Sanction dodgers– the people Ukraine warned us about in 2019 and why the international community should have listened

In 2019, Ukrainian analysts from the International Center for Policy Studies (ICPS) released a report outlining the need for sanctions against numerous influential Russian citizens. Many hold high-ranking positions in the government or military and engage in shady business overseas.

The report put forth a list of these individuals, outlining their crimes which worked to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine as well as Ukraine’s allies in Europe and afar. It proposed a framework for implementing sanctions on them in a fast, systematic manner, and cited the success of international sanctions against Russia in improving Ukraine’s situation in the 2014 war.

In the wake of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Ukraine’s international partners sprang into action imposing sanctions that they had threatened for a long time. Around the world, wealthy Russians had property seized and movement restricted to turn them against Putin.

Some people from the 2019 report, however, still go about their business unscathed by sanctions. Even more strange, some of them have only received sanctions from a few of Ukraine’s partners, and not others. They’re still committing the same acts which undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine, despite having been exposed several years prior.

Why previous calls for sanctions were important

Ukraine’s 2019 sanction requests were largely unheeded by the international community. Russia’s 2022 invasion proved the Ukrainian experts right, but how could sanctions have prevented today’s unjust war?

Overwhelming evidence connects the Russian-backed rebellions in the Donbas region to criminal activity. Several individuals (some of whom have yet to land on international sanctions lists) have lobbied to destabilize the region for their own illegal business ventures, including coal smuggling, the movement of counterfeit goods, money laundering, and human trafficking.

In 2015, GazAlliance head Sergei Kurchenko received sanctions. His company was responsible for the movement of coal and steel into Russia. This hardly stopped him from building his empire. In 2017, the DNR set up a “state” company called Vneshtorgservis, led by former Irkutsk deputy governor Vladimir Pashkov.

Together with businesses under the power of Ruslan Rostovtsev (another Russian businessman currently free of sanctions), they’ve monopolized the movement of coal and steel into the Russian Federation. What’s more, the coal mined by these Russian companies is re-marked as Russian-sourced and sold to Europe and Ukraine, the very territory it was illegally mined from.

Has the direct conflict in the region slowed down smuggling due to safety concerns? No. In fact, it’s reaching record levels. Border authorities in Lithuania made four times the number of smuggling-related arrests in the first quarter of 2022 than in all of 2021 combined. Poland and Moldova have faced similar issues. Behind coal, the rest of these are related to the illegal tobacco trade, much of which can be traced to Khamadey, a DNR-based tobacco company that has moved to Russia in past years.

Those who surprisingly escaped sanctions:

Ukraine’s 2019 report about sanctions and the threats certain Russian businessmen and politicians posed to their sovereignty have largely been proven in 2022. Why is it, then, that some Russians who openly stoked the conflict and are profiting from it have yet to face accountability?

Below are just a few of those who benefit from death and destruction in Ukraine, as well as their involvement in the continuation of the war.

Ivan Savvidis

Ivan Savvidis is a businessman of dual Russian and Greek nationality. He’s often referred to as one of Russia’s wealthiest men and has several businesses in both of his homelands.

The crime boss has worked personally to undermine the integrity of NATO by trying to sabotage Macedonia’s candidacy for the alliance as well as for the EU. He’s also a huge player in the smuggling trade by controlling routes between Bar, Montenegro, and the Middle East. His people transport counterfeit cigarettes under a defunct Greek tobacco brand name.

Savvidis enlists the help of smuggling groups based in occupied Sevastopol. These groups have close ties with the Russian special services and give them a percentage of profits as a thank-you for their compliance.

His illegal actions have caused unjust scandals in Ukraine. His company used to charter Ukrainian cargo ships. They agreed to move the goods under false pretenses that they were something else. Unaware that they were facilitating the counterfeit cigarette trade, six Ukrainians were indicted for smuggling and were incarcerated in Greece.

So far, Ivan Savvidis has only faced sanctions from Ukraine. The international community (most notably Greece where he has residences) has yet to act.

Ruslan Rostovtsev

Ruslan Rostovtsev is a household name in the coal industry. He oversees the export of over 700,000 tons of coal from the Donbas region annually. He has full Kremlin support in his business ventures, which rake in a lot of revenue that goes toward the DNR and LNR separatist governments.

The coal, illegally mined from Ukrainian territory, is labeled as Russian and sent to ports near Rostov as well as Belarus via rail to be sold to Europe. He runs his business with no problem despite doing the same things as fellow energy tycoon Sergei Kurchenko who was sanctioned in 2015.

Moreover, Rostovtsev was implicated as part of an international money-laundering scheme in which hundreds of Russian businessmen moved nearly $80 billion through hundreds of shell companies with the help of corrupt businessmen and judges in Moldova. His contribution to the scheme amounts to $400 million. In July 2022, London-based The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime reported that Russian authorities investigated the scheme, but Rostovtsev did not become a suspect, leading to speculation that he avoided being probed because of his support for a “patriotic” project– helping the mining companies of Donbas. This money is no doubt a chunk of his profits from the illegal funneling of Ukrainian coal into Russia and beyond.

As of the release of this article, Ruslan Rostovtsev has received no international sanctions.

Mikhail Fedyaev

Mikhail Fedyaev is the co-owner and president of the Siberian Business Union (CJSC), one of the largest conglomerates in Russia with public ties to United Russia, Putin’s party. Fedyaev has been a politically engaged character for a very long time: his son is a member of the Russian parliament for the third convocation, lobbying for his father’s business interests in the Kremlin. Last year, Fedyaev’s construction company received government contracts worth more than 100 billion rubles (over $1,4 billion).

Like Rostovtsev, Fedyaev is a key player in the coal trade and profits directly from Donbas coal. His companies also oversee railroad transportation, machine-building, and the chemical industry. Almost every aspect of his business profit from the Russian war effort, and therefore he turns a major profit from the war in Ukraine and funnels it back into the Russian Federation.

On the home front, he’s faced scandals regarding the 2021 Listvyazhnaya mine explosion which claimed 51 lives. As head of the conglomerate, it’s been revealed that he was aware of the poor safety standards in his mines and did nothing to improve them. He was detained and charged with abuse of power but was released summer of 2022 by direct order of Putin.

As of the release of this article, Fedyaev has yet to face sanctions.

Why is it important to name these names today? Because these Russian businessmen not only brought the war closer but continue to finance it without any problems. Their names are not on any Western sanctions list, although their names and criminal activities were known long before the invasion of Ukraine. In the most recent ICPS report called ‘How to make anti-Russian sanctions more effective’ Ukrainian analytics did a research on Russian oligarchs who avoided sanctions. Of the top 100 richest Russians according to Forbes magazine in 2021, EU sanctions have been imposed on 26 people, US sanctions on 17 individuals, and the UK designated 32 Russians (as of October 2022). The Report lists the names of super-wealthy Russians who are still clear of international sanctions: Vladimir Lisin, Pavel Durov, Dmitriy Rybolovlev, and many others. When Western authorities spread the collective responsibility for all Russians, it would be better to start with the Forbes list.

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