Wednesday, May 31, 2023

    Rosatom’s crusade: Russia stepping up hybrid influence through its Orthodox Church

    Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Yevstratiy Zorya noted that the recent numerous working trips of the Deputy Head of the ROC’s External Church Relations Department, Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, en route Belgrade (Serbia) – Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – Zagreb (Croatia) come by no coincidence amid the latest escalation in the Balkans. He notes that this ROC department has been used by the Kremlin since Soviet times as a cover-up for intelligence efforts abroad.

    This is stated in the material of the international volunteer community InfomNapalm.

    In addition to the Balkans, the Russians continued to work with “soft power” on Poland. On December 11, 2021, a delegation of the Russian Foundation for the Support of Christian Culture and Heritage (funded by the aforementioned Russian state company Rosatom) visited the Białystok-Gdańsk Diocese of the Polish Orthodox Church. According to informed sources, the Russians allegedly handed over a large “donation” of millions of euros to Polish religious figures. Indirectly, the fact of a significant “donation” was confirmed in his comments by the head of this Russian foundation Yegor Skopenko, who headed the delegation. He said he was “involved in such charity in other Local Churches.” So far, these data need further verification, as it remains a mystery how the Russians were able to transport such a significant amount and whether diplomatic channels were involved. Let’s try to find additional information in open sources.

    This time we focused on Yegor Skopenko, who has a rather short, but at the same time quite interesting track record. According to his own profile information, since 2014 he has allegedly worked as assistant general director with Alabuga Special Economic Zone. From February 2018 to September 2020, he headed the ANO Management Company for the Development of the Sarav-Diveev Cluster. After that he became the chief of the Foundation for Support of Christian Culture and Heritage. This foundation, established by state-owned Rosatom Corporation in 2019, has an extensive structure and can be used by the Kremlin to spread its hybrid influence, lobby, and provide a cover-up for Russia’s shady international financial transactions.

    The website states that the foundation is implementing projects in 15 countries, including Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, Finland, the United States, Spain, Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, France, Syria, Poland, Lebanon, Iceland, and Russia.

    As for the official head of the foundation who does multiple foreign meetings and trips, Yegor Skopenko has a very uninformative profile on social media.

    For example, his Facebook profile contains only a few photos: one high-quality studio shot from 2020, a small size pic from 2019, and one from 2013 where he is seen sporting a military uniform with sergeant straps.

    In turn, a Google photo search indicates that the second photo from his profile was probably taken during a zoom conference where Skopenko was registered under a different name, “Stanislav,” and listed as a manager for Carnival Corporation (a British-American cruise company headquartered in Miami, USA, which provides sea cruise organization and maintenance services). Google still has a managed page with some of his profile information on

    In general, from January 2014 to December 2021, he uploaded only a few posts on Facebook that are open to the general public. It seems that ahead of his working trip to the Balkans, he decided (or was given such advice) to fill his uninformative page a bit. Therefore, on December 3, 2021, within just 28 minutes, he posted on Facebook and in the newly created profile on Instagram several photos with comments:

    Comment to the first photo:

    “My first working trip to Lebanon, the once rich city of Beirut. Now there is an economic crisis, many wait in line for 3 hours at the gas station. Earlier, the country was referred to as Eastern Switzerland for the number of wealthy people and banks. Not worse than Sochi, so I recommend everyone to travel here on vacation. The main thing is not to pay by card and carry cash dollars.”

    According to the news piece on the website of the Foundation for Support of Christian Culture and Heritage, the meeting took place in Beirut on November 6, 2021.

    Comment to the other pic:

    “Once again I visited Turkey, Antalya, as part of a business trip. I visited the parish of the Russian Church in Antalya – very sincere people. I will definitely come here again. I recommend that everyone visit the place when you travel on vacation.”

    According to a news report posted on the website of the Foundation for Support of Christian Culture and Heritage, the trip to Turkey took place on November 10, 2021, “with the blessing” of Patriarch Kirill.

    As of December 2021, as per Russian databases and registers, Yegor Skopenko is officially listed as chief and executive director of the Foundation for Support of Christian Culture and Heritage, tex reg. No. 9704008570, legal address: ap. 14, 9 Volkhonka St., Moscow. As of 2020, the foundation’s profit amounted to RUB 11.5 million (approximately EUR 138,000).

    He was previously listed as founder of the Ideo, tax reg.No. 1646044660 and Angry Hot Dogs, tax reg. No. 1646039445 (both already liquidated). The companies had been registered in Yelabuga, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia.

    According to the data laid out, the newly created foundation is a project posing as a cover-up for Russian intelligence agencies operating through religious institutions around the world and lobbying Russian interests through large-scale financial injections.

    Foundation’s handlers from Rosatom

    It is from the second half of 2021 that Rosatom’s pro-active assistance has been observed in various international contacts disguised as religious activity.

    Interestingly, the handlers of the mentioned Foundation for Support of Christian Culture and Heritage are Alexei Likhachev (Russian statesman, CEO Rosatom) and Sergei Obozov, Deputy General Director Rosatom, CEO RosEnergoAtom Concern, Deputy chief AtomEnergoProm.

    In the photo: First Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, Sergei Kirienko (since 2020 he has been on the sanction lists drawn by the EU and UK) and Alexei Likhachev / archive photo, TASS
    Sergei Obozov receives the Order of St. Seraphim of Sarov II degree / Photo taken on September 18, 2020

    Interestingly, it was Alexei Likhachev, Sergei Obozov, and Yegor Skopenko who met with Patriarch Kirill (Vladimir Gundyaev) of Moscow at the Patriarchal and Synodal Residence in the Danilov Stauropegeon Monastery in Moscow on November 30, 2021. During the meeting, the patriarch also decorated Alexei Likhachev with the Order of St. Seraphim of Sarov II degree.

    During that meeting, instructions for further “pilgrimage” across the Balkans and promotion of Russian interests also might have been issued.

    On December 6, the foundation’s representatives came to Belgrade, Serbia, where they met with Serbian Patriarch Porfirije. The meeting was attended by Yegor Skopenko, Deputy Head of the ROC’s External Church Relations Department Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, as well as Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko. In fact, it is precisely via diplomatic channels that it is possible for Russians to bring in significant amounts of cash for “donations” with no customs clearance or questions asked.

    Also on December 6, they were in a monastery in Vuglevik (Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina).

    On December 7, Nikolai Balashov and Yegor Skopenko visited Banja Luka (Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina).

    Already on December 8-9, Nikolai Balashov along with a delegation of the Foundation for the Support of Christian Culture and Heritage were in Croatia, visiting the Gornij Karlovac Diocese. According to data from open sources, “the Foundation contributed to the restoration of one of the earthquake-affected shrines of the Gornij Karlovac Diocese – the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in Glina.” This is another indirect sign of generous “donations” or investments being funneled by Russians.

    On December 10, the foundation’s delegation was received by the head of the Polish Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Sawa, and also visited the Białystok-Gdańsk Diocese. Massive “donations” were also made during the visit to the Polish Orthodox Church.

    There are many areas where Russia exerts hybrid influence to destabilize different countries, employing informational, economic, political, military, terrorist means, etc. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church remains one of the Kremlin’s pillars, which provides additional opportunities for their agents of influence to swiftly infiltrate into targeted countries. ROC’s high-ranking officials are often referred to as “saboteurs in robes,” or “priests with military insignia,” amid numerous testimonies of the ROC’s close cooperation with the Soviets and then with the Russian secret services. State corporations and officials work closely alongside religious institutions to advance the interests of the “Russian world” concept.

    The Kremlin is particularly interested in focusing NATO Allies on their internal problems in order to shift their increased attention from Russia’s mounting aggression against Ukraine.

    All data presented in this piece was obtained due to OSINT tools. The information was collected and presented in the form of assumptions requiring further inquiry and scrupulous attention of law enforcement and security agencies in both the European Union and countries beyond the bloc, also interested in preventing destabilization in the Balkans. Many examples over the recent years have shown that Russia exploits religious institutions, including as a cover-up for its hybrid missions on foreign soil.

    At present, we have no solid evidence to cement the assumption that that the Russian delegation has appealed to the clergy to assist in the Kremlin’s hybrid operations in the Balkans and Poland in exchange for yet another generous “donation” to foreign churches, but such risks exist. Moscow has repeatedly tested similar hybrid bribery tools in preparation for aggression against Ukraine and other countries. Therefore it is necessary to thoroughly investigate such moves.