Yesterday's Financial Times had an article, "Oligarch emerges as link between Russia and rebels," that revealed curious details about a most curious figure, 40-year-old Russian private equity billionaire, Konstantin Malofeev. He is also a committed adherent of Russian orthodoxy, creationism, and a supporter of the restoration of the Russian empire and monarchy. In January, he and the Russian Orthodox patriarch arrived in Sevastopol with some ancient relics, only to be met by 100,000 Crimeans who prayed, supposedly for union with Russia. Malofeev got his wish later. Ukraine complains that he is currently funding Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, which claims is untrue. But there is more to this tale, which is even more curious.
What is most curious is his relationship with the top two leaders of the Donetsk Peoples' Republic, Alexander Borodai and Igor Girkin, known as "Strelkov," the former its self-proclaimed prime minister and the latter its self-proclaimed minister of defense, both of them Russian citizens from Moscow who somehow showed up heavily armed after Russia took Crimea (where Borodai advised the new pro-Russian leader of Crimea briefly) in eastern Ukraine, leading seizures of public buildings and proclaiming their republic. Both are former employees of Malofeev. Borodai was particularly close as a top PR consultant for Malofeev. Girkin/Strelkov is closer in terms of ideology, also espousing Orthodox domination of an expanded and restored Russian empire ruled by a tsar. This latter figure was the one who bragged about the separatists downing MH17 on his website, which he took down after it came out it was a commercial airliner, only to then promulgate the theory that the plane was full of already dead people, a claim reiterated seriously on Russian media, btw.
As for Malofeev himself, he is reported to be close to to people close to Putin (aside from the patriarch, who is so): Vladimir Yakunin, minister of railways, and Igor Shchelgov, minister of telecommunications (no wonder Russian media was reporting the Girkin/Strelkov claim that MH17 was a zombie plane). He also apparently spends time hanging out with US evangelicals and attended a semi-secret meeting in Vienna of right wing political leaders, including Martine Le Pen, leader of France's National Front, and Heinz-Christian Strache.
Some western progressives like to repeat the Russian propaganda that Ukraine is run by "fascists" (yes, there are some in the new government) who were installed by machinating western powers, particularly the US, although the US has nearly zero direct economic interests in Ukraine at all. But the idea that these Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk are somehow progressives is just complete and utter nonsense. They are about as reactionary as one can get, if not outright certifiably insane in the case of Strelkov, but they are the Malofeev mafia, and as such, they get a lot of support from Russia's leaders.