U.S. Cage Fighter Enters A New Arena: Russian Politics

The Man

Former Staff
Jul 2011
42,238
28,418
Toronto
#1
For years, investors in a housing estate just outside Moscow have done everything in their power to expose a developer they say absconded with their money and left them paying mortgages on apartments they may never see.

But for all their protests, letters, and public appeals, the 800 would-be residents of Balashikha, a suburb east of the capital, have yet to receive justice. Some have been forced to live on the streets as the estate they planned to move into lies unfinished. Others have died waiting for its completion.

In desperation, they're now vesting their hopes in an unlikely figure to champion their cause -- a fading American fighter turned Russian politician who struggles to string a sentence together in their native tongue, and who represents another Moscow region municipality 50 kilometers to the west.


When newly minted Russian citizen Jeff Monson, an inveterate critic of his native United States, was elected to the city council of Krasnogorsk on the ruling party's ticket in September, it was widely seen as part of the Kremlin's effort to hold up prominent Western advocates of Russia as proof of the country's moral superiority over the West.

But if it was a publicity stunt, it may be backfiring. Three months into the job, and six months after he was granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin, Monson is taking on one of his adopted country's thorniest political issues. According to some estimates, there are upward of 100,000 defrauded home investors in Russia, and dozens of ghost-town estates. Protests have been held across the country, and officials have made and broken promises for years.


Monson addresses people who lost their money in a housing estate in Balashikha, a suburb of Moscow

Monson has pledged to fix the problem. But doing so involves confronting powerful players in a country he knows only superficially, and with little support.

On a recent Sunday, a taxi pulled up outside the abandoned estate in Balashikha, and the muscled and heavily tattooed Monson stepped out to face the crowd. Journalists jostled around the car to capture the scene on camera. Through a translator, Monson promised he'd meet with the governor of the Moscow region and the heads of banks collecting the investors' mortgage payments.

"What a naive guy!" one man shouted. "He lives in a different world," said another. Despite the skepticism, those gathered seemed to appreciate the rare official who had come to personally hear their grievances.

But before he had even departed, Monson later told RFE/RL, his Russian wife Zhenya had received an angry phone call from the Krasnogorsk mayor's office. Monson should stick to his patch, he says she was told.

He adds that he was summoned for a meeting with the mayor, but shrugged off the controversy.

"If they were doing their job as government officials," he wrote in a text message. "Then this wouldn't be an issue."

'A Russian Soul'

Back in 2011, when Monson entered a packed Moscow sports arena for a potentially legacy-making fight with Russian mixed martial arts (MMA) legend Fyodor Emelyanenko, the cameras zeroed in on the Soviet hammer and sickle tattooed onto the American heavyweight's left calf, and beside it an upturned U.S. flag with the words "land of hypocrisy."

Coming to Russia, Monson recalls, had been his "little boy dream," and his arrival felt like a homecoming.

It didn't go well. Monson emerged from a three-round battering with blood spluttering from a busted lower lip and a broken right leg. But he had earned respect from the crowd - - notably from Putin, who sat in the first row and called Monson afterward to praise his "Russian soul" and tell him he would always be welcome in Russia.

Monson took the invitation to heart. He began visiting Russia regularly, forging an alliance with the country's emasculated Communists that ended when it dawned on Monson, as he puts it, that "there are no communists in the Russian Communist Party."

In 2015, he began petitioning for citizenship. It was finally granted by presidential decree in May, adding him to the line of well-known Westerners turned Russian who serve as fodder for Kremlin propaganda. He's regularly mentioned alongside French actor Gerard Depardieu, who moved to Russia amid tax problems in his home country, and the U.S. action-movie star Steven Seagal, who this year was named Putin's special representative for the improvement of U.S.-Russia relations.

Monson hates being compared with them.

For him, receiving Russian citizenship was validation for a man long disillusioned with life in his home country. Monson had been active in protests against the Iraq War in the 2000s, and picked up a criminal mischief charge for spray-painting an anarchy symbol and the words "no war" onto the Washington state capitol in 2009.


Monson poses with his Russian passport for photographers in Moscow earlier this year.

His travels across the world as a fighter, from Rio to Manila, exposed him to inequality that he ultimately ties to the United States' involvement abroad. The writings of Marx, Bakunin, and Tolstoy, he says, helped shape the worldview he's come to espouse.

In Russia he sees a place that once was, and remains, fertile soil for communism. "If it happened before, it can happen again," he says, before adding quickly: "I'm not trying to start a revolution."

Contradictions In Ink

Back home, Monson felt shunned; in Russia he's a celebrity. He has his own show on the government mouthpiece RT that largely consists of short clips of the American anarchist mocking U.S. policies, and comedy skits that poke fun at his hopeless Russian. He has a packed schedule of guest appearances and motivational talks, including promotional events for his newly released autobiography in Russian, A Fighter's Path.

But there are apparent contradictions to his positions. Monson is an elected official who boycotts elections; a libertarian who supports gay rights but has adopted a country that critics accuse of encouraging homophobia by law; and an avowed enemy of consumerism living in a society that has become one of the world's most unequal.

"If you're a capitalist in any manner, you're stealing from people," he says during an interview in Krasnogorsk, where he shares a modest apartment in a high-rise apartment block with Zhenya, his wife, and their infant daughter.

Yet while his back displays a tattoo denouncing capitalism, it also bears product logos. He says they represent companies that sponsored his career in the past and whose owners are close friends, and the tats were simply a favor.

Monson admits that many of his views don't align with those of the Russian elite, and says he's committed to living "among the people." He receives a decent monthly salary from a fight school he runs, and extra income from various talks and master classes he attends across Russia. Each month, he flies to the United States to visit his three children from two previous marriages. He recently began Russian classes -- two hours twice a week -- but progress, he admits, is slow.

Monson's soft-spoken nature is belied by an intimidating appearance. At 47, he maintains a bodybuilder's physique -- with his bald head, cauliflower ears, and tattoos he sticks out on the streets of Krasnogorsk like a sore thumb.

Much of his day is spent posing mutely for selfies with bemused locals. When they shout things in Russian that he can't understand -- "I can't believe you really live here!" "I'm sending this photo to my friends!" -- Monson smiles politely and walks on. But his eyes well up when he recalls times he's been stopped and thanked -- what for, he can't say.

At a time when many Russians feel belittled by the West, he suspects they cherish the American who's chosen to live in their midst. "Maybe it's because I've made them feel good about being Russian again," he says.

Corruption Fighter

In his bid to help Russia's cheated home investors, Monson has partnered with Maria Kozlovskaya, a Communist and fellow member of the Krasnogorsk city council. She recalls that locals were shocked when Monson first arrived -- his first city council session was packed with TV cameras recording his every move. She says many voice skepticism about the role an American can play in improving their lives, but they're willing to give Monson the benefit of the doubt.

"As a person I like him, he's good-natured and sympathetic. I don't doubt that he can do something good for people," Kozlovskaya says. "But as an American he's in a difficult position. On the one hand it's all fun and interesting, but on the other hand there's a prejudiced attitude toward Americans in Russia who engage in social activism at a high level."

Despite his issues with the Communist Party, Monson approached Kozlovskaya several weeks ago for help in approaching the construction company behind the Balashikha project, and the banks receiving mortgage payments from investors. His hope was that the banks might temporarily suspend collections as a goodwill gesture. Kozlovskaya told Monson the issue was above his pay grade, that local deputies in Russia stay clear of federal problems. But Monson, she says, insisted that his public profile would help draw attention to the issue.

"He can definitely attract attention to a whole range of problems," Kozlovskaya says. "But I wouldn't want him to entertain illusions that he can fundamentally change things."

Lines Crossed

Monson is a vocal supporter of Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and of the Russia-backed separatists fighting in Ukraine's east. But while his views often mirror those of the Kremlin, he insists no one dictates what he can or can't say. He is coming to realize some lines should not be crossed, however.

After being quoted implicating Putin in corruption during a recent interview with British daily The Times, he was pressured by the Russian side to revoke his statements. He promptly appeared on state television to profess his admiration for the Russian president and insist his words had been distorted.

Monson doesn't deny criticizing official corruption in Russia, however. "The bottom line is, the guys in the government, I don't see eye to eye politically with pretty much any of them, unless they're extreme far-left. But that doesn't mean we can't work together," he says.

Still, he admits the fallout from his interview was a wake-up call, "a real learning experience as far as what you can and can't say."

Monson's campaign to help Russia's defrauded investors is another baptism by fire. For now, the uproar over his visit to Balashikha has subsided. Monson says he's been told he should notify authorities in Moscow of any initiatives he plans outside Krasnogorsk, and is forging ahead with his plans to confront the groups involved in the housing scandal. In the future, he hopes to run in elections for the Russian parliament.

Artem Nagorny, a representative of the Krasnogorsk mayor's office, told RFE/RL that he has no knowledge of the call Monson claims his wife received in the aftermath of that visit, but stressed that the American is free to go where he chooses. "As a deputy, he has his own area of coverage," Nagorny said in a telephone interview. "But he also has a right to his personal position and his personal projects."

As for the would-be apartment owners of Balashikha, Monson has brought renewed attention to their plight. Several TV stations reported on his visit, airing images of the rotting facades and flooded basements of the abandoned housing estate.

And for Viktoriya Snegiryova, who has spent three million rubles ($45,000) so far on an apartment she bought there in 2014, it was a small but encouraging step in a campaign for justice that has brought few results.

"Our primary aim was not to get his help in fixing this problem," she said of the meeting with Monson, which she helped organize. "That should be done by other people -- those who authorized construction, notarized the developer's documents. Those people should fix the problem."

But it's thanks to Monson that the journalists came, she said, "and that's a huge help for our cause."
U.S. Cage Fighter Enters A New Arena: Russian Politics


Also
Jeff Monson Talks Politics, Communism, Anarchism and BJJ

With Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, before his apparent rift with them


Here, some local kids, in English, ask Monson to help create a sports centre in their community
Fighting For The Little Guy? Russian Kids Appeal To Their New Deputy, MMA Fighter Jeff Monson

Monson in his earlier days, confronting US police at some protest


With his new Russian wife, with whom he has a baby daughter


He likes Russian women lol

Back in 2012, even before he became a citizen (in 2016), he was involved with the model Alesya Kartseva


And last year, before his marriage to this Yegvenia (diminutive Zhenya) was announced, he was also photographed with the famous over there actress and model Anna Kalashnikova, in what looked like a hotel room

Though, both of them later denied they ever actually hooked up lol Supposedly, she happened to been doing a photo-shoot in same place he was also visiting, they, two celebrities, simply ran into each other, and were "just talking, nothing more" lol

Some also linked him to the beautiful dancer Maria Smolnikova, who was his partner when he appeared (among lots of other things he's done over there lmao) on Russian version of "Dancing with the Stars"

:D

Alas, he seems to have ended up marrying another. He also, I believe, has a child from an earlier marriage, back in America.

Anyway, he is also reportedly close friends with Emelyanenko

even though the guy really did give him one hell of an ass kicking back then


(but that only inspires healthy respect in many men; I've experienced that myself haha)

With Habib Nurmagomedov, Russia's first UFC champion


He's still quite active in the whole MMA scene there, even opened his own school in Krasnogorsk, he enjoys, I think, working with kids


Showing off his new ID as member of the city council


At his office


At a sitting of the council


With Duma member from United Russia, and former WBA super-heavyweight world champ Nikolai Valuev

:D Valuev is THAT huge, dude is over 7 feet tall. Was allegedly a mob enforcer in St. Petersburg, before went into pro boxing. Did a lot of debt collections back then, and usually a normal guy would go in ahead of him to talk to the target and he'd say, look, brother, right now, I'm talking to you. If you don't cooperate here, Kolya Valuev is coming in next. Nobody wanted to talk to Kolya lmao

Speaking at some event for the police


Not really sure if this is his car or what

lol

He is also a friend of my under-recognised self-proclaimed homeland Abkhazia and has citizenship there

And been to the separatist republics in Donbass many times too, one of them also gave him their passport
haha

More on that: American martial arts fighter becomes elected official for Vladimir Putin's United Russia

It's true, he is not like the other "defectors" or whatever you want to call them, such as Steven Seagal or Gerard Depardieu or the American boxer Roy Jones Jr.


Those guys know their place: they support Russia and Putin in its geopolitical agenda, appear in propaganda on TV, and keep their mouths shut about internal issues
Gérard Depardieu unleashes AIDS claim, defends his friend Putin
Steven Seagal BLASTS enemies of ‘friend’ Vladimir Putin and causes fury over NFL comments
Roy Jones Jr claims Putin is ‘misunderstood’

None of them would ever dare refer to Putin as "filthy rich", as Monson had actually done, before the government censors yanked him back on his leash lol

He was given this municipal office, simply as a curiosity, this heavily tattooed English-speaking Communist from America. To get more people to participate in and legitimise the otherwise fake sham of an "election" there, basically. Nobody expected him to actually take the damn job seriously, as he has haha

He is getting himself in trouble. But, hopefully, as long as he remains, at least, as high profile as he is, they won't actually touch him in any serious way... (Though, that's what Boris Nemtsov thought too...)

He should be careful. I understand wanting to fight for the little defenceless people out there. But he is now in a very dangerous country to do that... Think of your wife and your newborn, above all...
 

The Man

Former Staff
Jul 2011
42,238
28,418
Toronto
#2
In the wake of Jeff Monson’s appointment as a city councilman in the Krasnogorsk region outside of Moscow in September, the American fighter turned Russian politician has faced some criticism for his decision to join political life in Russia. One of Monson’s most vocal critics is fellow fighter Alexander Shlemenko.

According to Shlemenko, Monson’s appointment to the Krasnogorsk city council is “terrible” for the constituents whom the fighter is responsible for. The former Bellator champion argued that Monson’s inability to communicate in Russian means he won’t be able to understand their issues and therefore cannot impose any meaningful changes or help his community.

“We all laughed as we watched how he read the oath, which not a single word was clear,” Shlemenko said. “It was just terrible and I’m very upset to see this in my country. I think that a councilman is someone who will be responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives. And if this person is not able to even speak Russian, then he is not able to think in Russia, and is not able to make decisions. Most likely, he will just be a puppet that will follow someone’s order. I believe that he is not the best example. We have our own worth athletes.”

Monson was granted Russian citizenship in May 2018 before being nominated by the ruling United Russia party as a candidate for a seat in the Council of Deputies in the Krasnogorsk city district. The 47-year-old gave up his American citizenship before winning his seat in September. When asked whether he believes the language barrier will hinder his ability to do his job, Monson was adamant that he planned to learn Russian.

“I love Russia, I love the culture, and the people,” Monson said in an interview with Vesti News. “I need to learn the language, that’s vital.”


However, Monson’s promise to improve his Russian did not impress Shlemenko.

“They say that we are a third world country. I am very sad — we brought a monkey who does not speak Russian.”
Shlemenko calls Monson a ‘monkey who doesn’t speak Russian’


Alexander Shlemenko - Wikipedia

Ouch... lol Sounds like maybe he wants to fight Monson or something :D

I get it though. From the point of view of their psychology. Plenty of Russians resent an American getting involved in their internal politics, even if he is a citizen now and whatnot...