pro-Kremlin propaganda ‘factory’ “Dialogue of Civilizations”

In this series of articles, we look at some of the most important pro-Russian organizations in Europe. Today, we take a closer look at  Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOCRI). This is an analog of the French organization Franco-Russe Dialogue (FRD). DOCRI was founded in 2016 via an endowment by sanctioned oligarch Vladimir Yakunin and is located in Berlin, Germany-HQ.

Key figures and funding:

Another Putin friend Vladimir Yakunin lives in Germany. He is influencing public opinion in Germany through his Dialogue of Civilizations & German-Russian forum. Yakunin once headed Russian state railway company.  Russian influence was also evident through various “cultural” associations, such as the “Dialogue of Civilizations”. According to German press, Mr. Yakunin was going to invest €25 million in the project over a five-year period and employ approximately 20 people.

Vladimir Yakunin, First Main Directorate (Foreign Intelligence Collection) and former Russian Railway (RZD) magnate

Ruben Vardanyan, the former CEO and principal partner of Troika Dialog, oversaw the movement of nearly $5 billion through offshore companies during his tenure as leader of Russia’s largest investment bank. This scheme, known as the Troika Laundromat, obscured the origins of illicit wealth and successfully laundered money to members of President Putin’s inner circle and powerful oligarchs, from 2006 to early 2013.

Ruben Vardanyan, Russian-Armenian politician who has served as the State Minister of Artsakh

What is wrong with DOCEF/DOCRI?

Originally founded in 2013, the Dialogue of Civilizations Endowment Fund (DOCEF) boasts a curious array of management figures, as evidenced by an older version of their website. Despite the removal of some members of particular notoriety from the site and from the organization itself, a historical record of who has been involved can be found here. However, the origins of DOCEF/DOCRI raise questions, as it was established with the backing of a sanctioned oligarch, had connections to a Troika laundromat alumni and has engaged in behavior that appears to be reputational laundering.”

Two senior leaders, Leonard O’Brien and René Frischknetcht, have been identified as key players in DOCEF, a think-tank organization that has been linked to other projects led by Russian businessman Andrei Yakunin, including the Foundation for the Support of Historical and Cultural Studies and the St. Andrews Foundation. Both O’Brien and Frischknetcht have connections that overlap with Yakunin’s endeavors. O’Brien’s firm, Salamander Corporate Services SA, is based in Geneva and shares an address with all three Yakunin projects, while Frischknetcht, a former vice-president of Dresden Bank in Switzerland, has been linked to Putin through his work at the bank. Additionally, Frischknetcht and a business partner, Alessandro Lardi, purchased a hotel in Davos for Yakunin’s son through their Zurich-based company, Swisspath. The legal counsel for both DOCEF and the St. Andrews foundation, Kassim Meghjee, works for the law firm Mishcon De Reya, which has provided reputational services to the Yakunin family using the UK’s libel laws. 

The organization, which aims to franchise its think-tank brand globally and attract “experts” from prestigious universities, has been criticized for its lack of transparency regarding finances and suggestions of real estate-based donation methods. It has been described by Ilya Zaslavsky as “the Kremlin’s main propaganda ‘factory’ in the West” and criticized for whitewashing Yakunin’s reputation.

In previous articles, we’ve talked about:

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