Russia: the secret Siberian State funded meeting of an international anti-cult ring

Alexander Dvorkin

FOB – A secretive and very close conference against religious minorities took place in the city of Salekhard – which is the regional capital of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug of Russia (YANAO). Subject of the conference was “Destructive and pseudo-religious organizations, sects and cults: challenges and solutions”. It took place from 27 to 29 September 2017 in the administration building of the YANAO Government.

Almost all the attendants were anti-cultists, State officials and priests of the most obscurantist and radical sectors of the Moscow Patriarchate and pro-Putin Russian Islam. All supporting the “liquidation” campaigns of the Putin regime against various religious minorities.


Starting from the left: Alexander Dvorkin (FECRIS), archbishop Nikolay (Chashin)

External journalist (from other regions) was not allowed to attend the conference. Usual visitors were not allowed as well.

Also web-site of the YANAO Government stated that a welcome speech was made by Vladislav Petrushko – Deputy Head of the Information and Analytical Department of the Monitoring, Analysis and Forecast Office of the Federal Agency for Nationalities Affairs. He made speech from name of the head of the Agency Igor Barinov.

The conference was sponsored and officially organized by the Government of YANAO based on the order of the governor Dmitry Kobylkin. Governor ordered all heads of the local administrations of YANAO to attend the conference. Official announced purpose of the conference – is to strengthen inter-national and inter-confessional peace in YANAO (sic!).

It is true that Russian money supports a good deal of international anti-cult initiatives.



In order to protect Yamal from preachers visiting NEIGHBORING Arctic tundra areas, the Government of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug sent budget funds for a closed conference on the subject «Destructive and pseudo-religious organizations, sects and cults: challenges and solutions» with invited participants from Canada, Germany and Italy.

The conference was held on September 27-29, 2017 in Salekhard in the building of the Government of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YANAO). The official organizers are the Government of the YANAO and the Salekhard Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. The order on holding the conference was signed by the Governor of YANAO Dmitry Kobylkin. The chairman of the organizing committee of the conference is the vice-governor Irina Sokolova, the co-chairman is the head of the Salekhard Diocese of the ROC Archbishop Nikolay (secular name Sergey Nikolaevich Chashin).


Starting from the left: Andrey Berezovsky, Dmitry Kobylkin, archbishop Nikolay (Chashin)
Photo: press service of the YANAO governor


To get to the conference is possible only by invitation, ordinary visitors are not allowed — Roman Pikun, head of the National Policy and Public Relations Department of the Internal Policy Department of the YANAO, explained to us two days before the conference. But he added that the conference doors are open to all accredited journalists.

However, this was not entirely true. For example, journalist of the «Religious Studies Journal» Olesya Suchkova wrote that her accreditation was unexpectedly canceled because the organizers do not accept journalists from other regions.

«After some negotiations, I was still accredited, but after 15 minutes they called and reported interesting information. The spokeswoman said that she received an order to cancel all applications of «external» journalists, who are not part of the administration staff or any of their district press centers. It's good that I have not bought a flight tickets that can’t be refuneded.» — Olesya Suchkova writes.

There is an interesting situation. The conference, whose declared goal is the solution of a socially significant task, is actually closed to public access. In the same time it is financed by the state budget — ie. at the expense of taxpayers who can not even attend to it or learn how it passed from independent media. Not to mention to express their attitude to such a budget waste which is clearly questionable for the region’s value.


Archbishop Nikolay, ruling the Salekhard diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, does not seem to consider the topic of sects actual for the region: «The North is now becoming overgrown with infrastructure, it is becoming more accessible. And we see that even in the tundra various preachers go around. But this is not so much actual for Yamal as for other places in our Arctic zone», he said a week before start of the conference.

The Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of the YANAO, Khaidar Hafizov, with whom the representative of our web-site communicated a few hours before the beginning of the event, is agree with archbishop Nikolay. The Mufti even expressed concern that non-traditional confessions want «[all] to become their adherents, sooner or later», but promised that «not to allow it with God's help" and made it clear that the region does not consider this problem topical.

According to Nadezhda Noskova, the head of the press service of the YANAO governor, «the region has remained stable and calm from the point of view of ethno-confessional and interethnic situation, but since this issue is becoming more acute all over the world, the okrug initiated such a conference, in order to protect themselves and other regions from future threats. This is a preventive measure.»

The doctor of philosophical sciences, professor of the department of state and confessional relations of the RANEPA William Shmidt, has a more pragmatic view on the goals of this conference:

«The situation as a whole is quite simple: there is a plan of measures to prevent extremism and terrorism, to prevent threats, and so on. What to do when, for example, you do not have them, and the funds for them are budgeted? (Budgets are, as you know, a delicate matter — they need to be handled, and under this section there should also be a report with a special responsibility.)»


We could not get an answer to the question why the Government of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug believes that this conference will strengthen interethnic and interconfessional unity — Roman Pikun, the head of the National Policy Department, first asked to postpone the phone conversation, and then did not pick up the phone.

But got known a very original reason for refusing access to the conference for external journalists. It turns out that press access has been restricted so as not to frighten people!

«The fact that external journalists were denied in access is not the fault of the press service. — Says the head of the press service Nadezhda Noskova. — And we apologize. We planned to show everything very broadly. The conference has several organizers: the regional department of internal policy, the Orthodox Church, the regional Muslim’s Spiritual Directorate and others. And at their general meeting it was decided not to frighten people... nevertheless the narrow specialists gathered and partly the event is half-closed.»

Who, in this case, should be frightened by this half-closed event? After all, in every speech there are such words as «totalitarian sect» or «destructive cult». Mufti Haydar Khafizov helped to answer this question.

«At this conference, if I'm not mistaken, the heads of municipalities will be present, and we are trying to convey to them the idea [of sects]. At local levels, there are no people who understand traditional religions. And today experts will speak and explain by what criteria it is possible [to determine who belongs to traditional religions and who is not]. Many have now opened... Whom only... Aum Shinrikyo, Here Krishnas, others, etc... Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists... Sorry of course, I said too much. We need specialists at the local levels of administrations who oversee these issues. So I'm not saying of going back to repressions, but there must be specialists on the ground.» — Mufti Haydar Hafizov said.

Indeed, by the order of the Governor of YANAO, the heads of all the municipalities of the Okrug were advised not only to appear at the conference themselves, but also to ensure the attendance of the heads of settlements located in the territories of their districts.

5. To recommend the heads (heads of local administrations) of municipalities in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug to take part in the conference.
6. To recommend to the heads (heads of local administrations) of municipal districts in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug to assist in ensuring the participation in the conference of the heads of settlements that are part of the territory of the municipal district.
7. The control over the execution of this order shall be assigned to the vice-governor of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug.

— from the order of the governor Dmitry Kobylkin about the conference.


Within the framework of the conference and in the presence of the governor, Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of the YANAO Haydar Hafizov signed an agreement with the head of the Salekhard Diocese of the ROC, Archbishop Nikolay (Chashin), on cooperation in countering pseudo-religious organizations, sects, and on some other issues.


Signing the collaboration agreement | Photo:

In this regard, we asked Haidar Hafizov about his attitude to one of the key speakers of the conference Alexander Dvorkin in view of the fact that he is known for lectures that «expose» Islam and causing a lot of outrage among Muslims since 2013. But it turned out that the mufti was not familiar with this aspect of the anticultist’s activity.

«I have not heard... I am familiar with his activities since last year, after Dvorkin came to Novy Urengoy. But you know, to judge a man by his speeches... It is necessary to assess him on his acts. It's my opinion. And today, that's all, who is not too lazy... That's even what you are asking me... there are people who will find what to criticize...» — Mufti Haydar Hafizov

After the mufti was told a little about Dvorkin's anti-Islamic lectures in which a number of experts found extremism, insults, historical inaccuracies and distortions of facts, Haidar Hafizov said that his spiritual mentor is Supreme Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin, «and from him I'm not heard anything bad about Dvorkin, and that's enough for me.» In turn, Talgat Tadzhuddin's assistant ignored our questions on this matter, which we addressed in writing at his request. Despite several reminders on the phone, no answers were received to them.


Considering the contingent of the conference speakers and anticipating the results, turned out that religious scholar, the deputy director of the Center for the Study and Development of Intercultural Relations Sergei Shcherbak was right:

«As far as I know, not only many scientists studying NRM, but also the media, supporting the ideas of religious freedom and ideological pluralism, were not admitted to the event. I can predict with absolute certainty that the reports will sound with a lot of joy and gratitude to the current authorities for a new sudden turn in relations between the state and confessions in Russia, which led to the elimination of the organizations of Scientologists and Jehovah's Witnesses from the official religious life.»

On the first day of the conference and in the first interview to the «Yamal-Region» television channel, Dvorkin spoke in support of the liquidation of Jehovah's Witnesses organizations based on the extremism law article.

«In fact, there are two types of extremism: one that is directed to the outside (the one that is equal to terrorism, roughly speaking) and the extremism that is directed inward, that is, to members of the organization itself.» — right in the course of an interview in the studio of the channel, Dvorkin introduces new definition of extremism, explaining the reason for the elimination of the JW.

Speaking of such events in general, Sergei Shcherbak does not see any benefit in them — neither economic nor practical:

«As for the public benefit of such events, to the best of my knowledge, at the expense of the regional budgets, as well as special grants allocated from the federal budget to fight extremism, it seems to me doubtful.

The search for extremist content in religious texts often recalls the efforts of the ancient Sophists who earned their living by verbal balancing act. It is not difficult to find extremist statements and ideas in ancient and modern sacred books of known religions, and not only in the Tanakh, the New Testament or the Koran, but, for example, in Orthodox patristic literature, books on Islam, as well as in some contemporary utterances of religious hierarchs. But it would be strange if scholars of religious studies were engaged in something similar, gathering conferences about the extremist danger of Christianity or Islam under the pretext of extremism.

Another point is that representatives of anti-cult centers are questioning the right of a citizen of our country to decide what to believe and what beliefs to share. All this is alarming. The assertion that unusual views of the world are vicious leads not only to the spread of intolerance and enmity towards dissidents in society, but also, in the final analysis, harms the religions that exist for centuries in Russia.

This thought was expressed more than two thousand years ago by the wise Ashoka: «... Those who praises his religion, because of excessive devotion, and defames others, having the thought: «I glorify my religion this way», only harms their own religion. Therefore it is useful to discuss. One should listen and respect the doctrines preached by others.» (The Edict of the Rock 12, 265 BC). I'm not sure that at the conference in Salekhard they will listen to the opinion of the respected ancient Indian emperor.»

They did not listen.


«Everyone living on our northern land makes unique contribution to its development. That is why we regard the ethnic and confessional diversity in Yamal as an advantage», with these words Dmitry Kobylkin concluded his greeting to the participants of the anti-religious conference.

This is the main paradox of this event. Indeed, how can the conference, which is anti-confessional in nature, contribute to the diversity of confessions?

«The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug combines favorable conditions for the life of representatives of different peoples and confessions of the Russian Federation, including for the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North.» — states the information provided by the press service of the governor together with the photos of the conference.

The problem is that the legal term «sect» does not exist, and the interpretation of this term by anticultists is so blurry that in the final analysis, only they themselves decide what will be considered a sect at a particular moment in time and what will not.

So a sect can be called both independent religious movements and monasteries, from which, in view of some scandal, the Russian Orthodox Church is trying to dissociate itself; with the easy hand of Dvorkin, commercial organizations such as Herbalife and the «Forex» Stock Exchange are became sects; same for individual Hindu schools, yoga courses and even breastfeeding and home delivery courses; and in 2013 attempts began to undermine the reputation of the world religion Islam. As experience shows, the «Anticultist #1» does not care what to attack, be it the world religion or the beliefs of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North.

Among the speakers we did not find a single religious scholar. But each of them is an adherent of one ideology that denies the human right to choose what to believe in and how to believe, guaranteed by the Constitution. And this right is denied under the guise of helping the person himself. Each report is a set of phrases unidentified by science. «Totalitarian sect», «destructive cult», «psycho-cult» — cliches, the meaning of which is changed by an author from situation to situation.

Speakers of the conference:

  • Aleksey Voat. "Modern technologies of the Internet in the activities of destructive cults";
  • Alexander Dvorkin. "The study of religions and sects in modern Russia";
  • Mikhail Ivanov. "Psycho-cults as an actively developing type of totalitarian sects that pose a threat to mental and physical health";
  • Gerald Armstrong. "Betrayal of trust: lies and treachery of Scientology";
  • Luigi Corvaglia. "The sectarian control of consciousness: How a respectable citizen can be turn into a criminal and a murderer";
  • Thomas Gandow. "Occult roots of neopaganism and its connection with Nazi ideology";
  • Roman Silantiev. "Terrorist sects in modern Russia";
  • Agafangel Belykh. "Specificity of the influence of neo-charismatic religious organizations on the indigenous small population of Siberia and the Far East";
  • Archbishop of Salekhard and Novo-Urengoi Nikolay (Chashin). "Socially-oriented non-profit organizations as one of the forms of existence and activity of destructive organizations";
  • Hieromonk Lev (Sklyarov). "Experience in counteracting destructive cults in the dioceses of the Urals Federal District";
  • Hegumen Serapion (Mitko). "Mission and geopolitics: history and modernity".

The conference, announced as the scientific and practical, us very far from science. Rather, it is a meeting of colleagues of the same business, who are going to talk and have a good time at the public expense. Evidence of this are both the composition of participants and similar reports, the content of which is repeated from year to year, from conference to conference.

All speakers are close people. You can say, members of one club of interests. Gandow, Armstrong and Dvorkin have been friends for over 20 years. Corvaglia and Dvorkin are members of the FECRIS board. Silantiev, Voat and Dvorkin are anticultists and members of the RATSIRS headed by Dvorkin. Representatives of the Orthodox Church are also guides of the anti-sectarian politic.

«The study of religions and sects in modern Russia» — this is the title of the report of Dvorkin himself. At the same time, several hours earlier the same day in an interview with the «Yamal-Region» TV Channel, he said that he still has no statistics of religions and sects. This is for 25 years of work! What kind of study of religions and sects can we talk about?

Journalist: Alexander Leonidovich, a couple of years ago you said that we should carefully investigate the problem of sectarianism, collect information, conduct researches in order to keep relevant statistics, which we do not have yet. And how it is today? Did you manage to make any statistics?
Dvorkin: You know, there are still no statistics.
— TV Channel «Yamal-region», September 27, 2017


What are all the reasons for the conduct and what are the expected consequences of such conferences? To find answer to this question helped religious scholar William Schmidt. In his opinion, the purpose is political-ideological noise, as part of the state strategy. However, this noise can lead to very unpleasant consequences, including for traditional religions.

«In recent years, we have a stable tendency to politicize and criminalize the religious sphere, mainly due to so-called non-traditional movements and cults (groups). How much they pose a real threat to public order or anything else, considering their %, proportion in the population composition, or the social structure, — is an insignificant issue, since it do not even fall into the category of statistical error.

But there is a lot of political-ideological noise around them. That's it, this «noise» is the main and politically valuable. You will think that this is contrary to constitutional norms and principles, but at stake are real riots on social-political-economic grounds...

It's also sad that the big players on the religious field do not see or are not allowed to see the context and costs that are formed as a result of such activities, and in fact it is the strategy of the state's domestic policy, which only now can be perceived as costs, but at the long term, in the part of generalization of law enforcement practice, will become the common moment of regulation...

However, considering that such a state of things represents particular interests on the part of the government, such campaigns will need funding and – in the next future – planning; they will thus also need to be fully explained as to why they are necessary and economically advantageous. Someone may also be surprised for some time about the substance and motives of such programs, but in fact, orders are orders and they must be implemented, no much wondering, regardless how they may bewilder one.

What the regional authorities have to do, whereas they are in rigid political-ideological and socio-economic linkages or dependencies — they will need to “link it up”.

That is why this “funny team” is touring the country, honestly making their living»


Starting from the left: Gerald Armstrong, Alexander Dvorkin, Archbisop Nikolay (Chashin),
Thomas Gandow, Luigi Corvaglia. Salekhard, 29 September 2017

September 30, 2017