Who cares about EU sanctions on Crimea anyway?
25 May 2021

A gun-toting Greek billionaire, Ivan Savvidi, is making a mockery of EU sanctions on Russia, but no one in Athens or Brussels seems to care, posing the question: Is the EU regime a paper tiger?

The sanctions were imposed in 2014 over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

They banned EU nationals from doing business in Russia-occupied Crimea and blacklisted people who harmed “the territorial integrity” of Ukraine.

But the Savvidi family is involved in Crimea food-supply, according to a paper trail seen by EUobserver and by the EU foreign service.

Savvidi has also had business dealings in the Russia-occupied Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian authorities.

And he has openly funded pro-Russian occupation propaganda events.

The 62-year old was born in Georgia in Soviet times.

He made his fortune in the tobacco industry and served as an MP for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

But he is of Pontic Greek origin, became a Greek and Russian dual national, and moved to Thessaloniki in Greece, where he now lives.

He is known to Greek authorities, not least because he once stormed the pitch armed with a pistol during a football game by PAOK FC, a Thessaloniki soccer club which he owns.

But also because he organised protests designed to stop North Macedonia joining the EU and Nato, according to The New York Times and other leading media.

And because he co-owns the Thessaloniki Port Authority, a strategic asset, together with an obscure German firm called Deutsche Invest Equity Partners.

“Savvidi, in general, is a controversial figure,” a Greek diplomat told EUobserver.

“He has invested heavily in northern Greece. He owns a very popular football club … There is also a mystery about his business in Russia,” the Greek diplomat said.

Paper trail

The EU sanctions on Crimea “apply to EU persons” and prohibit “participation in ownership or control of [any] entity” in the Russia-occupied zone.

But a paper trail links Savvidi to Russia’s Assorti group of companies, which owns more than 25 supermarkets in Crimea, in what amounts to a pillar of Russian occupation infrastructure.

Savvidi’s wife, Kiryiaki, owns 50 percent of a Russian-based firm, Troya, whose Russian director has stakes in five Assorti-group firms, according to corporate documents seen by EUobserver.

His son, Georgis, co-owns Russian firm RKO, whose Russian co-owner has stakes in six Assorti firms.

And Savvidi’s cousin, Daniel Savvidi, co-owns two firms, Assorti Express and Region Logistik, whose Russian co-owner also controls three Assorti entities.

To top it off, the Russian co-owners – Boris Shapovalov, Sergey Yurchak, and Viktor Lyashko – are, in each case, Savvidi associates.

Yurchak, for instance, used to be Savvidi’s aide when he was a Russian MP.

But if the trail was meant to obscure his Crimea activities, then Savvidi has made no secret of his wider support for Putin’s occupation project.

He has been thanked for his “financial and moral support” for Crimea’s annexation at official events involving Putin.

His charity in Rostov-on-Don in Russia, the Ivan Savvidi Charitable Foundation, has openly funded propaganda events in Crimea.

Its Crimean Beacon festivals, in 2016, 2018, and 2019, for instance, invited Russian children to the occupied territory to celebrate its annexation, according to Russian think-tank and media reports.

And Savvidi has publicly used his ties to EU-blacklisted individuals, such as Crimea’s Russia-puppet prime minister Sergey Aksyonov, to lubricate his construction business.

“We … contacted Aksyonov, and he immediately ‘accelerated’ the paperwork process with his personal call, because he understood that our housing project was socially significant. We build houses for state employees, schools, kindergartens,” Savvidi told Russian newspaper Kultura in 2017, for instance.

‘Territorial integrity’

A second set of EU sanctions is supposed to impose asset-freezes and visa-bans on people “responsible for undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine”.

But Savvidi also used to supply cigarettes to Russia-occupied Donbas, according to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry blacklisted him for his Donbas tobacco operation in 2016 and 2018.

The fact he could move cigarettes across Russia’s heavily-militarised Donbas border meant he had close ties with Russian intelligence services, a British security expert, who asked not to be named, said.

By Andrew Rettman, EUobserver, 24 May 2021

Read more at EUobserver

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