Russia has deployed foreign “observers” to Ukrainian territories to make fake referendums on annexation look to be free vote. They included French far right activists.
Russia staged a farce of a democratic process in occupied Ukrainian territories as a justification for officially annexing Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson by Moscow.
The presence of claimed “foreign observers” has been used as proof that the “votes” were free and lawful by Russian invaders, Russian ultra-right allies in Europe, and Russian propaganda in occupied Ukraine. These individuals are essential to Russia’s plan to attempt to create a mask of legitimacy over its invasion and occupation, despite being condemned by most of the world and deemed as a sham referendum.
Several members of the French radical right and conspiracy theorists traveled to the Russian side to act as “foreign observers” of the annexation referendums Moscow organized in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas. These individuals included Xavier Moreau, André Chanclu, Yvan Benedetti, Arnaud Develay, and others.
Russia is not now able to involve any decent observers and significant political figures even from the far-right party, so practically all those parachuted to the fake referendums were marginal far-right activists. Let’s see who they are.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Yvan Benedetti supported Moscow and spoke about “NATO’s responsibility”. In September he took part in the fake “referendum” in the Kherson region as an “international observer”.
Yvan Benedetti is a French far-right activist. He’s a former president of L’Œuvre Française. Benedetti has been the spokesman of the French Nationalist Party since 2015. Previously, the notorious leader of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, allowed some L’Œuvre militants, including Benedetti, to integrate the FN in 2007. In 2011, Benedetti managed the electoral campaign of Bruno Gollnisch for the presidency of the FN.
Benedetti was however expelled from the far-right party in 2011 for too extreme views. He defined himself as an “anti-Zionist, anti-Semite, anti-Jews” in an interview. Benedetti decided to establish “Jeunesses Nationalists” in 2011 as the youth movement and activist branch of L’Œuvre Française, to attract militants disappointed by the FN leadership.
L’Œuvre Française was dissolved in 2013 by an official decree by the then Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls. The ban came in the context of street violence by far-right radical groups and followed the death of a far-left activist in a fight involving another nationalist association.
Valls justified the dissolution by denouncing L’Œuvre as a group “organized like a private militia in paramilitary-like training camps. He further added that the association had been “spreading a xenophobic and antisemitic ideology, diffusing racist and Holocaust-denying thesis, exalting collaboration [with the Nazis] and the Vichy regime”.
In 2018, Benedetti participated in the Yellow Vest protests, where he had an altercation with a crew of journalists. He also had several problems with the French judiciary system.
In June 2019, Yvan Benedetti was condemned to a suspended 8 months jail sentence for “recreating a disbanded league”, L’Œuvre having kept on operating for several months following the dissolution.
In June 2021, Benedetti received a sentence for posting a video titled “The Jews, incest, and hysteria” on his website. In this video, the Jewish community was stigmatized with anti-semitic accusations.
In September 2022, Benedetti was fined 10,000 Euros for denying a crime against humanity for his article lowering the number of deaths in the Shoah.
Emmanuel Marc André Leroy
Emmanuel Marc André Leroy was spotted as an “observer” in the fake referendum in the Zaporizhzhya region, partly occupied by Russians.
Leroy is a former advisor to far-right French politician Marine Le Pen (source). He has old connections to other far-right and white supremacist groups. He was featured as a speaker in 2007 in Moscow at a conference titled the “White Forum” headlined by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
His connection to the Russian-occupied territories in the Donbas dates back to 2015, and 2018. He told Russian propaganda media that he had traveled to the Donbas region six times in his role as president of the organization “Urgence Enfants du Donbas”.
Leroy declared himself an “expert and representative of France” in the 2022 sham referendums in Ukraine. He claimed that the voting in the war zone respected all norms of international law.
Another French far-right activist, André Chanclu, was spotted in a video standing with pro-Russian authorities in the occupied Ukrainian region of Kherson, observing the referendum on annexation to Russia. He was presented by Moscow as an international observer in the fraudulent vote organized in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
André Chanclu is anything but an independent observer. The Frenchman is a former member of the far-right movement Groupe Union Défense. This organization, known for its violent ultra-nationalist actions, was particularly active in the 1970s. He was also part of the neo-fascist group Ordre nouveau in the late 1960s, about which he co-wrote the book “Ordre nouveau raconté par ses militants”, published in 2019. A movement that gave birth, upon its dissolution, to the far-right National Front in 1972.
André Chanclu has never hidden his sympathy for Russian president Vladimir Putin. For many years, he has been an active defender of Putin’s foreign policy. Chanclu is president of “Collectif France-Russie” and co-founder of the France-Donbass Committee.
Chanclu is also the chairman of the association Novopol, which organized pro-Russian rallies, and provided support to pro-Russian groups in Donbas. He cooperated with the ideologist of Russian imperial neo-fascism Alexandr Dugin. On the day of Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine, Chanclu posted on Facebook that it was “a great day for our community” and “our support is total.”
Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann is a researcher based at the French Institute of Geopolitics in Paris. He’s a founder of an international Brussels-based organization EUROCONTINENT. He also teaches geopolitics at University Lyon III Jean Moulin, in Lyon.
Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann participated in the fake “referendum” in Luhansk as an “international observer”. Coming from scientific circles he looks odd on this list.
Mr. Thomann was featured as an “expert” on the Russian state propaganda channel “Russia Today”, banned in Europe. He actively spread anti-Ukraine and pro-Kremlin narratives in France.
In his works when commenting on the EU enlargement he speaks about the need to “count Russia’s interests”, and does not say anything about Ukraine’s interests and Russian military aggression.
A French lawyer Arnaud Develay, unknown to wide audiences, participated in the sham referendums and praised the “very good organization of the vote” to the Russian news website 360TV.
Develay was presented by Russian propaganda media as an observer from France at the polling stations in the Moscow region. Arnaud Develay presented himself to the Russian media as a lawyer in Paris and Washington.
The lawyer spoke in favor of dictatorial regimes. In 2020, featured on a pro-Assad Syrian media, he denounced the theft of oil in northern Syria by the Americans (fake news) and was considering filing a complaint with the International Criminal Court.
Arnaud Develay took part in a forum in Chisinau in 2019 with his report “The Rule of Law in the Age of Imperial Collapse”. He showed allegiance to Putin’s vision of the world, and quoted Vladimir Putin’s declaration that “The end of the Soviet Union is the most tragic event of the 20th Century.”
Arnaud Develay is also the author of articles on the Russian multilingual website Geopolitika.ru which spreads the Russian vision of international politics, which often means state propaganda.
Xavier Moreau is a French national, and a Moscow resident running a Russian security company. He has been residing in Moscow since 2000 and writing papers that promote Russia while criticizing the United States and Ukraine.
The entire family of a former French paratrooper who got married in Moscow has dual citizenship in Russia. The Sokol holding, owned by Xavier Moreau, is based in Moscow and employs former elite soldiers of the French Army as well as Russian security forces.
Xavier Moreau participated as an “observer” in the sham referendums held at gunpoint in the Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Russian propaganda machine portrays Moreau as a political analyst and expert from France.
Hate speech against Ukraine has been published by Xavier Moreau in two books. Both “Ukraine. Why France Was Wrong” and “The New Great Russia: From the Collapse of the USSR to the Return of Vladimir Putin,’ written by him (2012 and 2015) fully support Russian propaganda narratives. Moreau has also voiced Ukraine-phobic declarations when appearing on Russian propaganda television.
Xavier Moreau founded StratPol, a so-called Center for political and strategic analysis. The website www.stratpol.com circulates propaganda about the West’s unfair treatment of Russia following the Cold War, the purported failure of Ukraine as an independent state, and the attitude of Western nations towards the Kremlin. Everything is similar to what you would see on Russian propaganda outlets.
StratPol’s YouTube channel has been recently shut down by YouTube. The channel termination results from persistently breaking the platform’s regulations. New videos presenting Russian propaganda and hoaxes were posted on the channel, which led to the sanction. “Censorship” is how Moreau comments on YouTube’s decision to block a channel spreading Russian propaganda.
Mr. Moreau received an invitation to one of Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov’s TV shows, which says a lot about his level of loyalty to the Kremlin. The Frenchman simply translates all of Moscow’s propaganda narratives. On Russian state TV, he said that the atrocities of Russian soldiers and the mass murder of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, which shocked the world, were just a “provocation.”
Moreau’s book “Ukraine: Why France was wrong” is a blatant piece of misinformation meant to sway the French audience. A brief review reveals that this book is a very crude version of Russian propaganda intended to deceive readers. Anyone familiar with Eastern Europe may find numerous obvious lies and misinterpreted statements.
To defend intentional omissions, propaganda, and disinformation as well as to distort facts, the author asserts a right to give an alternative perspective. However, surprisingly every time this alternative view mixed with falsehoods coincides with the Kremlin’s propaganda.
Moreau was harshly criticized for taking part in the opening of the “consulate” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” in Marseille. He also took a photo with a “DPR” banner in Paris during the 2018 “Yellow Vests” rallies that sparked violent unrest in France.
The French interior minister at that period, Christoph Castaner, stated that the most radical groups among the protestors are activists linked to the far-right Le Pen’s party, shortly after riots exploded in Paris. Bloomberg’s resource reported an unusual activity of Russian bots encouraging rallies on social media. France authorities launched an investigation into potential Russian meddling in the country’s Yellow Vest protests.
Moreau with Emmanuel Leroy (former far-right party member and an adviser of Marine Le Pen) visited the occupied Donbas in 2016. While they were attending meetings of the occupation authorities of the “republics,” their group attempted to portray their journey as a humanitarian mission.
Le Pen tries to distance herself
The French far-right party Rassemblement National (Former National Front) is now embarrassed. For years, the party has taken a pro-Putin stance and justified Crimea annexation. In 2014, Marine Le Pen even turned to a Russian bank to finance her election campaigns.
At the end of January, Marine Le Pen still considered that her “point of view on Ukraine coincides with that of Russia”. She then refused to sign a joint declaration with her European far-right partners, judging it too harsh on Putin.
But since Russia has violated the borders of a sovereign state, waged an all-out cruel war in Europe, and struck civilian targets, it was necessary to backtrack. Marine Le Pen has not dared since the start of the war to openly support Putin.
Léo Nicolian is a former journalist evolving in the pro-Kremlin conspiracy sphere. Nicolian actively spreads pro-Kremlin narratives in France. He participated in the fake “referendum” in the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine as an “international observer”.
Nicolian calls himself a ‘patriotic journalist activist’ and claims to be a ‘conspiracy fighter’. In May 2022, he posted on his YouTube channel an excerpt from a program broadcast on a Russian television channel in which he was a guest. In the video, he asserts that ‘France has become a de facto hidden dictatorship’. He added that while Vladimir Putin loved his people, the French press had a headline about Emmanuel Macron (he presented the cover of a printed copy of FranceSoir to the camera): “the man who did not love France”.
On Russian television, Nicolian spoke in favor of the Yellow Vests movement. Of course, his remarks may shock many French people because Nicolian returned to France without being arrested, whereas a Russian journalist who would dare critisize Putin in the same way would probably have ended up in the Gulag.
Alain Corvez spoke on “RT France” and “Le Média”, he’s a former colonel of the French Armed Forces. Corvez actively spreads pro-Kremlin propaganda in France. He participated in the fake “referendum” in the occupied Melitopol as an “international observer”.
He’s shown long-standing support for Putin’s policy. After the Crimea annexation by Russia, he wrote that “Crimea has always been part of Russia and has joined the motherland”, justifying the unlawful annexation.
Ukraine calls for investigation on the “observers” in Russia’s sham referendums
The Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets posted the list of “international observers”, who “observed” the sham referendum at gunpoint in the Russian-occupied territories.
The Commissioner for Human Rights says it is essential to know the names of those who are helping the aggressor state, “legitimizing yet another lie.”
“For the most part, these ‘referendum observers’ are long-time stooges of the Kremlin. We can see that, compared to 2014, it is increasingly difficult for Russia to find those who would look respectable and be ready to cooperate with an aggressive and terrorist state”, – Lubinets wrote.
Masquerade as attempt to legitimize sham referendums
The French authorities have described the so-called referendum organized by Russia as “a parody” of a vote and “an additional provocation” by the Kremlin. Catherine Colonna, the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, stated that the referendums in Ukraine are “a masquerade” that “we will not recognize”.
These French far-right figures serve as a tool in Russia’s attempts to create the appearance of legitimacy of fake referendums that violate international law and are aimed at annexation of Ukrainian territories. The position of the French “observers” contradicts the position of the French government, which calls the voting a “masquerade” and the position of the Ukrainian government about “the attempt of the terrorist state to legitimize another lie”.
They favorably comment on the vote, forgetting about the violation of international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine. They do not mention the deaths of tens of thousands of people, including many children, in the ongoing Russian war. No word, that Russia’s war against Ukraine brought the destruction of peaceful cities, mass murders, rapes, war crimes, and illegal occupation of territories. And now the Russian authorities are trying to disguise it as a “free vote”. How will the French authorities react to these actions of the French citizens?