Two Russian officials whose places in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle have made them subject to US economic sanctions are also intimately involved in the upcoming World Congress of Families summit at the Kremlin, organized by the Illinois-based World Congress of Families and supported by a number of prominent US Religious Right groups.
It’s hardly a coincidence that two major backers of the summit would end up on the sanctions list. As we have reported, Putin and his allies have leaned on social conservative causes, especially opposition to gay rights, to solidify support at home and provoke anti-EU hostility in Ukraine. It’s not surprising that the World Congress of Families summit, which brings together anti-gay and anti-choice groups from around the world, has proved a popular cause among some of the Russian president’s greatest allies.
Yelena Mizulina, a member of parliament who was the force behind Russia’s infamous “gay propaganda” ban, was among the seven Russian officials on whom the White House imposed economic sanctions last Monday. Mizulina has worked closely with the organizers of the upcoming World Congress of Families summit: She joined an organizing meeting for the event in October and is scheduled to lead a panel discussion on “pro-family legislation” at the conference.
Mizulina has made no secret of the fact that her focus on opposing gay rights is closely intertwined with her interest in distancing Russia from the United States and the European Union. At an event in Moscow in June, which was also attended by the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown, Mizulina framed Russia’s crackdown on gay rights as a battle between Russia’s protection of “traditional family identity” and a decadent Europe that has embraced “sexual minorities”:
[T]oday the whole world is looking at Russia with hope that Russia will hold fast and not give in to this unusual pressure from European governments and will conserve its own traditional family identity. It’s perfectly clear that Europe today, faced by the collision of two very serious values—the right of children to a family and the right of sexual minorities to a family—is making its choice in favor of sexual minorities.
A few days after the White House announced its sanctions on Mizulina, it imposed sanctions on a number of other Russian officials, including Vladimir Yakunin, a close ally of Putin who is also a major funder of the World Congress of Families summit.
At a recent press conference promoting the upcoming gathering, World Congress of Families director Larry Jacobs went out of his way to thank a list of the event’s major sponsors, including two groups connected to Yakunin: the Saint Andrew the First-Called Foundation, which is headed by Yakunin, and the Sanctity of Motherhood program, which is run by Yakunin’s wife Natalia Yakunina. Both Yakunin and Yakunina are on the “Russian organizing committee” for the WCF summit, and brochure for the event features the two alongside Putin as staples of the “pro-life and pro-family movement in Russia.”
As Wayne Besen pointed out shortly before the sanctions were imposed, Yakunin is “one of Russia’s most outspoken America-bashers.”
So far, just one American group, Concerned Women For America, has dropped out of the summit in response to Russia’s siezure of Crimea. (Although it’s unclear of CWA senior fellow Janice Shaw Crouse, who is also a member of the board of the World Congress of Families, will remain involved.) We wonder if the presence of two of the event’s organizers on the sanctions list will cause any other American groups involved in the event – including Focus on the Family, the National Organization for Marriage, Alliance Defending Freedom and the Christian Broadcasting Network – to drop their support as well.