Tsargrad TV: The Fox News of Russia

Thomas A. Fine
Feb 27, 2018 · 12 min read

This article is intended as an expansion of an article from the Southern Poverty Law Center: The Internet Research Agency: behind the shadowy network that meddled in the 2016 Elections. Theirs is a good article on how some of the propaganda pieces of this story connect with Russian and U.S. politics and people, but I felt it left out some crucial and obvious connections that I’ve come across, and I’ve come to realize many people are simply not aware of them. It’s probably useful to read that article to understand the full context of the story I tell here.

Konstantin Malofeev, from Комзомольская Правда, Dec. 23, 2013

Konstantin Malofeev felt that Russia was lacking something. And that something was a TV channel that represented the conservative Orthodox Christian viewpoint in Russian culture. And so, in late 2014, Malofeev created Tsargrad TV.

“We want to build up [a network based on] Orthodox principles the way Fox News was built,” — K. Malofeev, from God’s Oligarch, Slate, Oct. 20, 2014

Initially just a youtube channel, Tsargrad TV went on the air in less than a year, in April of 2015. And from the beginning it was clear that they were trying to be Fox News in more ways than one.

“When Fox News entered the American market in around 1996 to 1997, they were very different from CNN and ABC. Fox talked about things that people would discuss among themselves in their kitchens but which other channels were too scared to say, or didn’t want to say on air,” — K. Malofeev, “God’s TV, Russian Style”, Financial Times, October 16, 2015

Tsargrad TV’s first major hire was producer Jack Hanick. Hanick is an American who was a founding producer for Fox News, working there from 1996 to 2011, according to Hanick’s LinkedIn page. He’s also done some directing, won at least one Emmy, and also built a new TV network, HellasNet TV, in Greece in 2015.

Jack Hanick with Emmy in hand, from an interview with foma.ru, В России чувствуешь себя свободнее (In Russia You Feel Freer), August 14, 2013

His linked-in page doesn’t directly mention Tsargrad TV, but he started there in the fall of 2014 according to many online sources including the Slate article quoted above, and as early as September, according to one tweet. By that time, though, Hanick had already been considering a position with Russian TV for at least a year, and was already involved in Russian politics. In June 2013, he was invited to participate in a conference by members of the Duma, to speak in favor of anti-gay legislation. He’s written articles about Russia, such as Can United States stop a War with Russia in 2015. He’s prominently featured in the video of Konstantin Rykov’s election night party in Moscow where they watched Trump win and celebrated their [?] victory.

Hanick moved his family to Russia, where he, his wife Joanne Stoner — an on-line fashion sales executive, and his son Jackson were accepted into the Russian Orthodox church in 2016.

Jack Hanick with his son during their acceptance ceremony into Orthodoxy, Tsargrad TV, April 30, 2016.

By the way the man in the background in the above photo is indeed Tsargrad creator Konstantin Malofeev. He’s in almost all of the photos of this ceremony, implying a role as an active participant, and someone with close personal ties to Hanick.

Konstantin Malofeev is a Russian Orthodox businessman of rapidly growing influence. He made his first fortune at Renaissance Capital, an investment fund owned by oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov. Since then, he’s formed his own investment firm, Marshall Capital, which is already in the big league — in 2013, it was involved in a significant legal dispute with VTB capital, Russia’s largest investment bank that made it all the way to the UK Supreme Court. Malofeev won.

One of his pet projects is the Safer Internet League, an organization which has pushed for tough, controversial censorship laws. Malofeev started his own media business, Tsargrad, with its own TV channel, and he runs the largest Orthodox charity in Russia, the St. Basil the Great Foundation. This is the organization that invited Hanick to speak to Duma officials in June of 2013, an event which was presided over by Malofeev.

With all this power, there’s still one thing missing to give Malofeev the label “Oligarch”. While being young, at 43, isn’t a deal-breaker, and it’s hard to know if he’s wealthy enough, the real problem is that I can’t put Malofeev and Putin together in the same room, although by all reports Malofeev is one of Putin’s loudest supporters of the past few years. And in 2013 Putin wrote the opening address for Malofeev’s Safe Internet Forum, delivered by Putin aide Igor Schegolev. It’s clear that Malofeev has Putin’s direct awareness and support on at least some of his projects. Jack Hanick participated in this same Safe Internet Forum that year, and at least one other year (2015).

Oligarch or not, funding a news channel can not be an inexpensive experience. There were rumors that Malofeev was trying to convert another Russian channel, Spas, into his Fox News channel before he formed Tsargrad, but Spas had it’s own financial trouble, being unable to meet it’s billion rubles a year budget. Despite the large budgets involved, Malofeev is described as the money behind Tsargrad TV.

Why did Russia need Tsargrad TV? In the Slate article he suggested that Russian TV was “not Orthodox enough”, despite the fact that Russian news was already far more conservative than the United States. Malofeev’s politics are ultra-traditional, romanticizing Tsarist-era Russian as an ideal, and indeed, the name “Tsargrad” comes from another name for Constantinople (now Istanbul) when it was under slavic control. Malofeev has stated that Russia has not had a legitimate government since 1917.

And yet, for a channel that was supposed to be focusing on being more Orthodox, why did they seem to be fixated on the U.S., which has virtually no Christian orthodoxy outside of a few immigrant populations? They interviewed Alex Jones from Infowars early on. They covered Carter Page’s Moscow appearances. They covered Trump extensively.

They also had an outsized appearance at Konstantin Rykov’s election night party and his Trump inauguration party. Tsargrad TV represented more than half of all media invited to the election party.

One such Tsargrad representative, Alexander Dugin, was invited, though he doesn’t appear in the video nor is he described as attending in any of the Russian News I can find.

Dugin’s role at Tsargrad TV is ambiguous. At one point he’s described as being in charge of “special projects”, and at another point as editor-in-chief. But wherever Malofeev is seen, Dugin is not far behind. Or perhaps this is the other way around.

Alexander Dugin, from Daily Star November 2015, Putin’s ‘Hitler Youth’

Alexander Dugin is a significant voice in far-right Russian culture. He’s a philosopher, a political strategist, a youth leader. And he has extreme views, praising Hitler, and believing in Russia’s natural imperialism. He’s also got close ties the the Kremlin and the Russian military.

As I said, Dugin and Malofeev are frequently together. For example, they met together with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, apparently to negotiate on behalf of Russia. And below is a photo of Dugin with Nikos Kotzias, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece. Their relationship is linked to Malofeev also thanks to some hackers from Anonymous International that ran a leaker website called Sholtai Boltai — Russian for Humpty Dumpty. In 2014 they leaked letters that showed that Malofeev and Dugin were attempting to identify political partners in Greece with Russian sympathies.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (far left) and A. Dugin (center). From The Interpreter, January 28, 2015

When it comes to under-the-table foreign negotiations, Malofeev and Dugin are Russia’s dynamic duo. The link between these two could hardly be stronger if they were married.

Which brings me to one more very important reason why Malofeev might be strongly favored by Putin. He’s alleged to have provided financing to the Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist organization in the Ukraine that Ukraine itself views as terrorist. For this Malofeev was put on the list of sanctioned Russians, but he also ended up on Putin’s most favored list, as any support for this movement is wholly aligned with the Putin’s goals, as he clearly intends to reclaim the Ukraine.

If there is one constant in this Trump-Russia scandal, it is that no matter where you start, if you dig deep enough you’ll always end up somewhere in the Ukraine. And if you look at all at Russia’s own mythology surrounding the Ukraine, you’re going to run into one Igor Girkin, aka Igor Strelkov. One of Russia’s great villains (or heroes depending on the side you choose) “Strelkov” means “shooter” more or less, and part of Girkin’s claim to fame is commanding the group that allegedly shot down Malaysia flight 17, killing 283 people.

Girkin served as the first minister of defense for the Donetsk People’s Republic group that Malofeev is alleged to be connected to. This makes perfect sense, because Girkin previously worked for Malofeev’s Marshall Capital as head of security. (And while we’re at it, Marshall former PR chief Aleksandr Borodai was the Republic’s first prime minister.)

Because of Malofeev’s alleged efforts and explicit connections, he ended up on the list of sanctioned Russians who could no longer do business with the U.S. or E.U. This could be considered a pretty high motivation to get changes in place that could eliminate those sanctions.

And then of course the rule kicks in that wherever you find Malofeev, you find Dugin. Since we can connect Malofeev to Girkin, we can also connect Dugin. Here are all three together.

Malofeev, Dugin, and Girkin together. From twitter, September 2014. (Note that there are many photographs of this meeting from all angles, enough to clearly identify all.)

The Southern Poverty Law article that I put in the preface to this article discussed both Malofeev and Dugin, and their role in the Katehon think tank, so I won’t rehash that too much, except to say that I believe that Katehon is very close to the epicenter of anything that Russia did to help Trump. The SPLC article mentioned Katehon board member Leonid Reshetnikov, but left out that he is alleged to be responsible for creating the plan for Russian election interference in Bulgaria.

But what they didn’t touch on are further links between the trio we’ve been looking at. Jack Hanick appears as a contributor to the Katehon website. And according to a Facebook posting from November 2017, he was actually the editor of their website.

So here we have a trio of people all working for both Katehon and Tsargrad: Malofeev, Dugin, and Hanick. Hanick is the also-ran in this group, with Malofeev and Dugin being people of obvious strong influence and favor, with extremely likely direct connections to Putin. But there’s one other man that connects to all three of these men, one man who’s name has already come up a couple of times:

Konstantin Rykov.

Rykov is connected to the trio through Tsargrad TV, but also because they all are linked to Vladislav Surkov, Russia’s chief propagandist. Surkov allegedly gave Rykov some early investments that got him off his feet financially, and links have been established between Surkov and Malofeev and Dugin from various leaked emails over the years. Also, incidentally, another Katehon board member is Sergey Glaziev, who is both a very close Putin advisor, as well as founding member of Rodina, a very tiny party in Russia (only one member of Duma last time I checked), but a party with links to the campaign Rykov ran for Trump.

Rykov is also the man who claimed in postings on Facebook and VK that he’s been working to get Trump elected since 2012, claiming connections to Cambridge Analytica, to hackers, and more.

Is that claim true? His posting came well after many similar claims about him had already been published in the press. Most of the the bits he mentioned in his “confession” were things by the mainstream media alleged at various times. And Rykov is known to be an expert in propaganda, connected with Russia’s chief propagandist, with recently demonstrated links to Putin, many rumored links to troll factories. His central and primary expertise is in using the Internet to manipulate people. He’s the guy that put the Kremlin on the Internet, and if Surkov is the Kremlin’s chief propagandist, then Rykov is the Kremlin’s Internet propagandist.

Of course one has to wonder… if he’s so good at propaganda, then is his “confession” of work on the Trump campaign all just propaganda itself? The problem with anything and everything Rykov says is there’s no way to tell what’s real and what’s propaganda. Although like any good liar, I’m sure the rule, “stick as close to the truth as you can” is in play.

But what is absolutely undeniable is that Rykov ran very public campaigns in Russia to promote Donald Trump and Marin Le Pen. About this there is no confusion. The confusing part is, if he’s not a troll king (as the Russian rumor mill has repeatedly suggested), and not involved in Cambridge Analytica (as he claimed in his “confession”, and not involved with hackers (also “confessed”), then what is the purpose of a campaign in Russia for Trump or Le Pen? Russians don’t vote in either election. Even if they have a horse in the race they can’t control the race, right? Well that’s the question. (That horse Russia has is sanctions of course, which came about because of their crimes in Crimea, and so we find ourselves back in the Ukraine again, like an elaborate “Who’s-on-first” routine.)

And so, Rykov, propaganda expert, Internet expert, media expert, is very closely linked to a TV station, Tsargrad TV, that was formed after a time that it was well-known that Trump was extremely likely to run, after a time that it’s been claimed that kompromat on Trump was already in place (whether it be pee tapes or shady Trump Tower Moscow deals or other things). A station that went live on the air a couple of weeks before Trump officially announced his candidacy. A station that hired an American, and focused on Americans. A station that stayed on the air until after Trump was elected, and until after Le Pen was NOT elected… and then a month later rumors began circulating that they had no funding left, and then about three months after that they stopped transmitting (although they still maintain an active website with Internet stories).

If I was Rykov, a TV station might come in handy if indeed there was a big project that involved manipulating the media at all levels. A Russian version of Fox News would be extremely handy. I can’t prove that in the least, except that every single shred of evidence points in that direction. In the United States, Fox News has been incredibly effective in getting the rest of mainstream media to talk about things that Fox wants to talk about. Such a thing would be invaluable to a propaganda expert that needed to pump news — real and fake — from a wide variety of sources while masking that much of it really just came from one place.

Even if Tsargrad TV was a legitimate venture on it’s own that Malofeev hoped would change the landscape of coverage in Russia to be more Orthodox, it’s still wouldn’t exclude its usefulness as a propaganda pump. Time will tell.

Possible topics for further investigation:

  • Is there any correlation between Tsargrad TV stories and the stories that were pumped out by trolls and bots?
  • Where did the money to pay for Tsargrad TV come from?
  • Where did the money for Rykov’s campaign come from?
  • Where is Jack Hanick now (no sign of him since November 2017, if not longer)?
  • Humpty Dumpty was apparently being run by the same FSB agents that were running a hacker who confessed to one of the DNC break-ins, which would likely mean part of Cozy Bear. Although the credibility of that hacker confession is in doubt, and the FSB agents were arrested by Russian (for treason, for leaking information to US.)
  • There’s a clear (but not necessarily meaningful) link between Rykov’s circle of friends and Humpty Dumpty to be investigated.
  • There’s also a rumor connecting Oleg Deripaska to Humpty Dumpty as a way of getting some sort of revenge on Surkov. At this point I don’t put much stock in that but I’m listing it here for completeness.

[*I’ve chosen to transliterate “Малофеев” the most common way, as Malofeev, but given the fact that the Russian ‘е’ is pronounced “yeh”, the less common transliteration of “Malofeyev” may be considered more instructive to pronouncing his name, which does not rhyme with “Steve”.]

Thomas A. Fine

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Just a guy with too many interests.