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By John Helmer, Moscow

Pushkin House is the only London platform for anti-Russian propaganda which publishes an annual financial report revealing where its money comes from. The organisation calls itself a charity, according to UK law, whose “principal aim”, it claims in its regular filings to UK Companies House, “is to serve as an independent centre exploring the great richness of Russian culture, language and civilisation.”

It is anything but independent. That’s because the organisation,  which has lasted in London for almost seventy years in promotion of Russian culture,  has been making large financial losses promoting war against Russia,  and the Ukrainian destruction of Pushkin and everything else Russian in body or in book or monument form.  Supporting the Ukrainian side in the war, however, has cost the trust which owns Pushkin House’s headquarters and operations a deficit in  2022 of £117,627.  It’s the biggest financial loss in the Trust’s history.

It would have been much greater, however, if not for the financial backing of the British government. It has given more than two-thirds of the donation and grant income received in each of the past two years. The government has replaced Alexei Navalny, who appeared as a major donor in 2018 when the auditors called the source of the money “Future of Russia”, a political party which, under British law, cannot legally give money to charities like Pushkin House.    

The British government is just as uninhibited. But in the UK, attacking Russia and backing the regime in Kiev either make a lawful tax-deductible charity, or else they are an illegal violation of the Charities Act.

When Pushkin House was established in 1954 by people with “with Russian roots”,    the founders said they were creating “a place of meeting for people of all nationalities who are interested in Russian culture; to provide lectures, concerts and readings on all aspects of Russian culture and share opinions in an atmosphere of freedom.”

There is no Pushkin House record that,  organisationally or collectively,  the members ever supported an allied defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War, or regime change in the Kremlin —  although individually some may have thought so. They declared then, and the organisation continues to repeat today:“from the very beginning Pushkin House was a politically independent organisation and it adheres to this principle to this day.”

Its financial status, avoiding UK income tax and allowing donors to give Pushkin House money as deductions from their tax bills, depends on this “political independence”.

When the Pushkin House Trust established itself by name in July 2005 – succeeding the original corporate name, Forum Houses Limited, 1956-2005   — there is no mention of the words “Pushkin” or “Russia” in the 14-page articles of association. Education in languages and music, performances, and discussions were identified; the Russian language and Alexander Pushkin were not.

Source: https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/

Neither does the term “independence” appear in the founding charter of Pushkin House. Instead, in order to comply with the British laws on companies and charities, this one restriction was declared: “that the Company [Pushkin House Trust] shall not support with its funds any object or endeavor to impose on or procure to be observed by its members or others any regulation, restriction or condition which if an object of the Company would make it a Trade Union.”  The meaning of terms section of the charter does not give a definition of “trade union”.

On approval by the UK Charities Commission of its charter, Pushkin House became Charity Number 313111.  The commission confirms this status, adding that “reporting is up to date”. The Commission says it believes Pushkin House “promotes Russian culture via an extensive programme of lectures, readings, concerts, exhibitions, film and language training.”   But this is false. Pushkin House, its executives and trustees promote the destruction of Russian culture, starting with the burning of Pushkin’s books by the Ukrainian government.

This change in the charter might qualify as a British charity but Pushkin House must request Charities Commission approval. There is no restriction on Pushkin House becoming a government propaganda organ;  the Charities Commission already knows that in the past year the organisation’s income  “includes £52,000 from 1 government grant(s)”.  

The Commission’s registration record for Pushkin House also claims that it helps “children/young people [and] Other Defined Groups”. If Alexei Navalny and the Zelensky government in Kiev are included among the “defined groups” benefitting from Pushkin House’s activities, that would cancel the charity status – unless the British government intends to violate its own laws and finance Pushkin House to use the charity status as a cover.

This Charities Commission registration for Pushkin House reveals that it doesn’t operate in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Source: https://register-of-charities.charitycommission.gov.uk/

The current British law on what charities can and cannot do to qualify disallows much more than a connection to a “trade union”. Taking funds from a foreign political party isn’t permitted. Changing the objectives and purposes of the charity from those in its founding charter is also prohibited. The Charities Commission, which regulates what goes on at Pushkin House, explicitly warns that “charities must remain independent and must not give their support to a political party.”

Pushkin House violated that when it took money from Alexei Navalny’s political party. After  the evidence of this transaction – camouflaged in the Pushkin House Trust annual accounts as a donation from “Future of Russia” – was first reported, the trustees and executives of Pushkin House refused to answer.  

The British government explicitly warns the Pushkin House trustees and executives to report to  the Charities Commission if and when they change their purposes and objectives, according to their charter. Promoting regime change and war against Russia, as Pushkin House has been doing, is illegal for a charity.

Source: https://www.gov.uk/

In its latest, October 2022 guidance on what charities may not do to keep their status lawful, the Charities Commission says they must “remain independent by: asking political figures you engage with not to promote party political messages at your events or premises; [and by] seeking to engage equally with all major political parties. If your charity always engages with only one party or person this could call into question whether your charity is politically neutral. Charities must never provide money or other resources to anyone who is standing as a candidate [or] promote a particular candidate or political party.”  

When Pushkin House has promoted authors, books,  and events advocating regime change in the Kremlin, like Catherine Belton in 2021,  or appoints panelists well-known for the same war objective, like Anne Applebaum (2018),   Fiona Hill (2021)  and Masha Gessen (2023),   the charity is violating both its charter and the law.

This week the chief executives of Pushkin House were asked to explain the public declaration they have posted on their fence in London, taking sides in the current war.

Source: https://www.pushkinhouse.org/ 

They were asked by email: “I note that you post on your front fence your organisation’s public policy under the title, “Pushkin House condemns the Russian invasion”. I can’t find that in your events and interviews,   or in your selection of the book prize candidates, Pushkin House has allowed a supporter of Russia in the current war to present his or her views. 

“I also note that in your choice of book prize judges, authors and interviewees, and in the current membership of your trust, you have represented uniform support for President Vladimir Zelensky.

“Accordingly, I ask you to say, either personally or for your organisation, whether you support President Zelensky in the policy of removing Pushkin’s books from public libraries, the burning of Pushkin’s books, and the removal of monuments and street signs carrying Pushkin’s name? 

“I’ll be grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this email and I look forward to your prompt reply, as this issue must have arisen for you for some time now. In the event it has not, here are some references for your information: US government source,   Ukrainian government source

“In the event that you do not reply, I will report you by name as refusing to answer.” Elena Sudakova, the executive director, and her colleagues have refused to answer. 

The annual Pushkin House Trust financial reports, filed at UK Companies House, explain why. Since 2018, when the Russian oligarch Len Blavatnik stopped financing Pushkin House, and Navalny replaced him, the organisation has been running in the red; that is, its operating expenditures have been greater than its income. The deficit has been covered by income on what the balance-sheet accounts call “UK listed investments.” These, plus the value of the headquarters building on Bloomsbury Square, London, plus a small cash bank balance are the organisation’s assets.

But the listed investments are no longer paying what they used to, according to the latest financial report dated April 11, 2023.   

Source: latest financial report for 2022 at https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/00571637/filing-history.

As the income has been dwindling, but the costs of its activities have continued to grow, Pushkin House’s auditors have been obliged to issue a “going concern” notice. This is the first such warning in the organisation’s history.

This excerpt of the balance sheet shows why:

Source: Page 13 of the 2022 report.

Promoting the war against Russia, the Ukrainian government’s policies, and the British government’s regime change strategy are turning out to be so costly for Pushkin House, it has become financially dependent on the British government.  This is disguised in the auditor’s report on sources of income:

Source: Page 19 of the 2022 report.  

Originally called the British Committee for Relations with Other Countries, the British Council is funded by the government and operates as one of its public propaganda agencies under the direction of the Foreign Secretary and his ministry.  Its contribution to Pushkin House is small. The much larger source of government money is called a “Covid Restart Grant”. Together, they amounted to £67,000 in the last financial year – that was 61% of total income from donations.

Would the government have paid Pushkin House Covid Restart Grants two years in a row if the organisation had given equal time and resources to the Russian side in the current conflict? If it had given any time or resources to the Russian side?

The organisation answers this way:  “With the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in February 2022 we have adapted our programme to support communities of artists and creatives”.    In fact, the only “communities” the programme has supported are Russians vocally hostile to President Vladimir Putin and supportive of the Ukrainian regime, mostly from locations outside Russia,  and Ukrainians committed to destroying Russian culture, if they can.  

Together with Ukrainian creatives, we collaborated on artists’ social media takeovers, display of war diaries. Anti-war posters by Ukrainian artists were displayed on the façade of our building. We organised fund-raiser film screenings with Ukrainian film-makers and other solidarity events…As the war continues, we see it as part of our mission to support Russian creatives in London…and by providing a safe space for reflection and personal growth.”  

There is no longer a safe place in the Ukraine for Alexander Pushkin.  In London he is past caring for reflection and personal growth.

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