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4th Mar 2024

Investigation

Who is Kris Roman, the Kremlin's man in Belgium?

  • Kris Roman is one of the best-known Russian propagandists and Putin fans in Belgium (Photo: Kris Roman's VK account)
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In Flanders, Russia's access to the Belgian far-right is facilitated by Kris Roman. What is far less known are his more than decade-long connections with Russian intelligence.

"It was a pleasant evening with Flemish, Walloon, Dutch and Russian people, also people from the Donbass," says Sarah Melis. The young woman, who became known as an organiser of anti-lockdown Covid protests, was one of the speakers at a "geo-political pizza evening" in Durbuy, a town in eastern Belgium, in mid-October.

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  • Kris Roman (right) is photographed dining with FSB general Alexander Nikitin and Sergei Voitinsky, a suspected former KGB intelligence officer (Photo: Kris Roman's VK account)

She was there at the invitation of Kris Roman, one of the best-known Russian propagandists and Putin fans in Belgium. The two met during one such Covid protest. During the pizza night, Roman wore a T-shirt with an image of Russian soldiers and the inscription "Za Donbass" [For the Donbass], alongside a Z symbol.

"I talk to everyone and do not have to have the same opinion as the organiser or the guests, but the situation in Ukraine is different than the media makes it out to be," Melis claimed. "Ukraine is not so innocent in all areas."

The other important guest that evening was Robert Steuckers, one of the founders of La Nouvelle Droite [The New Right] in the late 1970s, the forerunner of what we now call 'alt-right'. Steuckers brought Roman his latest book, entitled Pages Russes. Steuckers is in contact with Alexander Dugin, one of the Kremlin's ideologues.

Behind the scenes, Steuckers also co-wrote a book by the identitarian and anti-globalist organisation Feniks, which consists of (ex) members of Schild & Vrienden, an extreme-right national identity movement, and helped organise Covid-19 protests together with Melis. Also in attendance were two Flemish people who were members of Project Thule at least until 2022. Project Thule is currently being prosecuted as a private militia.

Following its invasion of Crimea in 2014, Russia has invested heavily in maintaining its image abroad and fostering pro-Russian sentiment, particularly among Europe's nascent far-right.

Belgium is particularly interesting, as a political gateway to Europe — the capital not just of Belgium but also the EU and Nato. Influence gained in Belgium can pay dividends in the rest of Europe. And in Brussels, espionage by foreign powers is said to be rife and so are influence operations.

A six-month investigation by Belgian media outlet De Morgen together with Ukrainian investigative media Texty has uncovered a vast network of more than 150 Belgian individuals and organisations that have interacted with Russian security services, government ministries or sanctioned individuals.

This is the story of just one of those people.

Kris Roman is a well-known polemicist and so-called 'reformed racist'. Roman got his start on the neo-Nazi far-right — something he has in common with many of the Kremlin's trusted figures in Europe.

He once invited David Duke, former grand wizard of the KKK, to speak in Lebbeke. In 2003, Roman was prosecuted for making anti-Semitic and racist remarks.

The story of Roman's interactions with the Flemish far-right is well known; his association with individuals linked to the Kremlin regime and its intelligence services is less so. Over the past decade, the Belgian national has met with a number of Russian war criminals, intelligence officers, propagandists and government officials.

In 2003, around the time of his racism conviction, Roman made his first visit to Russia, facilitated by Pavel Tulaev, a far-right neopagan activist. Tulaev is regarded as one of the founding ideologues of the Russian far-right. He has written extensively about the "white world and the white race", describing Russians as the "modern Aryan". He and Roman became close friends, which facilitated Roman's access to other members of the Russian far right.

A few years later, Roman founded his so-called 'pan-Eurasian' think-tank Euro-Rus, which promoted Russian propaganda and anti-Western rhetoric.

On one of Euro-Rus's first official visits to Moscow, Roman's social media shows that he met with former Russian Duma member Maksim Mischenko, the organiser of a series of pro-Kremlin youth marches. While in Russia, Roman deepened his links with supporters of retired KGB and FSB general Alexander Nikitin.

Sometime in the 2000s, Roman is photographed dining with Nikitin and Sergei Voitinsky, a suspected former KGB intelligence officer and avowed Russian neo-Nazi. "Ex-KGB, that doesn't exist, just leave out the 'ex'," Roman says now.

Voitinsky is a militant member of the fascist paramilitary group Russian National Unity, a party so extreme that it was banned by the Russian authorities in 2000. To start over with a more moderate image in public, Nikitin and Voitinsky started a new organisation: PZRK Rus.

Roman later facilitated the visit of Voitinsky and other far-right Russians to Belgium. In 2010 PZRK Rus was represented by Voitinsky at a conference in Antwerp organised by Roman.

In 2014, following Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, Roman said his pro-Russian activities had intensified. Despite being a fringe activist at home, Roman began appearing on Russian state television as an 'expert' on Europe. He continues to play this role today, providing a false veneer of European support for Russia's war against Ukraine.

Inspired by Russia's far-right youth movement, Roman has also organised pro-Russian marches in Brussels. In 2015, he organised an event and encouraged people to travel from Russia to attend, presumably facilitated by the embassy and other Russian propagandists.

The Russian embassy has taken a keen interest in Roman's activities and has even helped promote his work, hosting events at the consulate in Antwerp and even sending Russian officials to events at his home. Russian consular and embassy staff have previously visited his home and shared a toast with Roman.

More recently, 21 members of the Russian embassy and consulate were expelled on charges of espionage.

During his repeated trips to Russia, Roman became increasingly close to former and current members of Putin's government and its security services.

Kris Roman in a pro-Russian protest in Antwerp (Photo: Kris Roman's VK account)

Front companies

Sometime in 2019, Roman met with Belarusian national Valery Derkach. Roman and Derkach signed an "anti-Russian" declaration together with the head of a banned pro-Kremlin Ukrainian political party, a retired Belarusian military intelligence colonel and the head of a Ukrainian Orthodox militant group.

Derkach, the leader of an ultranationalist Russian expatriates' association, Rus United, once worked as a researcher for a Belarusian state-controlled research centre under the administration of Belarus president and dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko.

A 2021 investigation by the Ukrainian NGO Information Resistance linked Derkach to Russian intelligence and a planned Russian hybrid influence operation aimed at promoting the ideals of the 'Russian world' in Belarus and across the EU. In particular, Derkach's organisation regularly invites members of the European far-right to visit Belarus.

His organisation boasts official representations in Latvia, Germany and, interestingly, Belgium. Federal tax records show a non-profit company, "Rus Edinaya Belgie-Belgique", registered in Roman's name at his home in Dendermonde.

Confronted about the company, Roman admitted that he had set it up "in the name" of Derkach, but said it was dormant. The company is not in liquidation. "We call it a sleeping foundation... It exists, but we don't work because I don't know what's happening in Belarus," he said. "I don't know what he wants to do with it today."

The founding documents of the company, which appears to be controlled by a person with suspected links to the intelligence services, state that its aim is to "promote the spiritual and moral cultural values of the Russian world in the countries of the European Union" and to spread "Russian culture and social image" throughout the EU.

This is not the only suspicious company registered under Roman's name. In 2017, Roman was "officially" appointed head of the representative office of the so-called "Donetsk People's Republic" (DPR) in Belgium. According to Roman, he was invited to this position by Erwan Castel, a French mercenary who has been fighting for Russia in the Donbass region since 2015. From there, he began direct negotiations with the occupying forces in Donetsk.

Based in his former home in Dendermonde, decorated with Russian flags and icons of Putin and Stalin, Roman now claims to run a recognised political representation of Russian-occupied Donetsk in Belgium.

In its official founding documents, the Donetsk Representation claims to promote "assistance in communication between the people of Belgium and the Donetsk People's Republic" and to represent "the interests and needs of the citizens of the Donetsk People's Republic". Belgium has never recognised the DPR as an independent country or part of Russia.

"There is a representative office of Catalonia in Brussels.There was an office of the PLO in Brussels. We are not the first to do this," Roman says. "By law you can represent anything you want. I can set up a representation of Mars to Earth in Belgium... Legally, Belgium recognised the foundation. So Belgium has legally recognised the representation".

The Belgian authorities never acted to close down his representation, as happened to similar representations in France and the Czech Republic.

Roman was deported back to Belgium after a brief detention in Finland earlier this year (Photo: Kris Roman's VK account)

Ex-KGB

In essence, the foundation provides a propaganda structure in Belgium for people linked to the Russian occupation forces. All but one of the six founders of the non-profit organisation come from the Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk Oblast, and almost all are linked to the Russian security services or armed Russian proxies.

Andrei Bedilo, a former Soviet KGB border guard, is one of the most prominent names on the founding documents. He was an active participant in the armed insurrection in the Donbass in 2014. He is currently an advisor to the head of the Central Executive Committee of the party apparatus in Russian-occupied Donbass.

Bedilo is a decorated member of the Russian occupation forces and a member of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. A passionate singer, he poses in military uniform, singing praise to Russian troops in the Donbass, emblazoned with a Z logo.

Donbass native Elena Lukan and her husband are also included in the founding documents. She works within the government apparatus of the DPR occupation forces, with a special focus on "ideological work" and "reporting activities". She was also a candidate for the United Russia party in Donbass.

Roman claims that the Russians on the foundations documents were offered to him by the DPR occupation authorities. His "boss", he says, is Natalya Nikonorova, former foreign minister of the so-called DPR, and current Russian senator. She was sanctioned by most Western countries, including the EU, even before the war began. Roman keeps in touch with the now high-ranking Russian official.

At events, Roman reads out official communiqués from Nikonorova to guests and is likely to be in regular contact with the minister, especially as the Donetsk authorities consider the fate of their now redundant international presence. Roman refuses to discuss the source of his income. According to sources close to De Morgen, Roman claims Belgian social security.

It is not clear whether the diplomatic post in Dendermonde is still active. Roman moved to Wallonia, which he believes is more receptive to the pro-Russian message. He claims to be running a new think-tank, the Center for Euro-Russian Studies, from his new home in Durbuy. Such an organisation is not listed in the Belgian Official Gazette.

Roman says he is still talking to Flemish far-right youth organisations and is trying to market his pro-Russian views to the emerging French-speaking far right. The pizza evening in October is proof of this.

Since 2019, Roman has been noticeably less visible in Belgium, instead appearing frequently in the Russian media, where he continues to make headlines. In July, the Belgian national made a failed attempt to cross the border into Russia from Finland.

For reasons unknown, Roman was deported back to Belgium after a brief detention in Finland earlier this year. Russian media speculated that this was because he was considered a threat during US president Joe Biden's visit to Finland, for the formerly neutral country's accession to Nato.

A month later, at the end of August, Roman traveled with activists to visit Russian troops in the Donbass. According to their social media posts, they were carrying medical supplies. In October, he was arrested once again, this time in Turkey, while he was transiting en route to Russia.

While it is impossible to conclusively link Roman's activities to the Russian security services, the breadth and depth of his connections with politically-exposed Russians paints a picture of almost unchecked Russian influence.

Despite international sanctions and Russia's proxy war in Ukraine, Roman acted as a key conduit for the far-right's deepening ties with the Kremlin in Belgium, facilitating reciprocal visits by pro-Russian figures at home and abroad.

This investigation was first published on De Morgen

Author bio

Dylan Carter is a Brussels-based freelance investigative journalist. He previously reported from Ukraine and helped to found one of Ukraine's largest English-language media, The Kyiv Independent.

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