On April 12, the Kremlin issued a statement expressing concern about the stalled transfer of ownership rights by an Israeli court of the Alexander Courtyard in the Old City of Jerusalem to a self-described religious and scientific Russian organization, the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS). The organization has speculated ties to the Kremlin.
As per a January 2020 agreement, the Israeli government was to transfer ownership of the property in return for the release of an Israeli citizen imprisoned in Moscow. On April 6, an Israeli court suspended the transfer due to a competing ownership claim from the Orthodox Palestinian Society – a seemingly different organization with ties to Ukrainian nationalists, run by Nikolay Voronstov-Hoffman (a German national).
IOPS was revived in 2007 under the leadership of former Russian Prime Minister, Sergey Stepashin, who was also formerly the head of Russia’s FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. IOPS’ Board of Trustees also names several prominent businessmen including Nikolai Tokarev (the President of Transneft) and Andrei Kozitsyn (the CEO of the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company). The Society’s Committee of Honorary Members also includes Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, among other notable Russian politicians and interlocutors. The Society maintains a presence in several European (primarily eastern European) and Middle East countries.
IOPS has been speculated to be a front for Russian intelligence gathering and Russian influence in internal affairs. For example, Greek media has noted that the IOPS was instrumental in fomenting doubt over Macedonia’s name change referendum – an event that ultimately succeeded in resolving a historic dispute between Athens and Skopje and cleared a path for the latter to potentially accede to the EU and NATO.