MOSCOW -- French company Puy du Fou will press ahead with plans to build a family-oriented theme park near Moscow that aims to bring to life periods of Russian history despite its key partner, Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeyev, being placed on a European Union sanctions list last week.
Malofeyev’s Marshall Capital investment fund and Puy du Fou last month reached an agreement to build Russia’s first history-themed entertainment park in Moscow region, hoping to replicate on Russian soil Puy du Fou’s celebrated theme park in western France.
The territory of the park, due to be built by 2017, will stretch 300 hectares on a site near Malofeyev’s Tsargrad hotel and entertainment complex. It will feature actors, machinery, and animals choreographed in various performances to depict epochs or themes in Russian history to visiting families and tourists.
The project in Russia is expected to cost 18 billion rubles ($500 million). The joint venture with Marshall Capital is not restricted by sanctions imposed on Malofeyev by the European Union on July 30 that entail freezes on assets Malofeyev owns in the EU and a ban on travel to the 28-member bloc.
The Russian billionaire who founded the Marshall Capital international investment fund has shot to prominence in recent months as an allegedly key shadow player in the pro-Russia separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine and in Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula. He denies the allegations.
Muscovite Russians Igor Girkin, the top separatist commander on the ground in eastern Ukraine known as "Strelkov," and Aleksandr Borodai, self-anointed prime minister of Donetsk’s separatists, both formerly held positions in Malofeyev’s Marshall Capital.
In adding Malofeyev to its sanctions list, the EU said he is "closely linked to Ukrainian separatists in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea" and that he is "acting in support of the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine."
In an interview with RFE/RL, Puy du Fou president Nicolas de Villiers criticized the EU sanctions as “strange” and called Malofeyev a “friend.” He said that political decisions should not influence private business: “We are a private company in France and we have decided to do a private project with another private company which is represented by Konstantin Malofeyev."
De Villiers said organizers have not settled on which periods of Russia’s rich history they will tackle in the theme park, and designs will be drawn up within the coming year.
But he said he would like to avoid history subjects that are disputed or sensitive. “It’s not designed as a history lesson.”
“We want to create something that has smart content, is entertaining, and shows the glory of Russia," he said.
As potential themes or figures for the routines, de Villiers pointed to 13th-entury Russian prince Aleksandr Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, or the 1812 battle of Borodino, a turning point that led to the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte against Aleksandr I’s Russian Empire.
He said there were no plans afoot yet to depict 20th-century and modern history.
“The idea is to give people the pride to be Russian because they will see in a poetic and spectacular way their own history," said de Villiers.
“The idea is not to deal with the exact and scientific story,” he said. “The idea is to show the soul of Russia through those famous characters in history, and to show the soul of Russia not only in history but also today.”
Puy du Fou was founded by Philippe de Villiers, a conservative French politician and father of Nicolas de Villiers.
France’s Puy du Fou attracts 1.7 million visitors per year. It lies at the center of the Vendee region in western France. The company in 2012 won the Thea Classic Award for the best theme park in the world.