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France

French conservative aristocrat defends plans for Russian theme park

media Philippe de Villiers at a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Yalta, August 14, 2014. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

The French aristocrat and conservative politician who paired up with a blacklisted Russian oligarch to build amusement parks in Crimea and Moscow defended his plans on Saturday and lambasted EU sanctions as a “reign of terror.”

Philippe de Villiers, the founder of the widely popular Puy du Fou theme park near the western city of Nantes and leader of the eurosceptic Movement for France party, announced his plans with Konstantin Valerevich Malofeev on Friday.

The Puy du Fou park was named the world’s best amusement park in 2012 and and attracted 1.7 million visitors last year.

Villiers, 65, says he hopes to replicate its success in Moscow and on the Crimean peninsula in a joint venture with Malofeev, a banker and prominent personality in Russian orthodox conservative circles who embraces expansionist ideologies.

Melofeev, 50, is expected to contribute at least 420 million euros to the creation of the two parks that will be dedicated to the history of Russia and the Black Sea.

Russian media reported that the “Tsargrad” parks will not be just a place for fun, but rather an immersion into the history of Russia.

Villiers, who was a communications minister for former French president Jacques Chirac and has more recently spoken out against Islam in France, has embraced Russia’s propaganda on Crimea and has said that the parks are an outlet for him to express his love for Russia.

However, their grand plans could encounter obstacles given the high tensions surrounding the Ukrainian conflict and Russia’s annexation of Crimea last March that was deemed illegal by the West.

Malofeev was also placed last month on EU sanctions list – forbidding him from EU travel and a freeze of assets – for allegedly funding pro-Moscow separatists in restive eastern Ukraine.

But, Villiers maintains that his new partner is a “responsible man” and told AFP that they “are based only on an offensive opinion – he is criticised for declaring his love of Russia.”

His son Nicolas de Villiers, who is president of the Puy du Fou company, says the EU sanctions would not intervene in their plans to construct the multi-million-euro parks.

The agreement was signed on Friday, a day after the elder Villiers met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the seaside resort of Yalta in Crimea.

"Politicians are weaklings. It's another thing to fight for civilisation and for values that I have always defended, for a non-globalised world that nourishes deep roots, which Vladimir Putin seems the sole head of state to defend today,” Villiers told French radio RTL. “It's true, I love Russia, I identify with it, I feel good there."

He also added that there is no future for Europe without Russia – and that the parks are not supposed to become an issue of contention.

“It’s an old dream that I’ve had for 10 years to one day go to Crimea,” Villiers said, adding that to him the business venture is “an act of peace.”

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