“I remember him as a snake-oil salesman,”
.. He did not exhibit any special interest or expertise in Russia until 2014, when his academy was beginning to stumble financially. It was at that time a 24-year-old Russian intern, Natalia Kutepova-Jamrom, turned up in his office with an improbably impressive résumé.
Fluent in Russian, English, German and Chinese, Ms. Kutepova-Jamrom had worked in the Russian government as a legislative aide and would move on to a Russian state newspaper.
Ms. Kutepova-Jamrom introduced Mr. Mifsud to senior Russian officials, diplomats and scholars. Despite Mr. Mifsud’s lack of qualifications, she managed to arrange an invitation for him to join the prestigious Valdai Discussion Club, an elite gathering of Western and Russian academics that meets each year with Mr. Putin.
Mr. Mifsud’s inclusion in the group was “very, very strange,” said James Sherr, the former head of the Russian studies program at Chatham House in London and a member of Valdai for nearly a decade. It “might suggest he does have connections,” Mr. Sherr said.
Mr. Mifsud suddenly became a popular pundit with state-run news outlets in Russia, praising the country and Mr. Putin. At his first Valdai conference in 2014, he argued against Western sanctions that punished Russia for its annexation of Crimea that year.
.. In a recent interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Mr. Mifsud said the Russian woman who met Mr. Papadopoulos was “a simple student, very beautiful.” He suggested Mr. Papadopoulos hoped for a romantic involvement, adding, “Putin had nothing to do with it, a lovely invention.”