Photo - The Insider
During the sanctions regime, the Berlin Prosecutor’s Office started an investigation against the Russian House of Science and Culture, sometimes known as the “Russian House,” for compliance with the Foreign Trade and Payments Act.
Formally, this organization is conceived to encourage cross-cultural exchange. However, it has become a tool of hybrid warfare, ideological indoctrination, and Russian political propaganda in Germany. Moscow is using cultural institutions abroad to spread its propaganda and support its war against Ukraine.
At the same time, RHSC members frequently act as criminals. Russian House, for example, paid for the journey to Russia of a German citizen, Maxim Schlund, who was one of the organizers of a big march in Cologne in favor of Kremlin policy in September. As the Insider informed, Mr. Schlund turned out to be a previously convicted Russian, Rostislav Teslyuk.
Volker Beck, a Green Party lawmaker, filed a grievance against the Russian House. “It is just unacceptable,” he said in his appeal to the prosecutor’s office, “that a group in Germany is engaging in Kremlin propaganda, when people are dying every day in the war in Ukraine.”
The main division of Rossotrudnichestvo (the Federal Agency for the Affairs of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation) is the RHSC in Berlin, which operates at a cost of roughly $10 million per year to the Russian taxpayers.
Expert observers assessed Rossotrudnichestvo to organize and orchestrate synchronous pro-Russian public rallies, demonstrations, and vehicle convoys across Europe in April 2022 to support the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Protests were held simultaneously in Dublin, Berlin, Hanover, Frankfurt, Limassol, and Athens.
There was a petition submitted to the German and Berlin authorities to apply sanctions on the Russian house of culture in Berlin since it serves as a tool for Russian propaganda in Europe and is directly influenced by Putin during Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The Insider has obtained encrypted Moscow memos that offer the Russian House advice on how to advance soft power in Germany:
“The RHSC should serve as a driving foundation for advancing a distinct ideology as a framework of guiding values that distinguishes the RHSC from its rivals on the soft-power circuit. Instead of being disorganized, new ideas should form an organized collection. It is crucial to project a consistent image because the host community will take it into consideration even subconsciously. Without directly imitating them, it is worthwhile to analyze the finest Soviet methods in this situation.”
In the years prior to the pandemic, the RHSC organized 300–400 propaganda events annually in Germany, including “Weekends at the Russian House,” “Preserving Historical and Cultural Heritage Abroad and Raising the Younger Generation,” “Role of Russian Saints in the Spiritual and Moral Education of Youth,” “Hello, Russia,” “Russian Seasons in Berlin,” “Sobibor,” etc.
This included paid Russian language teaching, scholarships for young German residents residing in Russia to attend Russian colleges, and RHSC-sponsored youth delegation visits to Russia. After Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine, the RHSC stopped conducting activities and began offering online Russian language training. Revenues plummeted precipitously, and there were insufficient funds to cover the costs of German utilities and security. Encrypted messages asking for money flew to Moscow.
However, the Russian House resumed operations two months ago and invited community members to view Soviet films at its movie theater. The Russian House is not permitted to make money in Germany through ticket sales for its events or from letting properties that fall under its purview because it is a branch of Rossotrudnichestvo, listed on the EU sanctions list.
In Berlin, a 0.68-hectare land parcel and a 29,000 square meter structure with 64 residential flats and technical facilities had been given to the RHSC for permanent use. The Western Group of Soviet forces in Germany also used to own a two-story home in Dresden at 29 Zittauer Strasse.
The Insider has access to the final findings of the Russian Federation’s Accounting Chamber on the financial audits of Rossotrudnichestvo conducted in Germany between 2015 and 2020. The audits uncovered multiple instances of poor production and storage of accounting papers as well as other financial irregularities at the Russian House.
Pavel Izvolsky has been the chairman of the Russian House in Berlin since 2017. He routinely speaks to the media and sees himself participating in the German-Russian cultural exchange. In an interview with the Moskovskaya Nemetskaya Gazeta, Izvolsky claimed to have graduated from the history department of Nizhny Novgorod State University and the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Following that, he was in charge of foreign projects and employees at Rosatom and the All-Russian Exhibition Center.
The officers’ dormitory at 190 Golovacheva Street, where cadets of the Moscow Higher Military Command School (MHMCS) live, is not mentioned in Izvolsky’s biography, nevertheless. Numerous MHMCS graduates work for the SVR’s scientific and technical intelligence or act as spies for the GRU.
According to Reuters, Maxim Shlund and his common-law wife, Elena Kolbasnikova, who organized a pro-Kremlin rally in Cologne last September, were given a trip to Russia by the Russian House. The pro-Russian protesters carried signs calling for the revocation of the sanctions imposed on Moscow and a ban on German arms exports to Ukraine. Despite having less than 1,000 participants, Russian government TV networks extensively covered the propaganda event, and the presenters referred to it as a widespread German protest.
Schlund and Kolbasnikova also conducted a “Music, Food, and Sports Day” in Düsseldorf in addition to Cologne. Schlund and Kolbasnikova were referred to as goodwill ambassadors by Akhmed Dudayev, the information minister for the Chechen Republic, who also uploaded a picture from the event. The dinner hall was decked with flags that featured Ramzan Kadyrov.
The Insider informed that Teslyuk-Shclund had a criminal record with the police for assaulting a guy in 2010, for which the judge gave him a probationary period of one year.
Teslyuk also allegedly stole goods worth RUB 1,600.53 ($23) from the Seventh Continent store on Miklukho-Maklaya Street on January 13, 2009, according to a police complaint from the Moscow Main Directorate of Internal Affairs (criminal case #158532). According to the Accounting Chamber’s reports, Teslyuk’s operations haven’t really changed much since then, albeit their magnitude has increased.