Unlike other businessmen from occupied Crimea or Russia who do not disclose their activity on newly occupied territories, Anatolii Tsurkin eagerly gives interviews. He regularly publishes in his telegram channel impressions and advices to occupation administrations of Kherson region and some raions of Zaporizhzhia region about organization of cargo transportation. He also criticizes them for obstacles to business activity.
While investigating the activity of this Crimean collaborator, we uncovered a lot of important information about Russian governance on occupied territories of the Ukrainian South. Before making its overview, let us answer the question «Who is Mr. Tsurkin?»
Key facts from Tsurkin’s biography
36 years old Anatolii Vasiljevich Tsurkin, Simferopol resident, was appointed «the minister of transport of the Republic of Crimea» on October 21, 2014. He was promoted from the position of the deputy minister. His predecessor was Yuri Schevchenko, agricultural entrepreneur and ex-member of the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea of Ukraine. After Tsurkin stepped down from the «ministerial office», there were 11 successors as «ministers of transport» within «Crimean government»! This personnel turnover is not surprising. Non-corrupted professionals did not want to collaborate with occupants. On the other hand, heads of «Crimean government» were looking for people skillful in making corruption schemes.
When any «Crimean minister of transport» got quite rich, he drew attention of Russian public officials in Crimean government appointed by Russian Federal Security Service who had its own corruption stake in Crimea. As an outcome, «the minister» was dismissed or even imprisoned if he could not successfully «negotiate» or «share» his corruption wealth with Russian «curators».
Tsurkin had the same destiny. But, to his luck, he became useful for Aksenov, the «head of Crimea», who supported the growth of his business career.
The way Tsurkin conducted his transport business before the Russian occupation of Crimea is demonstrated by Ukrainian court decisions about his fake entrepreneurship and dubious schemes with VAT refunding.
Anatolii Tsurkin founded companies-clones with almost identical names (the letter «p» was doubled): LLC «Nova-Grup» and LLC «Nova-Grupp», LLC «Grupa Avgust» and «Gruppa Avgust». They traded the «air» between them but reported officially about delivery of services. As a result, the state budget did not receive 2 728 732 UAH of value added tax and profit tax, in accordance with an investigation of the Department of Prevention of Laundering of Criminal Proceeds of State Tax Service in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
The case did not reach the court consideration before the occupation of the Crimean peninsula as documents in the Unified State Register of Court Decisions of Ukraine demonstrate.
After the occupation, the «head of Crimea» Aksenov highly praised «talents» of Tsurkin and invited him to his «government».
Tsurkin worked as the «minister of transport» only for five months and resigned in March 2015. Aksenov declared that Tsurkin would work as an «assistant of the head of Crimea on transportation affairs». The management of the Kerch Ferry was mentioned as one of Tsurkin’s duties (in 2015, Russia did not yet construct the Kerch Bridge and had to solve the problem of supply of goods to occupied peninsula).
However, the Investigative Committee of Russia and «Crimean prosecutor» Natalia Poklonska evaluated Tsurkin’s skills and merits differently. In December 2015, they declared guilty verdict against Tsurkin. In accordance with their information, Tsurkin forced the operator of the Kerch Ferry (LLC «Morskaya Direktsia») to favor cargo trucks of LLC «Pervaya Krymskaya Logistika» in January – March 2015. The company was owned by his close relative. Losses caused by Tsurkin’s «excessive use of powers» reached 3 million Rubles. More to that, it turned out he repaired his «Toyota Land Cruiser» by using resources of state owned «Krymavtotrans» (250 thousand Rubles).
The court decision was the following: three years of imprisonment (suspended sentence), ban on holding public offices for two years and obligation to reimburse more than 3 million Rubles of losses and penalties.
New dubious business
When full scale Russian invasion was launched, Tsurkin had two companies registered in Simferopol in 2016 and related to transportation services: LLC «Nova-grupp» and «Nova-grup transport».
In July 2022, the transportation of goods from newly occupied territories reached unprecedented scale and Anatolii Tsurkin registered another company – in Moscow. To be precise, he acquired Moscow company registered in 2005 (LLC «Vidan») and appointed its former owner Vjacheslav Anoshko as the director.
Why does he need Limited Liability Company registered in Moscow? Its purpose is likely to «facilitate» corrupted deals – cargo transportation from the Ukrainian South to the Russian Federation is closely supervised and paid by Moscow authorities and related businesses.
At the same time, Tsurkin became very «media visible». He knows personally many Russian propagandists. Some of them were Ukrainian citizens who collaborated with Russian occupation authorities in Crimea in 2014-2015 and then moved to Russia.
There is a distinct group of former Odessa political and media figures that left their city in 2014, became Russian propagandists and campaigners and now regularly highlight Tsurkin’s activity (we will cover their activity on newly occupied territories in special report).
There are thirteen publications mentioning Anatolii Tsurkin in Russian media called «Ukraina.RU» (it is part of the Russian media holding «Russia Today»). It is interviews with him or his comments as an «expert» about wide array of issues – from Western sanctions to the lack of managers on occupied territories.
As an «ex-minister», he gives recommendations to occupation administrations about «how to organize cargo transportation from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to Crimea and Russia». He criticizes introduction of so-called «yellow permits» in Melitopol. They are issued by local collaborators. Owners of cargo trucks need to pay and receive them if they would like to deliver their services.
It is remarkable that local collaborator Oleksii Selivanov, one of initiators of «yellow permits» and former deputy head of the «police» on occupied territory of Zaporizhzhia region, was imprisoned by Russian occupation authorities after the conflict with owners of trucks (he was charged with pedophilia…).
Tsurkin also commented on criminal charges against him put forward by the Investigative Committee of Russia. To his mind, he tried «to optimize» the transportation of bitumen.
It is ironic that nowadays he is also involved into supplying bitumen to occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia region. Occupants started reconstructing the road from Melitopol to Berdyansk, in order to secure convenient transportation of stolen Ukrainian grain and other goods to the port (and further – to Russia and other countries).
Tsurkin’s business interests already reached Mariupol and «Azovstal» destroyed by Russian bombardment. Occupants pretend to build «techno-park» on the «Azovstal» territory. But up to now, they steal the metal and bring it to Russia. «We are given the task to secure transportation of all types of cargo for construction and everyday life of people», as he commented in August.
His posts in social media persuade that he can do everything. When asked about number of trucks he can provide, he replied: «How many are needed?»
Thanks to Tsurkin’s posts, we were able to identify companies supplying fuel and lubricants to the Ukrainian South, occupied by the Russian Federation.
«Recently, we concluded an agreement with ATAN company, one of the largest Crimean operators of gas stations, and received refueling cards. We relocated part of our transport to Crimea, in order to supply goods to Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions», as «ex-minister» informed.
Tsurkin is also involved into transporting the Ukrainian grain. He proudly declared that after the creation of State Unified Enterprise «State Grain Operator» he became one of the first sub-contractors to carry grain to Zaporizhzhia elevators, in order to form so-called «grain reserves of region».
Despite obvious support of his business by occupation authorities, Anatolii Tsurkin sometimes complains about problems caused by Russian governmental bodies. He complained that the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Transport stopped his trucks «with Ukrainian car plates» for four days at the entrance to the Kerch Bridge. Trucks went from Melitopol to Temruk. He was forced to reload excessive cargo and pay penalty, though, the Russian government cancelled weight limits for carriers of food goods.
Tsurkin was outraged. To his mind, such actions of the Russian Federal Service impede upon integration of Zaporizhzhia region into Russian legislative environment: «It is insulting for me as the resident of Crimea. It is bad that they treat people with Ukrainian car plates as milking cow».
His last visit has been to Kherson. He probed the strength of Antonovsky Bridge on his own car. But the video he posted demonstrated only the entrance and exit from the bridge. As he said, talks about damaged bridge were fake news and the bridge would stand forever, as it was built under Soviet Union…
Material is prepared by non-profit «Information press center» within IWPR project under the support of the European Union and the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.