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4 April, 2011  ▪  Andrii Duda

Patriot Games

Party of the Regions is now the main funnel for money from the Russian budget—and some local Ukrainian ones—in support of pro-Russian activities

In early February 2011, Russian World, a nationalistic organization, heard some bad news. Moscow’s Foreign Economic and International Affairs Department informed the Russian Arts Center, an association in Crimea, that the Russian capital would no longer fund its activity from the municipal budget. In short, the Russian Arts Center will not receive UAH 1.5mn this year.

Moscow does not believe in tears

Transfers from the Moscow budget to pro-Russian organizations in Ukraine, primarily in Crimea and Sevastopol, have been the biggest source of funding for such groups in recent years. Under the Comprehensive Targeted Medium-Term Program to implement government policy regarding Russians living abroad over 2009-2011 approved by one-time Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov, RUR 325.4mn was allocated from the Moscow budget in 2009, and RUR 354.5mn in 2010. For 2011, the Program had a budget of RUR 371mn or around US $12.8mn. Crimean analysts estimate that one third of this was supposed to go to beneficiaries in Ukraine, that is, to pay for the activities of pro-Russian organizations here.

Many in Crimea believe that this item in the Moscow budget to fund “compatriots” abroad was actually part of ongoing embezzling scams set up by Mr. Luzhkov and his circle. Most likely, Russian taxpayer rubles found their way to Crimea in general and Sevastopol in particular, in exchange for allocations of land and property by local councils in favor of Mr. Luzhkov’s business interests.

In fact, when Russian President Dmitri Medvedev decided on August 28, 2010, to “remove Yuriy Mikhailovich Luzhkov from the office of the Mayor of Moscow because of a loss of confidence in him on the part of the Russian President,” many professional “Crimean-Russian patriots” were shocked and bewildered.

Compatriot wars

Cutting off money from Moscow does not mean that Russia has chilled towards its professional fans, though. It’s more of a qualitative change: these days, Russia prefers to fund people and organizations who can deliver the goods, such as government decisions, well-organized rallies and demonstrations, media events for Russian consumption and so on, rather than professional Russophiles.

Partly due to this, Party of the Regions has begun to monopolize the market of “pro-Russian services” and has gained control over money that the Russian Government allocates its fifth column in Ukraine.

Since last fall, Russia has been granting cash only to those organizations in Ukraine that are in the Register of Organizations of Russian Compatriots and are members of the related Coordination Council chaired by Vadym Kolesnichenko (PR). By the end of 2010, the Register had 141 organizations, including 25 authorized in Crimea and Sevastopol.

Professional Russians, meaning those who make a living on pro-Russian ideas for Russian money, are finding themselves in turmoil as competition takes its toll and they often end up squabbling among themselves. Far from all pro-Russian organizations are happy about Russian funds going through the Council. Indeed, the Russian Community of Sevastopol resigned from the Council and the Kharkiv Organization of Compatriots spoke against the re-election of Vadym Kolesnichenko as the Council’s Chair. The main reason for this dissent is the suspicion of “ineffective” allocation of funds, meaning that cash is not going to those who are complaining. But Mr. Kolesnichenko has two aces in his sleeve. One is Russian diplomats, who see him as a compromise choice, that is, someone they can work with. So, the Russian sponsors, including the Russian Federal Cooperation Agency, re-elected Mr. Kolesnichenko at a Council meeting on February 12. This suggests that direct transfers for some pro-Russian organizations will be cut, while Russian money is centrally distributed through the Council.

The other ace is that Mr. Kolesnichenko is a member of Party of the Regions. Since PR members are in top positions at government agencies, they are the most useful counterparties for promoting “the needs of Russian compatriots,” among others. But what is PR willing to do for Russia, in exchange for controlling substantial cash flows from Russia to support its compatriots?

A Ukrainian budget for the Russian World

Russiais not alone in funding the fifth column in Ukraine. Although no one is saying much about it, considerable Ukrainian taxpayer money is going into pro-Russian initiatives days. The formula for this set-up is quite simple: a PR-controlled local council approves a regional or local development program, such as the Program to Develop the Russian Language and Other National Languages, in a certain area and allocates funds to implement the program from the oblast or municipal budget.

On September 26, 2008, the Donetsk Oblast Council approved a Program to Develop the Russian Language and Arts in Donetsk Oblast for 2008-2011. This one program will cost the oblast budget UAH 7.343mn, or nearly US $1 million dollars. On December 20, 2010, Luhansk approved a Regional Targeted Program For Developing and Using the Ukrainian and Russian Languages in Luhansk Oblast for 2011-2014. Funding for this Program is UAH 1.9mn. But the title is misleading. The cash is allocated to support the Russian language only, while the oblast’s few Ukrainian schools are slowly being shut down. The utter cynicism of the situation is clear, when this is compared to a total development budget of only UAH 4.46mn for 2011 in Luhansk Oblast, even though, under Art. 71 of the Budget Code of Ukraine, it is supposed to cover all capital costs within the oblast including investment projects, construction, major repairs to municipal housing, and so on. In other words, funds that could otherwise be used to improve living conditions for the people of Luhansk are being spent on their supposed language needs. Similar programs have been approved at the regional and the oblast center levels in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, for instance.

For those who manage such funds, “supporting the Russian language” is not just their contribution to the Russian World, but an easy and effective way to embezzle funds. Just a year ago, in February 2010, the Audit Chamber of Crimea disclosed the grey side of “supporting the Russian language” in Crimea. According to the Chamber, US $130,000 was allocated for the Great Russian Word festival in 2008-2009, but the organizers never did account for US $77,000 of that…

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