WASHINGTON — The Novorossiya Humanitarian Battalion boasts on its website that it provided funds to buy a pair of binoculars used by rebels in eastern Ukraine to spot and destroy an armored vehicle. Another group, Save the Donbass, solicits donations using a photograph of a mortar shell inscribed with its web address and the names of donors. Yet another, Veche, states that its mission is to “create modern, combat-ready” military units fighting Ukraine’s central government.
These organizations are part of an online campaign that is brazenly raising money for the war in eastern Ukraine, using common tactics that have at least tacit support from the government of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Although they often portray their mission as humanitarian, most of the groups explicitly endorse the armed insurgency and vow to help equip forces in the two regions at the center of the fighting, Donetsk and Luhansk.
An examination by The New York Times of the groups’ websites, social media postings and other records found more than a dozen groups in Russia that are raising money for the separatists, aiding a conflict that has killed more than 6,400 people and plunged Russia’s relations with the West to depths not seen since the Cold War.It is a lengthy, soporific story, complete with online "smoking gun" screen-shots, that is bereft of the obvious: There is a lot of public support for Ukraine's pro-Russian rebels, something revealed in the recent Pew survey (Michael Gordon, "Survey Points to Challenges NATO Faces Over Russia"):
The findings on Russians’ attitudes are likely to be disappointing for NATO supporters.
Western officials have calculated that economic sanctions will eventually erode Russian support for Mr. Putin’s decision to intervene in eastern Ukraine, but he has remained extremely popular by riding a wave of nationalism and controlling much of the news media. Most Russians are unhappy with the state of the economy, but they tend to blame not Mr. Putin but the drop in oil prices and the West’s efforts to punish Russia.
Eighty-eight percent of Russians said they had confidence in Mr. Putin to do the right thing on international affairs, the highest rating since Pew started taking polls on the question in 2003.
“The Ukrainian situation continues to be very good for Vladimir Putin with his own people,” Mr. Stokes said. “The Russians feel the pain of the economy, but they blame it on the West, not on Putin.”I wish Becker and Myers would have included links to Strelkov's web site. I would make a donation. Instead, this is what we get:
The Western sanctions lists, for their part, have not kept up with the groups’ ever-changing names. Mr. Strelkov’s Novorossiya Movement, for instance, stopped soliciting funds after the European Union placed sanctions on it in February. Instead, it asked that the funds be sent to a related group, not blacklisted, called Global Initiatives, run by the movement’s chief of staff and chaired by Mr. Strelkov.
In early May, it morphed yet again, redirecting funds to yet another related group, ANO KNB. Later in the month, a group identified by the Novorossiya Movement as its partner, Strelkov Info, wrote that because of constant blocking of its accounts, “we’ve decided to not post them in places open to all”; donors could send an email “to find out transfer details.”
One interesting aspect of the Becker and Myers piece is its description of the virtual-payment company QIWI (a blue QIWI terminal is pictured above, photo by James Hill for NYT):
But the widespread use of QIWI has created potential risks for its partner, Visa. Nearly all the fund-raising groups solicit donations through QIWI, a virtual payment company founded in 2004 and later incorporated, like many Russian companies, in Cyprus. QIWI provides consumers in Russia — and increasingly other countries — with a variety of ways to make payments online or through a network of tens of thousands of terminals that act like reverse A.T.M.s, allowing users to deposit cash and then pay participating vendors.
Users can also move money to individuals — or charitable organizations — as long as they have accounts linked to working telephone numbers. Its partnership with Visa, begun in 2012, allows customers to use a QIWI-Visa credit card to pay vendors outside QIWI’s network.
The system has become wildly popular, used by 17 million Russians, but it has also skirted legal trouble. The company’s terminals and credit cards — along with the failure to require identification for transactions, as demanded by Russian law since last year — can be easily exploited to transfer proceeds from illicit activities, from drug dealing to tax evasion.Once the again the Gray Lady is pumping out the column inches, making it appear as if she is documenting massive Russian corruption, and in the end there is really nothing much there.
It is illuminating in one aspect though. We are witnessing the erection of another steel curtain in the Western mind.