Despite pretentious name, «the Friends of Crimea International Association» (the Association) cannot be found in the Russian register of legal persons. It means the Association is an informal organization. Its website, forums and media activity are what keeps together these «clubs of friends». How is the organization financed if it is not legal entity?
Structure and people
Meetings of members of the Association are usually held during Yalta International Economic Forum, yearly event conducted by Russia in Crimea. Though the overwhelming majority of «friends of Crimea» are not businesspersons, they also participate in the forum, creating the illusion of mass foreign participation. It is logical to suggest that this activity is financed from the one budget.
Yalta International Economic Forum (YIEF) is registered as the Fund with the same name. Three legal entities are indicated as founders of the Fund:
Ялтинський міжнародний економічний форум (ЯМЕФ) юридично оформлений як Фонд з однойменною назвою. Його засновниками є три юридичні особи:
- All-Russian non-profit organization «Delovaya Rossia» [Деловая Россия] headed by president Pavel Titov, the Chair of the Council of Directors of Abrau-Durso Group, the son of its beneficiary and business ombudsman of the Russian Federation Boris Titov. Titov-father was recently mentioned in Aleksei Navalny’s investigation about Putin’s palace near Gelendzhik. The winery «Divnomorje» [Дивноморье] and 300 hectares leaded by LLC «Lazurnaja yagoda» were owned by Abrau-Durso Group. In 2018, they were transferred to Timchenko, the friend of Putin. Commenting Navalny’s investigation, Putin joked that after his resignation he would become Titov’s business consultant.
- LLC «Proksi tsentr» [Прокси центр] of Sergei Lazutkin. The company organizes forums and summits at Russian and international levels. It has been involved into conducting St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russian Investment and other forums of the Russian Federation, events of Olympic Games and 2018 FIFA Championship. «Proksi tsentr» implements in Crimea a number of projects bringing Russian and foreign cultural figures to the sanctioned peninsula. The company supported the Crimean tour of Oleg Vinogradov’s ballet troupe (with artists from several countries), the concert of Fabio Pirola, the Italian conductor, with Petersburg orchestra «Northern City» and filming the movie «Crimea under the sky». Lazutkin also announced creation of Cosmo-center.
- State Autonomous Institution «Business and Cultural Center of the Republic of Crimea» [Деловой и культурный центр Республики Крым] (Business and Cultural Center). It is headed by Sergei Kalmykov, the former founder and manager of «VR Media Group» (information agencies «Vsja Rossija» and BRICS News Agency). Before February 2020 the institution was headed by Yaroslav Ivanchenko, the founder of JSC «Agentstvo privlechenia inostrannykh investitsij», LLC «Rusagroinnovatsii» and LLC «Pribrezhnoe» registered in Yevpatoria in 2019. Now Ivanchenko is the director of the Institute of Philology, History and Arts at the Yalta branch of Tavrijskii University named after Vernadskii expropriated by the Russian Federation (Ivanchenko graduated from the university in 1977).
The Business and Cultural Center has been registered in 2015 in Moscow at the business center on Novy Arbat. The only founder of the Center is … Moscow City, the subject of the Russian Federation. The rights of the founder (i.e. the Moscow City) are exercised by … the Permanent Representative Office of «the Republic of Crimea» under the President of the Russian Federation set up by the so-called «Crimean government».
The head of the Representative Office is Georgii Muradov, career diplomat. Before the occupation of Crimea, he worked in Rossotrudnichestvo, the agency with prominent KGB past [Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation].
Since 2014 Muradov plays the role of Kremlin «informal curator» in the puppet «government» of the occupied Crimea (he is the so-called «Vice-Prime-Minister»). He is the curator and inspiring person of «the Friends of Crimea Association». He performs functions of the informal minister of foreign affairs of Crimea. He is responsible for legitimizing the annexation of Crimea by Russia and lifting sanctions and international isolation.
It can be suggested that Titov, Lazutkin and Muradov take care about the budget YIEF (along their spheres of responsibility). The budget is filled in by many sources. The most generous is the federal budget.
However, as open data about public procurement bids for Crimean forums reveals, they have many financial sources. In accordance with the Russian public procurement web-portal, governmental institutions and companies transferred to the YIEF Fund more than 50,3 mln Rubles in 2016-18. As a rule, they paid for advertisement services during Forum.
YIEF FUND: founders
Pavel Titov, All-Russian non-profit «Delovaya Rossia»
Sergei Lazutkin, LLC «Proksi tsentr»
Sergei Kalmykov, Business and Cultural Center of Crimea
Founder: Moscow City
Georgii Muradov (founder’s rights are exercised by the «Permanent Representative Office of the Republic of Crimea under the President of RF»
Founder: «The Council of Ministries of the Republic of Crimea»
The Russian National Commercial Bank (RNCB; under sanctions) has been the most generous contributor in 2016-2018. Its contribution amounted to 38 mln Rubles. «Chornomornaftogas» expropriated by Russia transferred five million to the YIEF Fund, JSC «Rosseti Kuban» – six million Rubles.
It is interesting that Kurchatov Institute, South-Russian Polytechnic Institute named after Platov and the Foundation for the Reform of Municipal Services were among institutions, which ordered the services of the Yalta International Economic Forum. As a result, Crimea received international «forum» with dubious economic effect, as its main goal – inflow of foreign investments into sanctioned Crimea – has not been achieved so far.
It should be emphasized that we failed to find open data about public procurement of the YIEF Fund during last two years (2019-2020) (in both roles – as the supplier and \ or procurement entity). There must have been purchases, as it is impossible to conduct such an expensive event without them! Thus, the data is hidden or procurement has been conducted through companies-intermediaries.
«The Permanent Representative Office of the Republic of Crimea under the President of the RF» headed by Georgii Muradov enjoys quite decent financial support. Formally, it receives financial resources from the Crimean budget; however, it is known that 85% of the Crimean budget are subsidized by the federal budget of the Russian Federation.
During its existence the Office bought services and goods for 135,6 million Rubles. Part of them were spent for securing the work of the Office (leasing premises at Novy Arbat and cars from the transport branch of the Office of the Russian President; purchases of furniture, coffee machines etc.).
The Office also ordered services for:
– Press tour for foreign journalists from economic media to Crimea
– Foreign tour for representatives of Crimean non-profit organizations (for participation in the work of international and foreign organizations)
– A number of international round tables in Moscow and Crimea
– Arrival and accommodation in Moscow for foreign delegations «upon invitation of the Head of the Republic of Crimea» and «Crimean Representation Office»
– Participation of representatives of international organizations of Russian compatriots and foreign public figures in the International Festival «Great Russian Word» and Livadiya Forum of the «Russian World» (Yalta, Crimea); International Congress «Byzantine Heritage of Crimea»…
We indicated only some activities of the Crimean Representative Office and only part of resources spent on propaganda of the «Russian Crimea» and on removal of international isolation of the occupied peninsula.
Money and suppliers of the Business and Cultural Center of Crimea
It is very likely that «the Business and Cultural Center of the Republic of Crimea», another founder of the YIEF Fund, finances the activity of «Friends of Crimea Association». The Center signed 78 public procurement contracts for 107 581 000 Rubles within last five years. How much money is spent for visits of «friends of the occupation of Crimea»? How much do Center’s activities cost? Open public procurement data gives a clue.
As an example, let us look into the activity of Hendrik Weber, the main «friend of Crimea» in Norway (the Center of Journalist Investigations already highlighted this figure). Together with his wife Mette Rosenlund, he runs non-profit «Norwegian People’s Diplomacy». It has been founded on August 1, 2017 and registered in Western Norway region.
The main goal of our organization is to recognize Crimea as the legitimate part of the Russian Federation and to lift sanctions’, as stated on the page of Norwegian «club» of the Russian website of «Crimean friends».
In 2019 Weber has been candidate from «Red» party at the local elections in Alver municipality. It is left wing radical party uniting Mao and Trotsky followers. The party is against capitalism and membership of Norway in the European Union.
First photos of Weber from occupied Crimea are dated November 13, 2016 (at his Facebook account). Hendrik recalls: «It started in 2016. I thought at that time: «We introduced sanctions against Russia and Crimea». And my heart told me that it has not been right decision. We simply betrayed Russia».
Since then, Weber visited the occupied Crimea so many times that he himself cannot recall exact number – 15 or 16 times. In September 2019, Weber published German language book «Our Crimea – coup d’etat or democratic decision?» In 2020, he presented its Russian version with shortened title «Our Crimea».
Journalists of the Center for Journalist Investigations asked him – who finances the publication and visits of pro-Russian public figures from Norway to the occupied Crimea, with intensive tourist programs? Hendrik Weber laughed and answered:
«It is always the same question! Many people think that the Kremlin covers my visits. However, it is my own money; I pay for my visits to Crimea from my own pocket».
Hendrik Weber also illegally visits the occupied part of Donbas. As he stated in the interview, he has been there «approximately four times». Did he himself pay for these visits? Rhetorical question… To his opinion, the war conflict in Eastern Ukraine is «the war of the illegitimate Ukrainian government against inhabitants of the East of Ukraine».
He is also involved into the anti-Ukrainian activity in his own country. For example, he organizes international conference «Crimea in a geopolitical perspective» in Oslo. It has been planned for 2020 but COVID pandemics moved the date to May 2021.
To sum up, if Weber was not mistaken, he visited Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia more than twenty times. There are no direct flights from Alver to Ukraine. Norwegian politician and small businessperson had to get to Oslo, then, to fly to Moscow, from Moscow – to Simferopol, and by car from Simferopol to Yalta. And back. Fifteen times. He also had to pay for hotels, meals and local transport. The final amount should be doubled as he travels to Crimea with his wife.
Then, there were expenses for publishing the book «Our Crimea» in German and Russian languages. International conference in Norway also requires significant resources…
If these Norwegian and other «friends of Crimea» did pay for their illegal travels to Crimea and their events at home from their own pockets, then, who were recipients of over one million Rubles spent by the Muradov’s Business and Cultural Center of Crimea?
Let us look into the Russian public procurement database. Last year the Business and Cultural Center ordered services for organizing conferences and exhibitions, services for accommodating their participants, services for making videos about Crimea for the international audience and many other things.
The largest supplier of the Moscow based «Business and Cultural Center of the Republic of Crimea» is «Visa CONCORDE travel» company (Ashot Mkrtchan is its founder and general director). The total value of contracts is 17 million 373 thousand Rubles. The company is the main supplier of flight tickets for participants and organizers of the Center’s events. It is also regular winner of tenders conducted by «Rossotrudnichestvo» (it won contracts with the total value up to 70 million Rubles).
«Visa CONCORDE travel» delivers large spectrum of services. For the Crimean Business and Cultural Center, the company organized and conducted presentation of «the Republic of Crimea» in the Russian Embassy in China (Beijing). The value of the contract amounted to 3,758 million Rubles. It also organized and conducted «International round table «Anti-Russian sanctions: the Crimean precedent» (1,6 million Rubles). Affiliated «ConcordeBusinessService» assisted in conducting presentation of investment, tourist and cultural potential of the occupied Crimea in Tel Aviv, Israel (for 3,8 million Rubles).
«The Crimean Business and Cultural Center» also financed the participation of NGO representatives in the events of the OSCE and UN (See here our article about Crimean GONGO – quasi-civic organizations and activists financed from the budget of the Russian Federation and promoted internationally by institutions affiliated with Muradov).
The second largest supplier of the Center is the «Worldwide Tourist Company Rustur» [Всемирная туристическая компания «Рустур»]. It was founded by Visa CONCORDE (the supplier # 1 of the Crimean Business and Cultural Center) and the Crimean GONGO – «International Council of Russian Compatriots». The Council has been set up by «compatriots» from Latvia, Estonia, Armenia and Moldova. The head of the Council is Hasan Mirzoev, the President of the Guild of Russian Attorneys and the International Association of Russian Speaking Attorneys. The latter also provides financial support to «Crimean friends» from the Great Britain.
«Rustur» supplied services to «the Crimean Center» for the amount of 6,7 million Rubles. «Artistic creation» or «support of performing arts» were indicated as subjects of purchases. In fact, «Rustur» delivered services to promote the Crimean potential abroad. The company organized exhibition-presentations of investment, tourist and cultural potential of the occupied Crimea in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam (2,2 million Rubles), in Bulgaria (2,05 million Rubles) as well as in Serbia (1,9 million Rubles).
Yalta based «Livadiya Group» won two contracts with «the Crimean Center». It provides accommodation services and manages three hotels in Livadiya (Yalta).
JSC «Olimp» earned almost five millions Rubles from leasing offices to «the Crimean Center». It is remarkable that «the Crimean Representative Office under the President of the Russian Federation» also leases its office on Novy Arbat from «Olimp» (leasing payments reached 12 million Rubles last year).
Last year «the Crimean Center» ordered the publication of only one book. It cost 398 thousand Rubles for 500 copies. It might have been the Russian version of Hendrik Weber’s book but we did not find precise information about his book, and our hypothesis can be wrong.
«The Crimean Center» also paid 200 thousand Rubles for written translation services and 580 thousand Rubles – for a series of propaganda videos.
It is interesting that the lion’s share of the Crimean Center’s tenders are single source procurement, i.e. they are conducted without competition, from one supplier chosen by the Center before the announcement of tenders. Among all types of procurement procedures, single source procurement has the highest risk of corruption. Permanent suppliers of «the Crimean Center» are known for their involvement into corruption scandals. For example, «Visa CONCORDE travel» won the right to provide flight tickets for Russian sport teams. In 2019, it has been revealed that its tickets for Aeroflot flights have been two times more expensive than usual price.
Thus, «the Crimean feeder» built by «fighters for Russian Crimea» during occupation period seems quite attractive for businesses close to Russian authorities and quasi-civic organizations that Russia uses to promote its interests abroad.
It should be also noted that, in 2018, the US government imposed sanctions on the hotel Mriya Resort & SPA where YIEF and meetings of Crimean friends are held, and on LLC «Garant SV», the intermediary, through which the resort is owned by Sberbank Russia. The US Department of Treasury indicated that Mriya Resort has been used as the location of the Yalta International Economic Forum, the largest Russian propaganda event in Crimea. Sanctions can be also imposed on YIEF organizers and founders close to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
We investigated a number of persons involved into legitimizing the annexation of Crimea. There will be more names in our forthcoming publications…
Video version of the investigation can be found here: