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The secret leaders of a student pro-war movement How the children of one of Russia’s wealthiest officials solicit donations to support an armed hate group

Source: Meduza

A new report from the outlet T-invariant identifies the adult children of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev as the founders of the Student Patriotic Society (SPO), a student organization at Moscow State University (MGU) that raises money for Russian ultranationalists fighting against Ukraine. In the summer of 2023, Trutnev’s son, Andrey, transported armored vehicles onto which SPO activists had “personally welded anti-shrapnel protections” and “modified drones” to the Donbas. Schoolchildren, university students, and even MGU cafeteria workers have transferred money to the bank account of Trutnev’s daughter, Maria, to support volunteer soldiers at the front. With T-invariant’s permission, Meduza is publishing a translation of the investigation. The original article has been condensed and edited for clarity.

The Student Patriotic Society (SPO) is an association of pro-war activists at Russia’s Moscow State University. It was founded by Andrey Trutnev and Maria Trutneva, the son and daughter of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, Russia’s deputy prime minister and presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District.

SPO has the official support of the university’s law department. The group’s logo shows the pro-war Z symbol as well as a drone flying over MGU’s main building. Its members’ faces are usually blurred in photos on the group’s Telegram channel, including in one with the university’s rector, Viktor Sadovnichiy.

MGU Rector Viktor Sadovnichiy with Student Patriotic Society activists
A screenshot of an SPO post with “traces” of Andrey Trutnev’s authorship
Student Patriotic Society at Moscow State University

The organization’s primary purpose is to raise money for ammunition and equipment for Russian soldiers and to deliver the items it purchases to the front line. Rather than working with the Russian Defense Ministry, however, SPO supports a formation called PTSR Team.

In its first investigation, T-invariant described how fighters from PTSR Team pose in photos with weapons and military equipment such as combat helicopters, present themselves as experienced “soldiers of fortune” rather than career servicemen from Defense Ministry formations, and have threatened to identify the “swine lobby” (a derogatory term for opponents of the war in Ukraine) at MGU. In a threatening statement to journalists in response to T-invariant’s request for comment, the group flaunted its “proximity to the security forces.” And in addition to using rune symbolism often associated with neo-Nazi groups, the group regularly calls for the deaths of Ukrainians.

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The brother

T-invariant determined that it was Andrey Trutnev who started the SPO Telegram channel. This was clear both from metadata in the channel’s first ever post and from a comment Trutnev left on an early post in which he’s labelled as the channel’s owner. (The comment has since been deleted, but journalists from T-invariant managed to take a screenshot, seen above.)

Andrey Trutnev (center)
Student Patriotic Society at Moscow State University
The person on the far left appears to be Andrey Trutnev
Student Patriotic Society at Moscow State University

On social media, it’s as if Andrey Trutnev is living two different lives. On Instagram, where he has 2,700 followers, he depicts himself as an accomplished snowboarder; his numerous photos from the Alps, Georgia, and Russia’s Rosa Khutor ski resort give no indication that he cares at all about the situation at the front. Mentions of the war are similarly absent from his VKontakte profile, where the only signs of his political leanings are the student pro-war pages that he’s followed.

Trutnev’s anonymously run Telegram account, however, tells a very different story. The official description of the channel, which represents the largest university-based Z organization in Russia, reads: “I love my homeland and I know how to shoot.” The deputy prime minister’s son refers to Russia’s invading troops in Ukraine as “our boys.”

The summer after Trutnev finished his bachelor’s degree at MGU, he gave an interview to the popular pro-invasion Telegram channel WarGonzo. In the video, both Trutnev and his interviewer say they’re located in the Donbas, and Trutnev’s face is covered by a balaclava. He says he’s only in the Donbas for a short time because he’s starting a master’s at MGU soon, then brags that he and his associates are “collecting and reprogramming drones” and brought two armored vehicles to which they “personally attached anti-shrapnel protections.” The clip also reveals that Trutnev uses the call sign “Brother.”

A screenshot from Andrey Trutnev’s interview with the Telegram channel WarGonzo

The sister

Yury Trutnev’s daughter, Maria Trutneva, is presumably responsible for raising funds for ammunition and equipment; all of the SPO’s announcements and posts include information for sending money to the bank account registered to the name “Maria Yuryevna T.” At the same time, she almost never appears in photos on the organization’s Telegram channel, unlike her brother; in one of the few pictures that does include her, she’s wearing a balaclava. “Maria Yuryevna T” is also one of the channel’s administrators, and she appears to go by the call sign “Mouse.”

Judging from SPO’s posts on Telegram, schoolchildren and university cafeteria staff regularly participate in the group’s fundraisers for night vision devices, quadcopters, and other equipment for members of PTSR Team and other formations at the front. It’s unlikely that any of the donors know that Andrey and Maria’s father is one of Russia’s wealthiest federal officials.

The father

Yury Trutnev is an active supporter of the war against Ukraine who regularly travels to the Donbas for propaganda campaigns. In Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District, Trutnev oversaw governors on issues related to mobilization. In December 2022, for example, he inspected the combat readiness of mobilized troops at a training center in the Sakhalin region. For his work related to the war, Trutnev has been sanctioned by six countries.

After the first part of T-invariant’s investigation was released, he put out a statement calling for the creation of a “patriotic association” in every college and university in Russia. “And if there’s not one and nobody is planning to start one, the vice rectors for educational activities will be replaced,” he reportedly said.

Yury Trutnev in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”
Press service of Russia’s presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District

‘Unrelated to his professional activities’

T-invariant reached out to Andrey Trutnev and Maria Trutneva for comment on the Telegram accounts they use to run the SPO Telegram channel. Trutnev ignored the journalists’ call but read the questions they sent. Trutneva answered the call but refused to comment and subsequently changed her account’s settings to make it impossible to contact her.

Yury Trutnev did not respond to a message the journalists sent over social media but did open it. His press secretary initially told T-invariant that he was on a work trip with no connection, and several days later she said he would not be providing a comment because the request was “unrelated to his professional activities.”

Moscow State University’s law department did not respond to T-invariant’s request for comment. Earlier, in a response to a request for comment on T-invariant’s previous article on SPO, the university’s deputy dean for educational and methodological work, Andrey Berezhnikov, told journalists that for questions related to SPO, they should contact the organization directly.

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Original story by Alexander Litoy for T-invariant

Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale

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