A social conservative summit in Moscow will begin next week even though its American sponsors announced in March that the event was "suspended" after Russian troops invaded Ukrainian territory.
The event was originally planned as a summit of the World Congress of Families, an organization based in Illinois that has built a network of social conservatives from around the world through its regular meetings. Its Russian organizers billed the event as the "'Olympics' of the international Pro-Life movement supporting the Natural Family." The Moscow event has been rebranded the International Family Forum, and will not receive funding from the WCF's head office. But two members of the World Congress of Families leadership — managing director Larry Jacobs and communications director Don Feder — are listed among the event's organizers in a program for the event posted on the website of the Russian Istoki Endowment Fund.
The event's lead Russian organizer, Alexey Komov, implied in a lengthy July interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, that the meeting was still linked to the WCF, presenting the event as the latest in a series of WCF summits and the culmination of links between the organization and Russian social conservatives. Though he said the event was funded by Russian foundations, he also said the event was happening "with the participation of" the World Congress of Families.
Komov also also stressed his position as the "Russia and [the Commonwealth of Independent States] representative in Russia of the World Congress of Families and an ambassador to the U.N. for the organization."
In an emailed response to questions about WCF's role in the Moscow meeting, Jacobs, the managing director, wrote: "It's NOT a World Congress of Families event and any one who calls it that is wrong, mis-informed or lying." He also said the event had received no funding from the WCF's Illinois headquarters, and that the group's president, Allan Carlson, had declined an invitation to speak there. Jacobs referred BuzzFeed to the description of the event posted on the Istoki Endowment Fund's website, which lists him as an organizer. He did not respond to several inquiries on whether he would be going to Moscow.
Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, an American who was on the organizing committee for the Moscow meeting before WCF withdrew its sponsorship, said the local organizers decided to go forward on their own after the international organization pulled out. But he was planning to attend along with several other Americans active with the WCF.
"A lot of us are still going to over there and attend," Ruse told BuzzFeed. "WCF will vocally support the meeting that is happening in Russia."
Jacobs responded to Ruse's comments by email, saying "Austin does not speak for WCF."
Jacobs returned earlier this week from Australia, where a WCF meeting was disrupted by protests, venue cancelations, and the withdrawal of participation from high-profile politicians.
The event will still take place inside the Kremlin and at the Christ the Savior Cathedral, as originally planned. It is funded by some of the closest allies of President Vladimir Putin. The Istoki Endowment Fund is chaired by Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian railroads, and includes the mayor of St. Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko, on its board. The event is also funded by the St. Andrews the First Called Foundation, chaired by Yakunin's wife, Natalia Yakunina, and the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, which is backed by financier Konstantin Malofeev, who has links to Ukrainian separatists.
President Vladimir Putin has been positioning Russia as a global leader in opposing LGBT rights and other rights that he presents as alien Western imports. He and his allies have increasingly been building ties with similar minded colleagues in the U.S. and Europe.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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