The podiatrist, Dr. Vladimir Zeetser, owns a minority share of DRN Media, the company behind the Duran, a website promoting false conspiracy theories echoing Russian state messaging.June 29, 2022 12:45 pm
A multimillionaire Los Angeles-based podiatrist co-owns the Cypriot company behind a prominent pro-Kremlin propaganda website, Forensic News can exclusively report.
The podiatrist, Dr. Vladimir Zeetser, owns a minority share of DRN Media, the company behind the Duran, a website promoting false conspiracy theories echoing Russian state messaging.
He was added to the company’s board of directors in 2018.
Zeetser has met with other shareholders of the Duran in Moscow and frequently espouses pro-Kremlin talking points in his personal social media posts on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
In one such comment, Zeetser recently wrote, “Anyone who supports the current regime in [Kyiv] supports Nazism plain and simple.”
Zeetser’s position as shareholder and director adds a layer of intrigue to the Duran, whose growth exploded during Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. As of today, the outlet has over 252,000 subscribers and over 65,000,000 total views on YouTube.
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The Duran was founded in 2016, and its five major shareholders are Zeetser, Peter Lavelle, Alex Christoforou, Alexander Mercouris, and Vladimir Rodzianko.
According to NewsGuard, an independent company that examines the credibility of news outlets, the Duran is “a pro-Russia website that has published conspiracy theories and false information to advance its views.”
The website covers geopolitical events from a pro-Kremlin perspective and often discusses “perceived flaws and weaknesses of Western nations and organizations,” the analysis by NewsGuard found.
In an investigation into the sanctioned pro-Russian propaganda media organization NewsFront, analyst Elise Thomas, of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, found that the Duran’s platform (which allows users to publish their own content) had been used to launder NewsFront articles and other Russian propaganda without making it clear where the content originated.
The original founders of the Duran are as follows:
- Peter Lavelle, a former financial analyst, and commentator for Russia’s state-owned RT (Russia Today).
- Alexander Mercouris, a U.K. barrister who was disbarred after claiming to a client he had won a large payout that didn’t exist – which he followed up on by falsely claiming he was kidnapped by a prominent U.K. judge.
- Alex Christoforou, a founder of a social media startup who lives in Greece.
- Vladimir Rodzianko, an American from Ohio who has ties to individuals investigated for espionage by the FBI in 2018.
The group teamed up in 2016 to create the Duran, and quickly gained a sizeable online following.
During the final stretch of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Duran churned out headlines such as “NSA whistleblower says DNC hack was not done by Russia, but by U.S. intelligence” and “Julian Assange says ‘1,700 emails in Hillary Clinton’s collection’ proves she sold weapons to ISIS in Syria.” The posts were mainly authored by Christoforou and Rodzianko, and were viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
In the following years, they continued to grow their audience by promoting conspiracy theories that aligned with Russian state messaging.
In 2018, the Duran called the poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia a “hoax.” And by the time the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world, the Duran was propagating vaccine disinformation and conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and others.
It is within the context of the COVID-19 disinformation that the Duran caught the attention of American intelligence officials, according to a 2020 New York Times article. The report said that the officials were “examining” the Duran for publishing articles allegedly created by Russian intelligence personas.
Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has been a boon for the Duran. On YouTube, their subscribers have doubled, and videos now regularly attract six-figure viewership numbers.
Zeetser and the Duran
Twelve days after the 2016 US Presidential Election, Zeetser acquired 10% of DRN Media PLC, the holding company of the Duran. Forensic News was unable to determine the exact terms of the deal. Zeetser did not respond to detailed questions seeking comment for this investigation.
In the summer of 2017, photos posted on social media hinted at Zeetser’s presence. One photo shows Zeetser alongside the other four shareholders in Moscow, for what Rodzianko dubbed, “a meeting of the minds.” Forensic News located the photos on Rodzianko’s public Instagram account.
Other pictures from Rodzianko’s account show him at a restaurant with Lavelle, Christoforou, and Zeetser, and smiling with the group in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow days later.
The documents showing Zeetser’s involvement in DRN Media were obtained by Forensic News from the Cypriot government’s Department of Registrar of Companies and Intellectual Property.
Bunions, Shell Companies, and Rabid Putinism
Apart from his involvement in the Duran, publicly available data seems to indicate unusual business dealings for a podiatrist.
Using email addresses containing “vmoney007,” a reference to James Bond, and “vmoney1917,” a reference to the Russian Revolution of 1917, Zeetser has incorporated multiple companies in California and Nevada. The majority of these businesses are related to his medical practice in both states, but others do not appear to have any obvious purposes.
Pizdets LLC, which was incorporated in California in 2018 by Zeetser, is listed as a holding company and does not have any public-facing business. Pizdets roughly translates from Russian to “damn it” or “fucked up.” Forensic News contacted the owner of the house listed as the business address for Pizdets LLC who said that he had “no idea” who Zeetser is.
Zeetser and his wife are also active in the real estate market in both California and Nevada. One LLC set up by Zeetser in 2018 purchased a multimillion-dollar house in the Hollywood Hills, which is now listed on Airbnb to rent for nearly $2,000 a night.
The business address listed for that LLC is another home, owned by individuals with no apparent ties to Zeetser.
RAM Holdings LP, a limited partnership between another Zeetser company in Delaware and a self-described “business strategist”– and JZ Management Inc – which is run by Zeetser’s wife Julia, and handles administrative matters for Zeetser’s medical offices – are both registered to a mailbox storefront in between a sushi restaurant and a personal trainer.
Contacted by Forensic News, the business strategist said that he was not involved in the company beyond helping to incorporate it. “I was the agent when the entity was formed but have no details about what the actual business purpose might be,” he said.
RAM Holdings is similar in name to the trust account (The Ram Trust) that owns one of Zeetser’s homes in Los Angeles.
On social media, in between photos of bunion removal surgeries and other podiatry procedures, Zeetser often posts photos of a comfortable lifestyle — vehicles, boats, art, and frequent travel.
Photos posted on Instagram show Zeetser’s “bulletproof ambulance” starting at $250,000, Russian military vehicles, yacht parties, and his “bodyguard” with a concealed firearm. During his 2017 trip to Russia in which he met with the Duran founders, Zeetser posed with Russian military equipment, the type being used in Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine — which Zeetser supports.
“Everyone is ignoring the fact that the Ukrainian government and military is filled with Nazis,” Zeetser wrote in a LinkedIn comment soon after the war began. On Facebook, he has also spread false information about the burning of a historic church in Ukraine, blaming it on “UkroNazis.” The fire, which broke out in the Donetsk region that is under attack by the Russian military, was caused by Russian shelling, according to independent Ukrainian news outlets. “Nothing is scared (sic) to these animals. #fuckukraine,” Zeetser wrote.
Like Zeetser, Vladimir Rodzianko is American.
He was born and raised in a small town 15 miles south of Cleveland, Ohio, with deep familial roots in the Russian Orthodox Church. In a sign of unusual access to the Russian elite, Rodzianko brushed shoulders with Vladimir Putin, whom he calls “the BOSS”, at one church event in 2017.
From 2015 to 2016, Rodzianko served as the “Director Of Business Development” for another pro-Kremlin propaganda site called, “Russia Insider” — founded by another American, Charles Bausman.
Bausman lived in Russia as a child, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), with his father, a foreign correspondent.
He founded Russia Insider in 2015.
Prior to then, he claims to have worked in agriculture in Russia – though an HR director referenced in the SPLC investigation said he had “never heard of this man in my life” – despite the fact that, according to Bausman’s LinkedIn page – he was the director of the company.
Russia Insider is another pro-Kremlin news outlet that incorporates fascism and white nationalism.
Though Rodzianko is listed on a fundraising campaign for Russia Insider on Indigogo, as well as the site itself, by mid-2016 his biography had disappeared from the site.
According to the SPLC, Bausman attended the “Stop The Steal” protests which preceded the Capitol insurrection. OSINT (Open-source intelligence) research team “Blue Hatz” reported that he entered the Capitol building wearing a red “Make American Great Again” hat.
Bausman later confirmed in a blog post that he occupied the Capitol.
“When the fighting broke out, I was on my way home back to Lancaster,” Bausman wrote. “I was a couple of blocks away, off to the side of the Capitol building in the direction of Union Station. I RAN over, and seeing people on the balcony, realized I had major scoop for Russian TV. I RAN up to the balcony, and seeing people going into the Capitol, went in with them.”
Shortly afterward Bausman left the United States for Moscow – where he appears to currently reside. Rodzianko did not respond to a request for comment.
Russian-American Cooperation Initiative
During the Trump presidency, Rodzianko, along with his close associate Sergey Gladysh, ran the Russian-American Cooperation Initiative (RACI), a Seattle non-profit organization that ostensibly worked to advance its motto of “building ties, advancing dialogue & cultivating trust” between Russia and the U.S.
As previously revealed by Forensic News, however, RACI acted as a vocal promoter of the views of the Russian state and then-President Trump. Byline Times was the first to report that Branson and Gladysh promoted a 2020 Trump rally.
Gladysh and Rodzianko were both questioned by FBI agents in 2018, and one source with knowledge of the situation told Forensic News last year that Gladysh was the target of a criminal espionage investigation. That investigation resulted in “espionage-lite” charges being filed against Elena Branson, a Russian-American community leader who knows both Gladysh and Rodzianko. “Branson engaged in a wide-ranging influence and lobbying scheme with funding and direction from the Russian government – all while deliberately leaving the American people in the dark,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said.
It’s unclear if the charges against Branson mark the end of the FBI’s investigations into the activities of RACI and other groups connected to the Duran’s Rodzianko.
RACI has since been rebranded as The American Council for U.S.-Russia Engagement (AmCURE) and as of publication appears active. The news arm of RACI/AmCURE has more than 7,000 followers on Twitter and, like the Duran, now posts a steady stream of Russian propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine.
Since 2018, Gladysh and Rodzianko have led a program that brings American students to Russia to “help future decision makers gain a broad and nuanced understanding of today’s Russia.” As part of this program, Gladysh and Rodzianko have introduced the students to high-profile Russian state figures, including Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, and Alexander Sergeev – president of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The duo also claims to have a direct relationship with the Russian Embassy. “We assisted the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. with setting up a speaking event for Ambassador Anatoly Antonov during his summer visit to Seattle,” their website states. That speaking event was hosted by a different nonprofit organization, but Gladysh and Rodzianko were photographed sitting in the front row as Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov spoke.
One late 2021 dinner in Moscow featured Vladimir Solovyov, oft-considered to be the face of Russia’s state media propaganda. From Southern California, Dr. Zeetser commented “Я смотрю его шоу каждый день,” or “I watch his show every day.”