A socially conservative Russian businessman nicknamed the “Orthodox oligarch” has launched a new public organization aimed at ensuring that the 2021 parliamentary elections fill State Duma seats with people who share his views.
Konstantin Malofeyev, the 46-year-old founder of the Marshall Capital Partners investment fund and avowed creationist, monarchist, Russian nationalist, and advocate of so-called traditional family values, announced on November 22 that he will head the new movement, called Tsargrad.
On the day of its creation, Malofeyev claimed in a Telegram post that the movement had almost 1 million “supporters” and was the “largest Russian organization in the country” -- apparently meaning the largest organization advocating for ethnic Russians.
According to Malofeyev’s post, Tsargrad intends to act as “a public controller” during next year’s elections to the State Duma, the 450-seat lower house of Russia’s legislature.
“We will survey all the candidates for the 225 single-mandate districts and all the candidates from the political-party lists regarding their dedication to the traditional family, religious and cultural values of the Russian people,” he wrote.
He used wording that refers to ethnic Russians rather than broadly to citizens of Russia, a diverse country in which ethnic Russians make up about three-quarters of the population. A similar proportion identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, but a far smaller percentage attend church regularly if at all.
Malofeyev enumerated the group’s “main goals” as “preserving the nation, protecting the traditional family, the restoration of the imperial traditions of Russian statehood, the maintenance of civic peace and harmony, the maintenance of political and social stability, and the defense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.”
He added that the movement will then “support like-minded candidates from any political party.”
The Kremlin-controlled United Russia party dominates the Duma. Smaller numbers of seats are held by three other parties that are nominally in the opposition but often support President Vladimir Putin’s initiatives or serve as foils to lend what is often a rubber-stamp legislature an air of democratic discourse.
In addition to backing favored candidates, spokesman Valery Rukobratsky told media outlet Znak.com that Tsargrad will use “all legal means” to prevent the election of “candidates guilty of Russophobia, insulting the feelings of religious believers, distorting historical truth, or belittling the significance of the achievement of the people in defending the Fatherland.”
During Russia’s most recent campaigns, for local and regional elections in 2019 and 2020, liberal candidates across the country reported physical attacks and harassment by largely unidentified thugs seeking to intimidate them.
Nonetheless, candidates opposed to United Russia made significant gains in both rounds of voting by consolidating opposition sentiment through the Smart Voting campaign launched by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.
Since Putin came to power two decades ago, dissenters, LGBT-rights activists, and others have faced attacks and abuse by numerous purportedly independent socially conservative groups including Walking Together, Nashi, the National Liberation Movement (NOD), self-styled Cossack groups, and the Southeast Radical Nationalist Block (SERB) movement.
Among Tsargrad’s leadership are figures like Sergei Glazyev, a nationalist politician, economist, and former adviser to Putin; far-right ideologist and self-proclaimed philosopher Aleksandr Dugin; and conservative former Prosecutor-General Yury Skuratov.
Some members of the executive council are proponents of the so-called Novorossia project, a tsarist-era term that was used in 2014-16 to urge the incorporation into Russia of large portions of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Malofeyev has been hit with sanctions by the European Union and the United States for providing financial assistance to Russia-backed separatists who still hold parts of two provinces in eastern Ukraine amid a war that has killed more than 13,000 people since it started in April 2014.
According to media reports, Tsargrad’s manifesto opens with the words: “We are Russians. God is with us! We are the union of the Russian nation” -- with wording implying ethnicity, as in Malofeyev’s Telegram post.
Putin has championed what he calls traditional values and portrayed the Russian Orthodox Church as a moral beacon for society. He has called for harmony among ethnic groups and representatives of Russia’s officially condoned religions, but critics say his statements and policies have often risked encouraging bias against minorities.