While thousands of Russians participated in anti-corruption protests, state TV showed clips of UFC veteran Jeff Monson.
On Sunday, thousands of Russians took part in large-scale anti-corruption protests that were some of the biggest in recent memory. Yet while live reports showed riot police violently arresting hundreds of peaceful protesters across the country, state television broadcast clips of a former UFC fighter discussing Eastern Ukraine.
The protests, which also took place across smaller cities like Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Kemerovo, Barnaul, Krasnoyarsk Vladivostok Simferopol, Novgorod, Rostov, and Makhachkala, are part of an anti-corruption campaign against current prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexey Navalny accused the former Russian president of corruption and bribery to amass enormous wealth and a property portfolio during his time in office. Navalny detailed his findings in a documentary titled ‘Not Your Dimon,’ which was viewed over 12 million times on YouTube.
When the planned demonstrations finally took place on March 26 – three weeks removed from the corruption report — hundreds of participating citizens were arrested in various regions across Russia. With over 1100 arrests overall, 850 were made in the country’s capital alone, including Navalny himself.
“Today we are discussing (and condemning) corruption, not the detentions. Well, I was detained. So what. It OK. There are things in life that are worth being detained for,” Navalny tweeted on Sunday.
Yet while the country witnessed some of the largest anti-government protests in recent memory, Russian state television opted to distract viewers from potential dissent by shifting the focus onto supposed corruption in Ukraine. In fact, there was a complete blackout of information on state TV. Dmitry Kiselyov, the Kremlin’s chief propagandist, focused his attention on “demoralization” in Ukraine without even mentioning the ongoing protests. His show later shifted to a combat sports gym in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, where Jeff Monson hosted an MMA masterclass and explained the misconceptions Western audiences have of Eastern Ukraine, as well as why the region is in a bloody war.
The former UFC fighter also happens to be the first American citizen to accept a passport from the Luhansk People’s Republic, an occupied territory in Eastern Ukraine. In a letter to LPR president Igor Venediktovich Plotnitsky obtained by BloodyElbow, Monson stated that he feels a “sincere and deep kinship with the people of Donbas and wholeheartedly support their fight for independence. I am ready to make an active contribution to the development of youth sport on the territory of the republic and to do my part to inform the world community about the reality on the ground in the LPR.”
Monson, who is currently in the process of obtaining Russian citizenship, was also recently named the sports ambassador for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). The Communist Party sent Monson to Luhansk several months ago as part of a new “sports programme”, which is designed to improve the party’s image both on the international stage and at home. This includes plans to enlisting youngsters in deteriorated regions such as Donbas and Luhansk into martial arts programs. It is an example of sports diplomacy and how political parties enlist the support of popular athletes to further their overarching goals.
Now it appears that the Kremlin has found a more sinister use for Monson’s political sports activism.