Every morning, an old Zhiguli car arrives and parks outside the Foreign Ministry building on Smolenskaya Square. A young and modestly dressed woman gets out of the car and swiftly makes her way to the main entrance. She then proceeds to take the elevator to the Foreign Policy Planning Department of the Foreign Ministry, where she occupies an office marked with the title “Deputy Director.” When the day comes to an end, this same deputy director departs, alters her appearance by adorning herself with lavish jewelry, and boards a Bentley. This luxurious vehicle transports her to the equestrian complex called “New Century,” where she indulges in the company of Latvian stallions named Prince Sapphire, Avans, and mare Rosalia. The name of the skilled equestrian is Maria Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva, a 34-year-old professor at MGIMO [Foreign Relations] University, who has also gained experience working at the United Nations mission in Geneva. It should be noted that this “Professor” holds significant value as an agent of the GRU, and has contributed to various operations, including directing Russian airstrikes in Syria, which resulted in the loss of numerous civilian lives due to the use of chemical weapons. Nevertheless, her substantial wealth stems not solely from her involvement with military intelligence, but rather from her personal connections. Specifically, Masha-“Bentley” was romantically involved with the infamous LDPR deputy Leonid Slutsky, whose notoriety arose from allegations of sexual harassment.
The GRU and the Ismailis
The Insider has obtained correspondence between Maria Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva and Sergey Zavidov, a staff officer belonging to the 4th Directorate of the GRU. The information revealed suggests that Maria was recruited by the GRU as far back as 2015. During that period, she held the position of second secretary at the Russian UN mission in Geneva and actively participated in negotiations between the official Damascus representatives and the Syrian opposition. In addition to providing detailed reports to the GRU regarding the progress of these negotiations, the second secretary also shared operational maps outlining the positioning of combat units belonging to opponents of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria. It is important to note that Russian troops were directly involved in the conflict, siding with the Syrian dictator and conducting strikes on residential areas, which included the use of sarin gas.
Syrian children killed in airstrike involving chemical weapons in Damascus suburbs
The Fourth Directorate, where Zavidov serves, supervises countries in Africa, the Middle East and Israel, and before joining the GRU, he himself was engaged in research in Kubinka near Moscow, at the armored vehicle test site (military unit 68054). Apparently, Zavidov frequently takes long trips abroad and, as can be seen from open sources, he rents out his studio apartment in the Odintsovo Park 1 residential complex.
Maria Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva at the UN
Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva, previously known as Maria Konovalova until 2010, was born in Ryazan. Her father, Sergei Konovalov, holds the position of deputy chairman within the all-Russian organization known as Combat Brotherhood. He is responsible for managing the organization's finances and overseeing interactions with the media, as well as supporting Kremlin initiatives. In September 2022, during a period of intense “partial” mobilization, Konovalov participated in several interviews with pro-government media outlets. In these interviews, he expressed his belief that “the West has organized a real war against Russia”: “We understand the significance and necessity of the partial mobilization, and this measure will contribute to achieving all the goals and objectives of the special operation, as outlined by Vladimir Putin.” Additionally, Konovalov is involved in overseeing the collection of funds for the residents of Donbass and is engaged in the special training of volunteer groups for their subsequent deployment to the occupied territories of Ukraine.
Sergey Konovalov (left)
According to information available to The Insider, Maria's mother, Elena Konovalova, was the first to change her surname. Allegedly, a fortune-teller informed Elena that she had ancestral connections to the renowned princes Khodynsky and Kutuzov-Golenishchev. Subsequently, Maria decided to follow in her mother's footsteps and changed her own last name after completing her studies at the Faculty of International Relations at MGIMO.
Following her university graduation, Khodynskaya-Golenischeva enrolled in the Graduate School of Oriental Studies at MGIMO while also taking up a position at the Foreign Ministry's Department of International Organizations. Shortly thereafter, she was assigned to the UN mission in Geneva, where she actively participated in working groups addressing Middle East issues and became involved in negotiations concerning Syria. Even during this period, colleagues at the Foreign Ministry noticed that Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva frequently employed the language and rhetoric typically associated with career military personnel in her speeches. Expressions such as “operational space” and “operational-tactical activities” were noted to be recurring features in her discourse.
Even during her tenure at the UN, Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva frequently employed the language and rhetoric typically associated with the military
In 2013, Khodynskaya-Golenischeva published her first book titled «The Libyan Lesson. Does the End Justify the Means?» This was followed by three more books: «On the Right Side of History. The Syrian Crisis,» «Aleppo: War and Diplomacy,» and «Syria: The Hard Road from War to Peace.» It is worth noting that these four books exhibit a propaganda-like tone, featuring passages that discuss «the insidious West» and highlight «the Kremlin's peace-loving policy.» However, there is no mention of the sieges laid by Assad's troops, supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, on the city, nor the Russian airstrikes conducted on residential areas.
In 2018, the life of the 34-year-old GRU agent Khodynskaya-Golenischeva took a sudden turn. She acquired the title of professor at MGIMO and began appearing as an international affairs expert on federal television channels. This newfound status brought her luxuries such as expensive clothing, jewelry, stallions from Latvia, and a Bentley Continental worth 9 million rubles. Interestingly, alongside her extravagant lifestyle, she still maintained her humble 2000 Zhiguli car for commuting to work at the Foreign Ministry.
Maria Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva's Bentley Continental
There are differing rumors regarding the origin of Maria's funding. Some speculate that her father, a member of the “Combat Brotherhood” and actively involved in raising funds for Donbass residents, also ensures the well-being of his only daughter. Others suggest that she spends significant time in the office of Andrei Ilnitsky, the chief ideologist of the Defense Ministry. However, the majority of sources attribute her funding to State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky, who assumed the leadership of LDPR after the passing of Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Deputy Slutsky, also known as Lyonya-Vertolet [Lyonya the Helicopter], has been involved in numerous high-profile scandals. In January 2017, real estate developer Sergei Polonsky filed a request to then Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, urging the initiation of a criminal case against Slutsky and his alleged «godfather» Vladimir Resin. According to Polonsky, both men demanded a bribe from him and received a 990-square-meter penthouse in the Kutuzovskaya Riviera residential complex as compensation for their involvement in making a contractual agreement. In 2018, Alexei Navalny's FBK uncovered that Slutsky's wife, Lydia Lyskova, owned a 562-square-meter penthouse valued at over 400 million rubles, as well as a 1-hectare land plot in the Odintsovo district of the Moscow Region. Notably, these assets were not included in Slutsky's official declaration for a period of ten years.
Furthermore, the Peace Foundation led by the deputy extended invitations to various right-wing radicals and neo-Nazis who actively promoted the pro-Kremlin agenda in Europe. Accompanying them were renowned pop stars who visited Russia disguised as volunteers, participating in corporate parties hosted by oligarchs and high-ranking officials. In 2013, an instance of this occurred when Enrique Iglesias traveled to Russia with his band members and backup dancers as part of a humanitarian project organized by the Peace Foundation's Russian Initiative project. There are reports suggesting that Iglesias performed at a private corporate event held in Chechnya.
However, the most significant scandal unfolded in March 2018 when journalists Farida Rustamova, Daria Zhuk, and Ekaterina Kotrikadze came forward with accusations of harassment against Slutsky. In a seemingly orchestrated manner, Slutsky mobilized a vigorous campaign in his defense through the assistance of sympathetic university rectors. The State Duma Committee on Deputy Ethics conducted an investigation and, once again, concluded that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on his part.
Students hold placards in support of Leonid Slutsky
The Insider's source in the Duma apparatus is convinced that it's Slutsky who's responsible for Masha-Bentley's success:
“Well, Lyonya-Vertolet is a famous lady's man. His office has seen its fair share of young women who later ended up in cushy positions within the government or making waves in show business. Remember all those glamorous tales involving Zara, the singer, or Maria Butina, who he even paid for a lawyer while she was locked up in an American prison? From what I've heard, Lyonya started taking care of Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva back when she was just a student at MGIMO. Then he managed to land her a job at the Foreign Ministry and pulled some strings to get her posted in Geneva. Her professorship, a cozy spot at the central office of the Foreign Ministry, those fancy books, forums, and all that TV exposure—it's all thanks to him. The guy's loaded, so he can afford lavish gifts like a Bentley and diamonds.”
The GRU and the Ismailis
But let's delve into the correspondence between Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva and her GRU handler, Sergei Zavidov. It turns out that she received operational maps, pinpointing the positions of opposing combat units to the Assad regime, through a post office box registered to the Nizari Ismaili representation office in London. These Nizari Ismailis, mainly residing in the Hama province, initially stood against Bashar al-Assad but eventually faced significant losses from ISIS. As a result, they humbled themselves and sought assistance from Assad. “You've got 24,000 deserters hiding out there, so why not have them join us?” Assad proposed as a condition.
The head of their London office happens to be none other than Shafiq Sachedina, a former dentist who holds the position of personal representative for the spiritual leader Prince Karim Agha Khan IV of the Nizari Ismaili community. Apart from his responsibilities in London, Sachedina has established a medical clinic and several residences for the elderly and those afflicted by Alzheimer's disease. The doctor has extensively traveled across the globe, including numerous trips to Moscow, where he has engaged in meetings with high-rankling officials from the Foreign Ministry.
Shafiq Sachedina at a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov
In his correspondence with Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva, Zavidov mentions a certain man from the Nizari Ismaili office in London:
“Received the file, thank you very much. The information is up to date. The information on 'our' man has been passed into the proper reliable hands. They continue to work with him.”
It is not quite clear who is the man they continued to work with. Apparently, the GRU had its source among the Ismailis.
Maria Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva was honored by the Ministry of Defense with two medals, namely the “Participant of the Military Operation in Syria” and the medal “For the Strengthening of Military Cooperation”.
Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva did not respond to The Insider's request for a comment.