The Russian Crimea, Western sanctions — paper

Lying on the Ukrainian side of the checkpoint in Chonhar is difficult to call the border crossing. Instead of permanent structures, there is a canopy covered with a sheet of tin. The guards do not sit in the booth, and two painted green “gazelles”, the feeding of the passport through the window. Outhouse. So it is necessary, because under Ukrainian law, Crimea is a territory temporarily annexed by Russia.


From the Russian side all the way. The guards were arranged luxuriously. Russian flag and the inscription on the huge gate a few hundred meters to report that we are nearing the checkpoint “Dzhankoi”, if his employees want to say: “We’ll stay here forever.” The conversation with the customs officer, a photocopy of all passport pages in a few minutes we are on the conversation in the room occupied by the Federal security service. The conversation has been delayed for half an hour, and resembles the caricature of questioning.


“Why are you going to the Crimea? Where do you stop? Anyone going to meet? What you speak? What questions you were asked by the security Service of Ukraine in Chongar?” — asks the employee. “We write about how you integrate with Russia.” “Gaining experience in case Western Ukraine decides to join Poland? Can share,” laughs the Russian. It is quite a nice person, who tries not to give us to feel that the master here he is. “In the army? Take up arms, if the war to defend the homeland from the enemy?” — he asks. “And who might such a war begin?” — we ask. “I mean a hypothetical enemy. You come from Kiev?— the FSB changes the topic — the beautiful girls. All Ukrainian women — beautiful.”


Hybrid warfare maps


In the Crimea it is difficult to feel that the annexation is not recognized no one but the Kremlin. Most of the interviewees assured us that they personally sanctions are not affected, and even people with Pro-Ukrainian sentiments talked about the fact that limitations exist only in theory. Some complained about small inconveniences. In stores people pay with cards Visa and Mastercard Russian banks. Paul Zhestkov, a member of the largest on the Peninsula Bank, RNCB, says that in March the system will work, which will allow you to do the same thing to us, the residents of the EU. We meet in Simferopol restaurant near the monument to the “green men” — Russian soldiers who were sent here in March 2014 to capture the Peninsula.


The first thing he says he loves Zakopane, then we turn to the specifics. “Last December, our Bank developed a system that will allow you to pay in a local hotel with Visa and Mastercard Western banks, he explains, confirming that it is already possible to safely use the Russian maps. We question whether to do it the sanctions that were imposed against Russia after the annexation. He says he is. For Western guests, RNCB just made information system and portals, which will play an intermediary role in the transaction. The program is called “Hotel”.


All payments in Visa and Mastercard are not directly from the Crimea, and through the Central system in Moscow, which was created partly in order not to start with these companies out war. According to our sources, the U.S. Office of foreign assets control, which is designed to enforce the sanctions, know about the existence of this procedure. The problem is that when a person pays in Crimea, the Russian Bank card, the system just sees Russia without specifying an exact location. Rather, there is no problem, since the prohibition applies only to the occupied Peninsula. How so?

© RIA Novosti, Sergei Maligawa | go to fotobanka in hotels of Crimea

“It seems that Visa and Mastercard can not serve only those transactions that take place with the participation of banks, which fell under full sanctions that have frozen assets, explains Wlostowski Tomasz (Tomasz Włostowski) an expert on sanctions from the Brussels law firm EUTradeDefence. With other payment transactions managed through the National payment card system, which was created in Russia in 2015. It serves cards issued by Russian banks. Operations held in Crimea with Russian Visa or Mastercard, first pass through the Russian system, and only then get to the service points, which are outside of the country. So where exactly in Russia is made the operation impossible to know”.


Can the same scheme to pay the holders of the European maps? “Such an operation must first be “clean” in the Central nervous system, only then she will be able to be authorized abroad, as evidence of the Crimea, will disappear,” says our source. Exactly as it is provided in the “Hotel”. Wlostowski says that all of this model looks doubtful in light of American and European legislation which prohibits, in particular, to circumvent the sanctions. When number was imposed, we have not received a response to our questions on this subject from either Mastercard or Visa.


The second method also looks simple: just contact one of the offices of the Crimean RNCB and make yourself the Russian card, which you can pay on the territory of Russia. “In a difficult situation business always finds a way — laughing the Chairman of the Association of small hotels of Crimea Natalia Parkhomenko-Stambolieva. The first year was difficult for us. Then we got used to sanctions, and to the fact that we are cut off from Ukraine.” To remove the sanctions pressure helps the state: the Central Bank, which created a National system of payment cards; the Federal tourism Agency, responsible for the development of the tourism industry; the local authorities of Simferopol. Some don’t want to leave documentary traces, so sometimes actions are coordinated.


Paul he in conversation with us mentioned that MCB, in which he works, caught in the Western sanctions list. The EU has placed him there in August 2014, USA — in March 2015. Washington accused the organization that during the annexation of the Peninsula, she financed the separatists. Owned Bank, the Federal Agency for state property management. Similar policy is GenBank, which is also under sanctions. 50% of its shares owned by the unrecognized by anyone in the world, the Executive authorities of the Crimea and city of Sevastopol. What is the meaning of this game, no one hides. In one of his interviews, acknowledged by the head of the Crimean government Sergey Aksenov. “There are schemes that allow people to circumvent the sanctions, but the secrets I will not disclose”, — the politician told in an interview with the Agency TASS.


The hole in the Schengen area


Similar situation with visas. Theoretically, the holder of a Russian passport living in Crimea, can not get a European or American visa. But only in theory. After annexation by the Russians forcibly handed out the documents of the Russian Federation (scaring that without Russian citizenship, people don’t get a job and do not get medical care), but turned a blind eye to the preservation of Ukrainian citizenship. Schengen visa now put in these Ukrainian passport. Pure pragmatism. Our interlocutor is two passports and two places of residence: one in Simferopol (it is the Russian, whose name is, say, Sergey), and the second in Kherson (where he was a Ukrainian, Sergei). If he wants to go to Germany, he goes to the German Embassy in Kiev, and gets without problems the visa.


Sergei/Sergiy seeks to simplify his life, so he has two sets of car numbers. When is he going to visit his sister in Kherson, he screwed in the garage, Ukrainian, and Crimea with the Russian moves, so as not to attract the attention of the police. The scheme is simple: when, after annexation by the Russians changed the numbers on their own, our hero, as he advised the officer, was reported missing along with previous documents. He received a certificate from the police, and at the same time Russian registration plates. And in Ukraine, based on information he was given duplicate numbers and documents. So did many of the Crimean drivers.


I say, some have harder Crimean officials, who have seized a Ukrainian passport. But it’s not so bad. If a man will justify the necessity of their travel to the West, he can get the passport back. To keep the chance and those who do not have Ukrainian registration. As we told one of our interlocutors, has opened a special office that helps to solve problems. He paid the broker for the visa to Europe 800 euros without questioning what the money went. In a pinch you can get a Russian passport with a residence permit in the neighboring Krasnodar region, i.e. in the territory of the Russian facilities which, no doubt, or even proof of employment outside of the Crimea, to one of the European Embassy did not know about the relationship of man with the Peninsula.


Ships under the Turkish flag

© RIA Novosti, Mikhail Mokrushin | go to fotobanka the Cathedral of St. Vladimir on the territory of national reserve “Chersonese”

The Sevastopol city of Federal significance. It has its own independent leadership and the port, which was a window to the world. After the annexation movement in it almost came to a standstill. But things have changed. As reported by our source, there were regularly coming Turkish merchant ships. This data confirms the political scientist Taras Berezovets, a political scientist close to the presidential administration of Ukraine. According to him, Kyiv authorities understand that Turkish ships violate the embargo. “We are talking about dozens of ships, developed a scheme. The ships come in to port under its own Turkish flag,” he says. However, Ankara has in this field is experience. It is thanks to the Turks separatist Abkhazia gained access to export commodities before, as in 2008, Moscow recognized its independence.


From shops to phones


Procedure bypass sanctions began innocently, with mobile communication. In Crimea stopped working roaming Ukrainian and foreign numbers. After the annexation of the Ukrainian operators left, and the Russians, fearing sanctions, could not just come to the Peninsula. But the problem is already solved. You buy a SIM card from a major Russian telecommunications company MTS, including her, see what she’s assigned to the Krasnodar region, the contract is concluded in Krasnodar, where you have never been, and the phone is in Crimea while roaming. On paper, the operator is not MTS, and the local “K-Telecom”. For roaming subscribers to pay accounts, the calls are the same as in Russia.


On the spot decided to stay some Western retail chains. During a short walk we meet on the way the German Metro Cash & Carry (in the Crimea are two of them). There’s another Auchan. We ask the leadership of these networks, as their activity is correlated with the sanctions. “The company Metro AG operates within the framework of the law and European standards, considering the sanctions. The owner of these two shops — an independent company of Metro Group, they are not under the control of the Ukrainian or of the Russian branch of MCC. Both companies work on the basis of Russian commercial legislation, and therefore does not act as the object of sanctions,” — explains a press-the Secretary of the company Metro AG.


The representative of the company Auchan assured us in turn that she “decided to continue to provide residents of the Crimea of certain goods, primarily food”. “We made the decision not to eliminate jobs for the local population (250 people), so the store in Simferopol will work. In our work we always follow the laws, including the EU decision”, — told us the employee of the press center of the head office of the company Vanua Marie (Marie Vanoye). She reiterated that the work shop in the Crimea “in no way violates the sanctions of the EU and does not contradict the Ukrainian legislation”.


However, many Western brands of Crimea is gone. Immediately, as mushrooms after a rain grew local “forgery”, occupying the vacant niche. The owner of the premises in the center of Simferopol, where he worked as a KFC restaurant, became a local company, “Gusto”, opened a bar CFC — Crimean Fried Chicken. Instead of “Starbucks” appeared “Starmaks”, and instead stores iStore — ruStore. They sell products of the brand Apple, which is imported from Russia. There is no shortage, but all have to be imported from the continent, tells us of the Crimean entrepreneur. Before the continent was called Ukraine, is now called Russia.




Returning to the territory under control of Ukraine, we repeat the procedure of communication with the FSB and customs. We got to the Caucasian shift, which we were warned by friends. But National guard soldiers did not find fault with us, but begins to ask, what in Poland machines if we have a beer as we liked Crimean girls. Questions, what we did on the Peninsula, take this time hour. The guard looked carefully at our Russian visa. They take the whole page: the map that is shown there, you need a lot of space. Curiously, of the Crimea in the schematic outline of the Russian Federation no. The Peninsula, at least in this document, is Ukrainian.


A matter of life and death


Russian special services are closely watching the protests in the Crimea. Most problems arise from the Crimean Tatars.


In Sochi, we witnessed the FSB interrogated Crimean Tatar. Guards found the man a copy of the Koran. “It’s just a copy, I did it in the mosque, happiness”, — he explained. “What branch of Islam you profess?— asked feesbeshnik. — As far as I know, Tatars are Sunni. Are you connected with extremist movements?” he continued. Tatar denied. Occupied by us the staff decided to let him go. Meanwhile, the Crimean Tatars, who constitute 12% of Crimea’s population, there is a group that was most subjected to repression.


The activities of the Majlis (an extremist organization banned in Russia — approx. ed.), the representative body of the Crimean Tatars, recognized last year as illegal. The head of the local FSB was Viktor Palagin — specialist in the fight against Islamic extremism, especially with the “Hizb ut-Tahrir” (“Islamic liberation party”). Prior to this he was head of counterintelligence in Bashkiria, where Muslims make up half the population.


In Ukraine “Hizb ut-Tahrir” (a terrorist organization banned in Russia — approx. ed.) operates legally in Russia it was recognized as a terrorist organization. “The FSB is on track. About once a quarter, it announces that it failed to disclose a cell of “Hizb ut-Tahrir” of four or five people,”-tells us a local human rights activist. He asks not mentioning his name because of his Pro-Ukrainian views he is under constant surveillance by the Russian security services. He says that in jail to get even for possession of leaflets with the logo of “Hizb ut-Tahrir”.


However, problems may appear, and without brochures. The Chairman of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov banned from entering Crimea. Awaiting trial his two deputies: Ilmi umer and Ahtem Chiygoz. First accused of public appeals to violation of territorial integrity of Russia. He gave an interview to the Crimean Tatar channel ATR and expressed the hope that sanctions will force Russia to withdraw from Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk. Chiygoz will be responsible for the organization of “mass riots”, as the Russians call protests against the “green people”, which the Tatars staged in the winter of 2014.

© AP Photo, Sergei ChuzavkovОдин of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar people Mustafa Cemil

Andrei Malgin, a long-standing Director of the Central Museum of Taurida in Simferopol, advocated the annexation of Crimea to Russia. Some called him an ideologue of the Crimean regionalism. He believes that the Crimean Tatars have painted themselves into internal exile. “Majlis does not fit into the new realities. His work was banned after its activists staged a trade blockade of the Crimea. New formulas for there is no dialogue. But Crimea is small, the lack of official dialogue kompensiruet interpersonal relations”, — said Malgin.


“For the West, Crimea is a distant region, but for us it is a matter of life and death. I wish I was buried in his native land,” — said Mustafa Cemil. He spent 15 years in Soviet camps, was Chairman of the Majlis, and now appointed by the Commissioner of the Crimean Tatar people under the President Petro Poroshenko.


A large part of the Pro-Ukrainian activists fled Crimea after the annexation. Those who remained, trying not to attract attention to himself, and not to use the phones that can be tapped. Among themselves they communicate in messaging systems, which are considered safe, like Signal or WhatsApp. “You never know when you will again be interested in the FSB. One person went to the mainland Ukraine, he hoped there to sit, to forget. After a while he came back and thought that if will be quiet, not arresting him. Through the year he was tagged,” says local activist.


In the official Crimean media campaign, urging residents of the Peninsula voluntary fingerprinting. As stated in the MIA, this will help in the search for missing people or identify victims of road accidents. Human rights activists, however, believe that this is another tool to control the population.