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Friday, April 19, 2024

‘For Faith and Fatherland’: How Russian Special Services Use ‘Non-Traditional’ Denominations

The Russian version of this article is available on the Slavic Sacramento website

The fight against the so-called “non-traditional religious organizations” is one of the favorite pursuits of the radical Orthodox “patriots.” At least since last decade such activists don’t even bother hiding that their goal is not to protect individuals whose rights have been violated by large organizations, but rather their goal is to fight against “a threat to national security.”

This is the term Orthodox radicals are trying to introduce into legislation, and not without success. For example, in December 2015 a roundtable was held in the State Duma, during which, as the Parliamentary Newspaper notes, “they looked into the activities of sects seen as undermining the foundations of statehood and civilizational identity of Russia.” The participants in the roundtable, according to the newspaper (the official publication of the State Duma), blamed the “sects” for organizing the Ukrainian Euromaidan, and even for the launching of the war in the Donbass. Many of the so-called “experts” who share this point of view do not disguise their ties to the FSB and, on the sidelines, are even proud that the “attention of state bodies to the problem of sects” came as the result of their own “many years of work.”

Meanwhile, it seems that the Russian intelligence services are playing “both sides.” On the one hand, they support and nourish the so-called “counter-sect warriors,” and on the other, they not only actively recruit believers and clergy from such sects, but also create organizations that they themselves call “non-traditional.”

Kaklyugin’s case

At first glance, the Kuban doctor and expert in narcology Nikolai Kaklyugin is a typical representative of the “counter-sectarian” movement. Adhering to radical-right views and being the regular author on the ultra-conservative portal “Russian People’s Line”, Nikolai Kaklyugin has been faithfully accusing the “sects” of all kinds of sins, starting from the Maidan and ending with work for the U.S. State Department. According to him, Pentecostal charismatics became the main driving force of the Ukrainian revolution, and they will be the catalyst of the “Maidan” in Russia. This expert in narcology has picked as his main target the organization National Anti-Drug Union (NADU), whose leader Nikita Lushnikov is also an aide of the member of the State Duma of Russia, Sergei Zheleznyak. As evidence of the “anti-state orientation” of the NADU and its leader, Kaklyugin cited the fact of their close acquaintance with Ukrainian and American fellow believers, in particular, close ties with the Kharkiv organization “Kingdom of God.”

By the way, these connections do exist. Orthodox radicals managed to prove that Lushnikov sits on the coordinating council of the association of churches “Kingdom of God,” created by Kharkiv bishop Sergei Britvenko. Moreover, according to the photographs presented, Lushnikov to this day maintains friendly relations with another member of the same council, ex-member of the Kharkiv regional Council pastor Valery Makarenko.

For example, in October 2013, they flew together to the United States of America, discussed areas of cooperation with local neo-Pentecostal organization and in Atlanta, the largest city of the state of Georgia, opened a religious and commercial project Healthy Generation, Inc. which is similar to the ones in Ukraine and Russia,” is noted in the material.

The Center for Healthy Youth in the United States is registered in the US as “Healthy Generation, Inc.” (the Russian version is “Здоровое поколение”) at 340 Worley Road, Canton, GA 30114. This is a small town in the state of Georgia near the largest city in the state: Atlanta. Do not confuse this center with the American organization of the same name, aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle among adolescents. Previously, the addresses of other centers could be found at http://usa-hg.org/. The organization’s site is currently inaccessible, but information about it has remained on the Russian Business page. The organization’s page on Facebook is also empty.

However, on October 19, 2018, Kaklyugin was unexpectedly detained by a Russian SWAT unit in Rostov-on-Don, where he has met with his colleague Tatyana Kuzmina, who invited him to the city (Kaklyugin lives in Krasnodar). The expert in narcology was charged under part 4 of art. 228.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation – the sale of narcotic drugs in large quantities. In November of last year, the court revised the charges, leaving only the “possession” of prohibited substances, and sentenced the “anti-sect fighter” to four years in prison.

From the first day, Kaklyugin was convinced that his case was fabricated, and he suspected that Nikita Lushnikov was the mastermind behind this fabrication. Interestingly enough, the former lieutenant colonel of the Rostov police Natalya Razumnaya, who personally knew neither Nikolay Kaklyugin nor the representatives of the NADU, in her statement for the prosecutor’s office not only confirms the contract nature of the case, but also lists by name those who ordered and those who executed it. The ex-policewoman also names Lushnikov as the mastermind, and among the perpetrators lists the names of both fellow police officers and FSB officers, not only from the regional administration, but also from Moscow.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Natalya Razumnaya herself is accused of fabricating criminal cases and is now in jail. Nevertheless, the judge in charge of Kaklyugin case included her statement among the evidence in the case. Razumnaya has never shown any personal interest in helping Kaklyugin, and, given the number of inconsistencies in the case and the evidence presented, it is highly likely that it really is fabricated. However, in this case, it is puzzling why the high-level FSB officers organized the planting of drugs on the Orthodox activist, while defending the Protestant pastor despite Protestantism not being welcomed in Russia.

At the origins of NADU

The answer to this question is given by Nikolay Kaklyugin himself in the last part of his speech in the Proletarsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don on October 17 of last year. When asked by the lawyer at what point he met with the official president of the NADU, Yulia Pavlyuchenkova, the expert in narcology, answered the following: “This was the FSB idea.”

In his testimony, Kaklyugin had previously emphasized that he worked as a “contract FSB employee,” but here he confesses for the first time – it was the special service that came up with the idea to revive this formally existing, but in practice defunct organization. As the FSB explained to Kaklyugin, their goal was to “reorganize” and “heal” Protestant rehab centers. Thus, Kaklyugin, at the request of the FSB once stood at the origins of the National Anti-Drug Union and even introduced Yulia Pavlyuchenkova to Nikita Lushnikov.

Yes, the FSB officers offered me to revive the organization. Pavlyuchenkova and I were invited to recreate it together. And at some point Lushnikov appeared… I introduced them to the [conservative Orthodox] radio program Radonezh… at their request and with the participation of the FSB, I wrote a rehabilitation program for the Center for Healthy Youth charity foundation together with Natalya Zentsova, an employee of the Center for Narcology,” confesses the sect fighter.

However, the “re-education” of the Protestants, which Kaklyugin was looking forward to, did not happen. The frustrated expert in narcology shared his suspicions about his partner with the curators from the FSB, and at that time it seemed to him that they shared his fears.

I associate myself with the Directorate of the Federal Security Service of Russia in the Moscow Region… On Lushnikov’s case, we worked together with the Directorate of the Federal Security Service of Russia in the Moscow Region. Questions to him remained from the national security,” Kaklyugin said.

As a result, Nikolai Kaklyugin organized questioning of Lushnikov in the Lubyanka, about which he also told the court.

He knew that I personally referred him (Lushnikov) to Lubyanka to talk with the high-level officials from the Department for Work with Religious Organizations of the Central Office of the FSB of Russia in 2014. I brought him to Lubyanka,” he explained.

Judging by his testimony, Kaklyugin was not present at the questioning itself. It can be assumed that if the FSB still had questions about the foreign contacts of the Protestant pastor, during the meeting they came to a certain agreement on this subject. At least, the NADU continued to work without any problems from the Russian intelligence services – and already without Kaklyugin. However, the naive expert in narcology, who knew nothing about spy business, had no intention of giving up. Those foreign contacts of Russian Protestants, which the FSB was most interested in, for the sect fighter Kaklyugin only meant that Lushnikov, in his opinion, was still going to “organize the Maidan in Russia.” The information that the FSB began to patronize the NADU, Kaklyugin justified to himself as the corruption of those whom he designated as “FSB-merchants.”

Lushnikov’s apparently continued his collaboration with government agencies, but the restless Kaklyugin did not give up. Moreover, the former pastor’s wife, Lyubov Lushnikova, turned against her ex-husband. She complained about many years of family tyranny, and after the divorce, about criminal actions, namely stalking and death threats from her ex-spouse. Perhaps feeling guilty for the previous cooperation with Lushnikov, Kaklyugin began helping the woman. However, the FSB, apparently, was interested neither in the quality of rehabilitation in the centers belonging to NADU, nor in the criminal drama of their Protestant partner and his ex-wife. For reasons unknown to Kaklyugin, Lushnikov turned out to be much more valuable to the Lubyanka than the expert in narcology and “sect-fighter” himself.

With the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Facts, meanwhile, show that there is no reason to doubt Lushnikov’s loyalty to the Russian authorities. A Duma member Sergei Zheleznyak is known for spreading Russian influence in other countries, primarily in the Balkans, and is on the EU sanctions list. It is hard to imagine that a man disloyal to the Kremlin could become his aide.

Moreover, on August 26, 2019, an agreement was signed in Moscow which established the International Anti-Drug Federation (IAF). According to media reports, representatives of 18 countries expressed their desire to join the IAF: Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Albania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Montenegro. Representatives of each of these countries would monthly report to the NADU on the work done. “The Russian Federation chaired the organization, and Nikita Lushnikov, as chairman of the board of the National Anti-Drug Union of Russia (NADU) was elected to lead IAF.”

This is not the only international project of Lushnikov. On his personal website, he openly reports on his interaction with the Russian Foreign Ministry and personally with Sergey Lavrov. “The 7th International Anti-Drug Camp, which was visited by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov in August 2016, became the starting point of interaction between the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the NADU,” confirms Lushnikov. The International Anti-Drug Camp is indeed one of the NADU projects organized in the occupied Crimea, and the opening of this camp was personally announced by Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Such a high level of support in the FSB, the State Duma and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  Lushnikov’s open lobbying of the Russian officials for the post of the head of the newly created international organization and the amazing patience for all the “unreliable” Lushnikov’s contacts can indicate not only corruption by the government officials, which Nikolai Kaklyugin suspects, but also that it’s his international contacts that make the head of the NADU so valuable in the eyes of the Kremlin. This version is not as unbelievable as it might seem at first glance. As the case of Maria Butina (specifically, her connection with the American evangelists and attempts to bring Russian officials to a prayer breakfast in the USA) showed, the Kremlin often uses Protestant religious organizations as a channel of Russian influence on other countries and not vice versa.

Secrets of the department “M”

These findings are confirmed by the renown Soviet dissident, defender of the rights of believers Boris Perchatkin. As the leader of the Pentecostal community and a member of the Christian Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Believers in the USSR, in Soviet times he was repeatedly imprisoned. After immigrating to the United States, he put in a lot of work into helping persecuted denominations. Boris Perchatkin personally met with President Ronald Reagan, convinced the U.S. Congress to fund relocation of religious refugees and arranged invitations for more than 300,000 people to enter the United States.

However, today Perchatkin actively criticizes fellow believers, noting that Americans were disappointed with the religious immigration. In his blog, he names the Protestant bishops and pastors who, according to him, were recruited by the KGB or the modern FSB.

The KGB since the times of the Soviet Union has been using such practice as creation of organizations, including religious ones, to spread its influence abroad. When by the end of the existence of the USSR it became clear that the Russians would not stop emigration, and it would be massive, the security services decided to lead this process,” Boris Perchatkin said in an interview with our website.

According to him, the KGB agents were “sent” abroad, where they received political asylum, ingratiated themselves with real dissidents, and even created religious communities.

Former KGB lieutenant colonel Konstantin Preobrazhensky wrote that a special ‘Department M’ was created in the FSB to deal exclusively with emigration. They worked in several directions at once, including ‘assigning’ their agents to the real dissidents. For example, back in the USSR, shortly before my departure, the famous Bishop Pyotr Razumovsky was ‘assigned’ to me. He died a couple of years ago,” recalls Boris Perchatkin.

Already in the United States, Boris Perchatkin learned that the so-called “Committee of Emigration” had been created in Moscow, which, along with others, included Razumovsky.

The FBI consulted with me about this committee. As it turned out, the organization specialized in advising consulates and the U.S. embassy about people who, in their opinion, should be granted asylum. According to the U.S. intelligence, there were at least two KGB agents among the members. In fact, they were engaged in ‘placing’ known to the KGB people into the United States: they advised them on how to deceive consulates, provided recommendations, etc. As a result, some people who moved to the United States rather deserved to be in prison,” says the former dissident.

Boris Perchatkin mentions several goals for infiltrating agents from the KGB and its successor into religious organizations in the United States.

Of course, this includes espionage. Parishioners of Protestant churches are not only elderly people, but also youth, students. They get education here, get jobs, for example, at Boeing, and then, during confessions, the pastor gathers the necessary information from them or passes them on to other people. Ordinary people do not interest such pastors: they are looking for promising parishioners from whom they can obtain information or contacts. They themselves are also actively building relationships with politicians and influence political situation in their states, indicating to parishioners who they should vote for and who to support. In a word, they have many channels of influence on American society. American intelligence agencies are also aware of some of them, but so far they only “keep an eye” on them – perhaps they want to track their activities at a deeper level,” says Boris Perchatkin.


Experts say that members of “non-traditional” religious organizations are as easy to recruit as believers of “privileged” churches. Moreover, it is easier to put pressure on such organizations, threatening them with a fine or liquidation, or blackmailing them in another way. This applies not only to the Protestant, but also to any other churches.

When Russian online resource The Insider learned the addresses of the buildings belonging to the Foreign Intelligence Service, publicly available on the official website of the Moscow City Hall, the journalists were surprised to find among the inhabitants of these “spy houses” members of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, the Russian Society of the Templar Order and even… a follower of Krishna’s teachings Andrey Shimaenkov!

Shimaenkov moved to an apartment in such building in 2002, while he was assigned to Vneshtorgbank (VTB since 2006). Now the Hare Krishna’s follower is working as the chief treasurer of the Vaishnava Care Foundation, or, as they are also called, ‘devotees’ who created a community in the Indian city of Vrindavan. A Sri Vrindavan Dham residential complex, better known as the ‘Russian House,’ and a hotel where ‘devotees’ come from Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan have been built in this city. The fund is headed by a Russian Sergei Timchenko, who took the name of Sri Jishnu Prabhu and graduated from the Institute of Vaishnava education (Bhakti Shastra),” says the article.

The Chekists themselves, as in the case of Kaklyugin, sometimes make it clear that they prefer not to rely on “counter-sect warriors” in their work, but on those “sectarians” whom their colleagues so eagerly fight against. Perhaps this is all you need to know about the situation with freedom of conscience in Russia.

author avatar
Kseniya Kirillova
Ksenia Kirillova was born in 1984 in the city of Kamensk-Uralsky, Sverdlovsk region (Russia). In 2001 she graduated from school with a silver medal. In 2006 she graduated from the Faculty of Law of The Liberal Arts University with a degree in jurisprudence with honors. She was twice awarded the governor's scholarship of the Sverdlovsk region and has lived in the US since 2014. An investigative journalist and analyst focused on analyzing Russian society, mentality, the mechanism of action of Russian propaganda (including in the US), “soft power,” "active measures" and foreign policy, she is the author of several hundred articles, including researches on Russian propaganda and soft power.
Kseniya Kirillova
Kseniya Kirillova
Ksenia Kirillova was born in 1984 in the city of Kamensk-Uralsky, Sverdlovsk region (Russia). In 2001 she graduated from school with a silver medal. In 2006 she graduated from the Faculty of Law of The Liberal Arts University with a degree in jurisprudence with honors. She was twice awarded the governor's scholarship of the Sverdlovsk region and has lived in the US since 2014. An investigative journalist and analyst focused on analyzing Russian society, mentality, the mechanism of action of Russian propaganda (including in the US), “soft power,” "active measures" and foreign policy, she is the author of several hundred articles, including researches on Russian propaganda and soft power.

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