Figures of note at the helm of the Gorchakov Fund include trustee Vladimir Yakunin, a sanctioned oligarch who, to those observing the malign NGO space, should require no introduction; Ruben Vardanyan, the CEO responsible for the Troika laundromat; Oligarch and media/communications magnate Alisher Usmanov, under sanction by no less than the US, UK, Australia, Canada, the EU, Belgium, Japan, Switzerland, and Ukraine; and, last but not least, sanctioned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, among numerous other sanctioned and criminally-linked individuals.
Though creating a favorable climate for Russian interests abroad and cultivating “soft power” through engaging youth and/or students, media, and language learners outside the country is in and of itself a relatively innocuous goal, there exists a fundamental difference between conventional “soft power” and certain activities supported by the Gorchakov Fund such as: laundering narratives that entail genocide denial and where possible fostering Kremlin-grown narratives that lay the groundwork for malign influence campaigns, and supporting organizations that employ pernicious methods, and are often themselves sanctioned and/or criminally-linked. Groups such as the Public Initiative “Creative Diplomacy” (PICREADI)—an intelligence-linked NGO under sanction by the United States— and the Yakunin-driven Dialogue Franco-Russe, which has been investigated by French authorities, are recipients of Gorchakov funds. In September 2022, the Gorchakov-founded Primakov Georgia-Russia Public Center had its accounts frozen by Georgian TBC Bank due to becoming subject to international sanctions.
The Gorchakov Fund is part of a group of foundations and GONGOs that the US government estimated in 2018 were funded by the Russian state to the tune of at least $130 million per year in total, though this estimate was qualified as likely being conservative in nature. However, Gorchakov itself is financed only in part by the Russian state—largely held to be a kleptocracy—from its federal budget; in 2016 47% of its budget–an alleged but unconfirmed €660,000 according to the Wilfred Martens Center citing a Russian government source that is no longer available–was reported to be from state resources with the remainder undisclosed and “financed by trustees”: in other words, presumably gathered from the oligarchs and other figures within its leadership structure, a structure with more sanctions and allegations between them than can be reasonably recounted in short format.
Nonprofit organizations, think tanks, or foundations directly or indirectly associated with the laundering of money, reputations, narratives or criminal activities morally corrode the nonprofit space. Moreover, any organization engaged in such practices can serve as a vector for undermining western institutions and values as well as transatlantic relationships. Open-source information indicates the Gorchakov Fund’s senior leadership and its direct as well as indirect activities warrant the designation of this organization as a “high-risk NGO”. Therefore, the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund has been placed onto the Institute for European Integrity’s NGO Watchlist.