Late last year longtime MMA fighter and left-wing political activist Jeff Monson became a Russian citizen. Following his brave but ultimately doomed fight against Russian legend Fedor Emelianenko in late 2011 the Olympia, Washington, native became an improbable celebrity in the country, getting stopped on the streets of Moscow for autographs and returning numerous times over the next several years to fight, teach, appear on late-night talk shows, and even compete on the Russian version of Dancing With the Stars. Asked why he kept returning, Monson always replied the same way: that he felt at home there—that he feels Russian. So in late December 2015, Monson, who has never made any secret of his distaste for what he calls “America’s aggressive foreign policy” and “imperialistic capitalist ambitions,” made his connection to Russia and its people official, joining the likes of fellow celebrity Russophiles Roy Jones Jr. and Gerard Depardieu.
But MMA fighters rush in where even boxers and actors fear to tread, and yesterday (September 11, no less) Monson took his devotion to the cause of Russian nationalism (one might even say “imperialism” if one were in the mood) by tweeting that he had become the first American to receive citizenship in the Luhansk People’s Republic, a self-proclaimed state in Eastern Ukraine established by pro-Russian separatists just after the annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea by the Russian Federation in March 2014. Following a threat of armed insurgency in April of that year pro-Russian activists seized Ukrainian governments offices in the region, followed by more armed attacks over the next month. Now a strange sort of half-state, Luhansk is recognized internationally only by South Ossetia, itself a barely recognized country that declared independence from Georgia in 1990 and which most in the international community consider occupied by the Russian military. Ukraine classifies the Luhansk People’s Republic as a terrorist organization.
In a letter sent to Republic President Igor Venediktovich Plotnitsky (and obtained by BloodyElbow.com), Monson said he was requesting citizenship because “I feel a sincere and deep kinship with the people of Donbas (the region where Luhansk is located) 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, to which my most recent visit to Luhansk testifies."
Monson visited Luhansk a few months ago in his capacity as sports ambassador for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The communists are attempting to update their image and broaden their appeal ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Russia, and Monson—a pro-Communist American celebrity—has been one of the faces of the party’s makeover. Yesterday Monson posted a picture of his new MMA school in Luhansk and wrote that the “official grand opening” is “coming soon.”
Monson, who fought for the UFC heavyweight championship in November 2006, achieved notoriety in 2008 after a photo of him squaring off with riot police outside the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, went viral. In January 2009 he was arrested and charged with first-degree malicious mischief after spray-painting an anarchy symbol, a peace sign, and the words “no war” and “no poverty” on columns at the Washington State Capitol. Over the years the avowed anarchist, anti-capitalist, and card-carrying member of the International Workers of the World has been all over Russia and Eastern Europe meeting with anti-fascist/anti-racist groups and helping them train for acts of civil disobedience. So is it really so strange that he would now declare himself a citizen of a pro-Russian rebel state fighting for independence from a pro-western occupier? No, Monson’s love for Mother Russia is just that strong:
“[I]t’s clear to me that Russia isn’t consumed with expanding threads of power or capitalism,” Monson recently wrote in an op-ed for Newsweek explaining his decision to become a Russian citizen. “It’s concerned with the well-being of its people. And I respect its ability to focus on itself, to address its own issues.”
No word yet on whether Monson will have to renounce his Russian citizenship now that he’s pledged his heart to Luhansk.
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