmer:

Over the past decade the Rt. Rev. Tony Palmer, a former director of Kenneth Copeland Ministries’ South African office and co-founder of The Ark Community, an international and interdenominational community of Christians based in the United Kingdom, has been extensively involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR).

In 2003, Palmer was invited by the Catholic Church to move to Europe and minister to Catholics within the CCR worldwide, as a non-Roman Catholic minister. As a result of this calling, Palmer has traveled to many countries around the world and participated in numerous meetings with leaders within the charismatic renewal.

It was during a mission to Argentina five years ago that Palmer met and soon became close friends with Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I.

…From the inception of The Ark Community, KCM has maintained a strong partnership with Palmer through prayer and by supporting his mission work. It was through Palmer’s assistance that Kenneth and Gloria Copeland were able to minister to the Roman Catholic Church in Italy for the first time ever in 2006. They have since returned there to minister.

Apparently, Copeland has in the past defended the Catholic Church against an anti-Catholic strand in Pentecostalism; according to a forum post made in 2007:

On the May 21st, 2007 edition of BVOV [Believer's Voice of Victory], guest John Hagee began slamming the RCC with the usual anti-Catholic rhetoric. After listening politely for a couple of minutes, Copeland jumped in and began defending Catholics, stating “The Roman Church at this time is filled with people that love God with all their heart”. Copeland continued on to talk about the Charismatic Movement within the RCC, how John Paul II had been a strong proponent of the Charismatic Movement, how John Paul II had, on behalf of the RCC repented of the sins that had occurred against the Jewish people and asked for their forgiveness, etc.

(Hagee jettisoned his anti-Catholicism soon afterwards, when past comments on this subject and others caused some embarrassment and damage to John McCain; anti-Catholicism was already somewhat archaic anyway, in an age when apocalyptic Christians are more interested using the Bible to place Islam with a demonic narrative of the “Last Days”.)

Meanwhile, Palmer’s background is the subject of a recent post for Patheos by  Fr. Dwight Longenecker. The author notes that Palmer’s denomination affiliation is not quite clear, but that he appears to be “a member of the Anglican Episcopal Church of the CEEC [Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches] (Celtic Anglican Tradition).” He adds that he “suspects” this group – one of many Anglican breakaway groups – has

embraced a bogus historical theory that has been growing in popularity in Anglican circles: this is the idea that there is a pure strand of British Christianity which dates right back to the Roman times when Coptic Christians brought Christianity to the British Isles along with Joseph of Arimathea who came to Glastonbury as a missionary… The whole theory is completely and crazily bogus–rather like British Israelitism or the Mormon claim that the native Americans were the lost tribes.

In a follow-up piece, he adds:

Clearly distancing themselves from the “continuing” Anglican churches, the CEEC (here’s their website) was founded not only by Anglicans, but a whole range of Protestant leaders who see themselves as part of a “convergent church” movement… One has to ask, when Tony Palmer presented himself therefore as “an Anglican Bishop” did Archbishop Bergoglio of Argentina have any idea that this was the background and was he aware of this rapidly shifting identity of Anglicanism? I suspect he did not. How was a Catholic bishop in Argentina expected to be aware of the mushrooming complexity of Anglicanism? No doubt as their friendship developed Bishop Bergoglio became aware of the real situation.

Key Vladimir Putin Ally Warns of Plan to “De-Sovereign States” Through Human Rights

One under-reported subject this blog has looked at from time to time is an organisation called the “World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations”. This is an initiative created by Vladimir Yakunin, a controversial member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and a man dubbed “the Kremlin’s ‘model Orthodox businessman’”. The WPF has made links with an extraordinary array of top-tier academics, religious leaders, and emeritus politicians (along with some rather more eccentric figures), who have spoken at conferences in Rhodes and Vienna and written for WPF publications.

At the start of the month, Yakunin addressed the WPF International Coordinating Committee in Vienna, and the WPF has now published his presentation in English:

…In his article “Globalization of Insecurity and the Dialogue of Civilizations” (published in the collection of papers from the 2011 Rhodes Forum), Prof. Joseph Camilleri describes in detail the ever increasing feeling of insecurity. What is more, this feeling seems to be spreading everywhere: both in different societies which tend to practically determine the strategies and tendencies in present-day globalization processes, as well as in communities that have become involved in global expansion.

All this, I believe, compels us to think about the growing pace and scope of what we may call “barbarization” of international relations. What is meant here is the following: under slogans of “advancing” democracy and “strict observance” of human rights, there are those who are arming themselves with the most ridiculous means to de-sovereign states and to justify interference from the outside into the affairs, history, culture and the very lifestyles of whole countries and regions. Instead of trying to pave the way to attain noble goals, this process is being aimed at attaining poorly disguised interests and at “revolutionizing” the public masses that are rapidly transformed into mobs of marauders and terrorists…

This is, of course, a veiled yet familiar swipe at critics of the increasing authoritarian nature of the Putin regime, and of its growing obsession with suppressing Russia’s gay minority – and it should be noted that his talk begins with a shout-out to “our colleague from Iran, who represents the founder of the inter-state initiative Dialogue among Civilizations – Mohammad Khatami” (1).

But Yakunin’s rhetoric, in which he outlines the shortcomings of “neoliberalism” and “globalisation”, is designed to have wide political appeal. Further:

We most certainly welcome diverse ecological initiatives that are not aimed at transforming “values” into “price tags,” or at reselling “the right to life” of the people in some countries to others or for making profits for a small group of oligarchs.

It is difficult regard without mirth one of Russia’s richest men talking critically about “oligarchs”; as Spiegel Online noted late last month:

 Yakunin is still in office [as head of Russia's railways] even though opposition leader and blogger Alexey Navalny revealed several months ago that the railway boss is not only an excellent contractor, but he is also extremely adept at taking care of himself. Navalny reported that Yakunin built himself a veritable palace just outside of Moscow, complete with dozens of rooms and a special, climate-controlled space for his wife’s fur coats. Yakunin says the report was nothing more than a “smear campaign.”

The same report describes Yakunin as “arch-conservative and powerfully eloquent”.

References to the WPF – and to the “Saint Andrew the First-Called Foundation”, through which Yakunin set up the WPF – pop up in unexpected places. For example, the WPF is sponsoring a “Musical Olympus Festival” at Carnegie Hall in April. The Musical Olympus Foundation’s founder, Irina Nikitina, has a “Faith and Faithfulness” medal from the Foundation.


(1) This description of Khatami as “founder of the inter-state initiative Dialogue among Civilizations” is explained here:

WPF “Dialogue of Civilizations” has become a practical realization of the UNGA resolution “Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations” accepted on November 9th, 2001, on the initiative of former President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Khatami.

The “Dialogue of Civilizations” program started on May 19th, 2002, at the Cathedral Square of the Moscow Kremlin.

This suggests that Khatami was a general inspiration rather than a “founder” in the proper sense of the word. The WPF was actually founded by Yakunin himself, although he had two co-chairs: the Indian philopher Jagdish Kapur, who has since passed away, and, more curiously, a Greek-American businessman named Nicholas Papanicolaou. This is odd because Papanicolau is a close associate with the elements of the neo-Pentecostal Christian Right, in particular Rick Joyner and retired Lt. General “Jerry” Boykin”: the three men are part of a “chivalric order” (which has held meetings on Rhodes around the same time as WFP events), and in 2011 Papanicolau and Boykin sent out an anti-Islam fundraising letter.