On the evening of July 24, 2008, Russian State Duma member Konstantin Zatulin was banned from entering Ukraine for one year when he arrived in Simferopol airport in the Crimea with a group of Russian parliamentarians to take part in the commemoration of the 1,020th anniversary of the conversion to Christianity of Kievan-Rus. The Ukrainian Security Service, the SBU, announced that it initiated a criminal case against him for “attempting to destabilize public order” (Ukrayinska Pravda, July 25).
Zatulin, the head of the Duma’s commission on CIS affairs, has been in the forefront of demanding that Crimea be returned to Russia.
The Zatulin affair occurred the same day that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko once again brought up the need to immediately begin talks between Russia and Ukraine on the removal of the Russian Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol in 2017.
“The start of negotiations on the removal of Russia’s Black Sea fleet from Ukrainian territory should be included in the agenda of our relations,” he said in a press conference. Russia should consider the 20-year lease allowing its fleet to be based in the port of Sevastopol “a unique gesture of goodwill by the Ukrainian nation,” Yushchenko said according to ITAR-TASS on July 24. “I am convinced we must do everything possible beforehand. And beforehand is not to say prematurely.” Yushchenko’s timing could be seen as a warning to Moscow that talks should not be influenced by public pressure from such proponents of breaking Crimea away from Ukraine as Zatulin and Moscow mayor Yuriy Luzhkov, and that their agitation will not be tolerated.
Earlier, on July 2, 2008, Moscow’s politically well connected mayor, Yuriy Luzhkov, announced that the municipality would send $34 million from its own budget to the Crimea in order to “promote the teaching of the Russian language” and to support the “Diaspora abroad” in 2009-2011, Kommersant online reported. Earlier, Luzhkov urged the Russian State Duma not to prolong the Russian-Ukrainian treaty of peace and cooperation which is due to expire at the end of 2008.
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, the flamboyant mayor, whose wife, Yelena Baturina, is widely regarded as one of the wealthiest women in Russia and is reputed to be a major real estate investor in the Crimea, announced his latest crusade—to save ethnic Russian Ukrainian citizens in Crimea from the terrible fate of learning the language of the country they live in.
Luzhkov, who is currently banned from entering Ukraine as a result of his unceasing efforts to reclaim the peninsula for Russia from Ukraine, offered a breakdown of how this money would be spent.
The mayor’s office told Kommersant that 180 million rubles ($7.65 million) will go toward “direct support for the united Russian Diaspora abroad,” 65.2 million rubles ($2.76 million) will be allocated for “information cooperation” with this Diaspora and 335.5 million rubles ( $14.2 million) is slated to support the Russian language, culture and education.
Where the other $11 million will go was not revealed.
Luzhkov’s statement was supported by Sergey Tsekov, the head of the “Russian Community of the Crimea,” who told the media that “Russophobia…is the essence of Ukrainian policy.”
The vague descriptions of how this money would be spent lends itself to various interpretations; direct support for Russians abroad could well mean financing various separatist groups who could arguably engage in terrorist acts against Ukrainian authorities in the Crimea. Luzhkov’s “cultural” money could also well be a means of channeling funds for Russian covert intelligence operations in the region.
When the Ukrainian Security Service, the SBU, announced in June that Luzhkov would be denied entrance to Ukraine, the announcement underscored that the mayor of Moscow was suspected of money laundering via the Crimea. No proof of this has yet been offered and Luzhkov has not made any denials.
The possibility that such money could be used to fund a sub-rosa operation is not as remote as it might seem. On July 1, 2008 the website of the SBU (www.sbu.gov.ua/sbu/control) reported that it had arrested two individuals in the Crimea, members of the unregistered “National Front – Sevastopol-Crimea-Russia” group, and charged them with agitation for dismembering the “territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
The “National Front” was created in August 2005 and includes 12 pro-Russian public associations in the Crimea. Last year its activists declared the beginning of a campaign “Ukraine without the Crimea.” They stated that the objective of the campaign was to maintain the term “Crimean autonomy” in the wording of the Ukrainian constitution, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on July 1, 2008.
But their actions are alleged to be far more radical and the source of their funding remains a mystery. Did it initially come from earlier grants provided by the Moscow city budget or were other, less visible, donors involved?
The SBU press release noted that recently (the dates were not specified) five spies working under diplomatic cover were declared persona non grata and asked to leave Ukraine. The SBU refused to name which countries the spies were from.
More ominously, the SBU stated that 38 Ukrainian citizens were warned that they were targets of recruitment by foreign intelligence services—by which countries services the SBU did not specify. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, the CIA and the Turkish national intelligence service, the MIT, all come to mind, however the SVR appears to be the most likely culprit.
Moreover, the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) appears to be extremely well funded. The CPU has been in the forefront of organizing anti-NATO demonstrations in the Crimea
Where is the money coming from to fund the anti-Ukrainian campaign in the Crimea?
Luzhkov’s charitable donations are not a recent development. In 2006-2008 Moscow donated 432 million rubles ($18.3 million) toward similar projects in the Crimea, Kommersant wrote on July 1, quoting a spokesman for Luzhkov.
Earlier, in the 1990s, the pro-Russian movement in the Crimea was headed by the so-called Republican Movement of the Crimea, which was regarded by the SBU at the time as nothing more than a front for organized crime on the peninsula. The Republican Movement eventually disappeared and was replaced by more legitimate groups, but their legitimacy—and their funding—is now under suspicion and Yuriy Luzhkov, or his wife, might one day be asked to account for this.
Are these charitable donations being run by Luzhkov alone? Is the mayor of Moscow a rogue elephant, privatizing Russian foreign policy? Is the new Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, aware of his activities and does he condone them as part of his announced intention to see that the rule of law is supreme in Russia?