Kanye West is looking east — to Russia. The artist and entrepreneur, now known as Ye, is planning a trip to Moscow later this year to meet with President Vladimir Putin, hold Sunday Service performances as his first-ever shows in Russia and expand his business ventures into the country, his associate tells Billboard.
Travel plans are currently in the works for spring or summer, depending on Ye’s schedule, according to his confidant and strategic advisor Ameer Sudan, who’s helping to coordinate the arrangements with attorney Scott Balber. Balber is the managing partner of Herbert Smith Freehills’ New York office and is the law firm’s U.S. head of investigations and financial services litigation. Sudan says he and Balber are acting as liaisons between Ye and Balber’s clients Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire real estate developer Aras Agalarov and his son Emin Agalarov. Balber declined to comment. Ye’s personal and label reps also declined to comment.
Russia is going to be “a second home” for Ye, says Sudan: “He will be spending a lot of time out there.”
Aras Agalarov, a close associate of Putin and, as president of the Crocus Group, one of Russia’s leading developers, is sometimes referred to as the “Trump of Russia” because of how he often self-brands his buildings. He and his son and business partner, Emin Agalarov, worked with Donald Trump to bring the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to Moscow and were in discussions about a Trump Tower development project in the country that failed to materialize. Later, the Agalarovs helped coordinate the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting where senior members of Trump’s election campaign met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya expecting to receive dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Ye is working on new business deals with the Agalarovs as well, according to Sudan, and while he could not disclose the details of those discussions, he projected they would increase West’s wealth to more than $10 billion. Last March, Bloomberg reported Ye was worth $6.6 billion thanks to his lucrative deals with Adidas and Gap, but Sudan claims that figure was conservative. The Agalarovs’ Crocus Group is responsible for over 4 million total square meters of developed property in Russia, according to the company’s website, and its portfolio of businesses includes shopping centers, superstores, fashion brands, department stores, boutiques and much more.
Ye also plans to collaborate musically with Emin Agalarov in effort to raise Emin’s profile in the U.S. Emin Agalarov is a musician trained by the late singer Muslim Magomayev, a beloved Russian artist often referred to as the Soviet Sinatra. Going by EMIN, he has released more than a dozen albums since starting his career in 2005 and embarked on numerous international tours.
The Sunday Service shows will be Ye’s first performances in Russia in his 25-year career and, according to Sudan, the concerts and the meeting with Putin are something Ye’s been wanting to do since he debuted the Sunday Service project in 2019. The Sunday Service performances will likely be held at the Crocus City Hall theater, which holds more than 7,300 people, or Grand Sports Arena at the 81,000-person Luzhniki Olympic Complex, Russia’s national stadium where much of the 1980 Olympic Games were held. Ye plans to invite Putin to attend the gospel performance as a special guest.
Christian faith has played an important cultural role in the regime of Putin, who has positioned himself as a defender of traditional morals and invoked the Russian Orthodox Church in his speeches. After waging a culture war against hip-hop and accusing local rappers of poisoning youth culture with immoral lyrics, in 2018 Putin changed his stance on the genre, saying instead it should be controlled. “If it is impossible to stop, then we must lead it and direct it,” he told cultural advisers at the time, expressing particular concern over songs about illegal drugs, saying it was “a path to the degradation of the nation.”
In November, West actually compared himself to Putin, calling himself “Young Putin” during an interview on the popular Drink Champs podcast, telling hosts N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN, “Culture is an oil. Culture is an energy, and I’m the king of culture for the past 20 and the next 2,000 years.” The artist, who vocally supported Trump during his presidency, ran his own presidential campaign in 2020 but ultimately only qualified for ballot access in 12 states.
Russia is currently a center of conflict, after it amassed about 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border for a possible invasion, although Russian officials have said there are no such plans. The Russian military maneuver, officials say, is in response to NATO’s eastward expansion, and Moscow has demanded NATO pull back troops from its member countries that border Russia. The conflict has aggravated already tense relations between Washington and the Kremlin, while threatening to destabilize the region and redraw Europe’s post-Cold War boundaries. If Russia does invade Ukraine, the United States and its allies have threatened new sanctions that would exceed those imposed in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Putin has warned that such sanctions would lead to a “complete rupture” of U.S.-Russia relations. On Monday, American and Russian diplomats held negotiations in Geneva, marking the first of a series of discussions between NATO and Russian officials scheduled to take place across Europe this week.
While new U.S. sanctions against Russia could shut down travel between the countries, U.S. citizens are currently permitted to travel to Russia under certain conditions. The U.S. Department of State currently lists Russia with a level 4 “do not travel” advisory, due to terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, the embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia and the arbitrary enforcement of local law.
“This is Ye, Ye is going to get there regardless. What are they going to say? He’s going to be a special guest of the Agalarovs,” says Sudan. “Kanye knows what’s going on more than the average human being, he’s well aware of things. And it’s nothing against the United States or to cause conflicts, but Ye is Ye — he can’t be controlled.”
UPDATE: This article was updated Jan. 11 at 2:10 p.m. EST to include that Ye’s reps declined to comment.