Russian Federation (RF) considers the formal or actual “recognition” of the attempted annexation the Crimean peninsula by third States as one of the vectors for promoting its own “Crimean” agenda. To this end, the Russians actively use the so-called “people’s diplomacy” structures in target countries, as well as artificial “public structures” that “spread the truth about happiness of the Crimeans”, justify the Russian “administration”, promise to “promote investments, tourism and cultural exchange”. The representatives of such “associations” actively visit Crimea and the Russian Federation. They communicate with the Crimean “authorities” and with the “happy public”, and have rich “cultural programs”.
After all, the Russian Federation promotes this kind of “diplomacy” as much as possible. Such actions by Russians are in accordance with their ancient traditions of centralized propaganda, and therefore they are actively covered by the media and the expert community. In particular, it’s no secret that the so-called “Group of Friends of Crimea” was formed and presented at the “II Yalta International Economic Forum” in April 2016. In November 2017, Russian propaganda solemnly announced the establishment of this “informal public association” and pointed some organizations “in different countries” to its alleged membership. However, since 2019 there has been a certain decrease in the level of propaganda work of the Russian Federation in this area.
The participants and founders of such “membership structures”, are known to experts. For example, Detlef Wimmer, then the vice-mayor of the Austrian city of Linz, mentioned by Russia as the coordinator of the “Friends of Crimea” in Austria, was reflected in publications as the representative of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), primarily in the light of his visits to Moscow and Yalta, with relevant criticism in the Austrian press. At the same time, the activities of these “goodwill ambassadors in the countries of their residence were not covered by the Ukrainian media, and this gap should be closed. Consideration of the actions of the “friends of Crimea” at home, not in Yalta, will enable understanding of the real approaches of the Russian Federation both to this project as a whole and to the relevant “personnel policy”.
Let’s start the corresponding analysis from Austria and Switzerland.
Thus, the aforementioned Detlef Wimmer, born in 1984, made a military career in Austria, which would be surprising at first glance. In particular, Detlef served as a sergeant, not in a remote alpine village, but directly at the Headquarters of the Austrian Armed Forces. Thereafter, in 2011 he received an officer’s shoulder strap. Mr. Wimmer’s first education was law, received at the University of Linz, but in general Detlef professes the principle of “age to live – age to learn” After all, he received a master’s degree in public administration in the neighboring city of Wels, in the Hans Sachs Institute (the Wels issues will be discussed below), and also completed a master’s degree in management and information technology at the Plovdiv University “Paisii Hilendarski” in Bulgaria. His last education was received in 2020, and it is the University of London.
At the same time, Mr. Wimmer had a good political career, as in 2009 he became the youngest elected member of the City Council of his native Linz, and in 2015 and 2019 he held the position of Deputy Mayor in this city, responsible for finance, law enforcement and civil defense. As it can be seen from the publications of that time in social media, Mr. Wimmer not only posted photos of trips to the Golden Ring of Russia, but he also cared about street video surveillance systems, city firefighters, gatherings of veterans of various paramilitary Austrian structures.
Moreover, according to his Facebook posts in February 2019, shortly before his resignation, Mr. Wimmer attended the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR) event in Finland, namely the Young Reserve Officers Seminar (YROS). It is important to inform the readers that CIOR is a veteran organization that unites 34 countries (primarily NATO countries) and it seeks to represent the interests of their one and a half million reserve officers. This structure is closely integrated into NATO’s political system, with an official representative and numerous extensive contacts at all levels. But after a “trip to north”, something went wrong in Mr. Wimmer’s career, and he abruptly resigned and then suspended his political activities.
It is noteworthy that, despite Wimmer’s active work along the lines of “Russian friends”, he did not establish by himself any formal “Crimean” structures in Austria. Instead, the “Friends of Crimea” (“Freunde der Krim”) were “officially formed” by Scheinecker Christian and Johannes Karl in the abovementioned city of Wels, neighboring with Linz.
In Wels, “Friends of the Crimea” were “registered” in September 2018 at 25 Rablstrasse, in the office building where Mr. Scheineker’s business structures are located. And this should be discussed in more details, because Mr. Scheikner is the founder or owner of more than twenty companies registered mostly at the same address.
The website of one of Mr. Scheineker’s many firms, “Dr. Scheinecker & Partner” states explicitly that their interests are in “the best advices on your financial and tax matters outside Austria”. In fact, Dr. Scheinecker may be a “recognized expert” in money laundering and concealment, including the usage of numerous structures which he created. But, unlike the aforementioned young officer Wimmer, Mr. Scheinecker never led an active public life and was not active on social networks.
The aforementioned co-founder of the Friends of Crimea Association, Johannes Karl, is an architect and resident of Wels. Although his personal website is only a business card, local media reports that Mr. Johannes advocated the preservation of architectural monuments and even designed the embankment of the local Traun River. One of Mr. Johannes’s sketches is attached to the article as proof that his activities in this area are not the point of “ARC” interests.
Two other things are important for us about Mr. Johannes. First, the local media mention his cooperation with companies affiliated with the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB). And secondly, the address that Mr. Johannes marks as contact one on his own website (Wels, Alois-Auer-Strasse 1) is extremely interesting. After all, this restored two-storey building in the Wels center is the residence of Austrian large company “AGV GmbH”].
As you can find on the website of this structure, its main specialization is the supply of industrial systems for purification of drinking water from various impurities, including desalination, with a powerful Swedish company “Jacobi Carbons AB” located in Kalmar, as the key partner for “AGV GmbH” in this area. So, as we have determined the obvious interest of the Russian Federation through the “friends of the Crimea” in modern desalination technologies, in particular with the ion exchange resins’ usage, a question is: what is the ÖBB role?
In order to find this out, one should consider geography, including military. It is known that neutral Austria and Switzerland once divided NATO countries into Northern and Southern directions, and therefore communication with these countries has always been a special subject of attention of the Soviet secret services. Interestingly, the hub railway station on the highways connecting Austria and West Germany is, as readers have probably guessed, the same inconspicuous city of Wels, where “by a strange coincidence” the above-mentioned “fans of the Russian world” live or study.
Well, now I think readers understand – how and from whom did the Russian Federation form its Crimean center in Austria, which it so desperately needed. The example of Mr. Wimmer’s “brilliant end to his career” shows that the competent authorities from the five-story building with a magnificent view of the Donau-Canal have probably begun to guess something in this direction. Perhaps their colleagues from the Palais Modena will soon pay a little more attention to both Mr. Scheineker’s “laundry” firms and Austrian business attempts to violate EU sanctions on Crimea by building desalination plants there for the Russian military bases.
Now let’s move from Austria to the “friends of Crimea” in Switzerland. That move is made easy by the “kinship” of Internet resources. After all, the general web portal “Friends of Crimea” states that their structure was allegedly registered in 2018 in Rorschach, Switzerland, the canton of St. Gallen. However, there is no information about any work of such “unit” and even on its address in open sources, as its website can’t be found. At the same time, the above-mentioned Austrian “friends of the Crimea” have their own “website”, although quite formal, and among the few materials it contains is an essay done by certain professor Karl Eckstein. Namely, Dr. Karl Eckstein was declared the “president” of the Swiss “Union of Friends of Crimea” on the general “Friends`” web portal.
It is noteworthy that the “Austrian colleagues” posted the report by Mr. Eckstein on the project “Thematic Trail “Peoples of Russia”, which provides for the formation of the footpath track in the Crimea from Balaklava to Sudak “on the Swiss model”. This project, of course, includes the creation of the fund for “investment development” and the alienation of lands “for the arrangement of the trail”. It should be noted that Eckstein visited the occupied Crimea many times, actively playing the role of a delegate of the “Swiss business”; he voiced relevant commercial ideas there, in particular during meetings in 2016 with a “Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea” Ruslan Balbek. In addition to the “tourist trail”, Mr. Eckstein in 2017 proposed at the “Friends of Crimea” in Yalta to create “the internal blockchain platform for anonymous foreign investment to circumvent European and American sanctions” in the Crimea.
An analysis of professor Eckstein’s life shows that, in assisting the Russian services, compared to his Austrian “counterparts” described above, he clearly wins and can confidently claim the status of the “honorary KGB veteran”. Born in Germany in 1949, he lived and studied in Switzerland for a long time, where he received a law degree, a doctorate (University of Basel) and a barrister’s license. But professor Eckstein linked himself to Russia immediately (or already) after working as a lawyer for two years at the Federal Office of Energy in Bern, including the launch in 1980 of a powerful nuclear power plant in Leibstadt built by “General Electrics”. It is not known what exactly professor Eckstein could offer to the Russians from the nuclear secrets of his own country forty years ago, but his Moscow career went up quickly.
Since 1982, Karl Eckstein headed the Moscow office of the Swiss Industrial Consortium. As a lawyer, he represented in the USSR the interests of such Swiss concerns as “Nestle”, “Sulzer”, “Bührle Oerlikon”, “Andre Lausanne”, “Bühler Uzwil” and others. In 1986, Eckstein founded his own consulting company, “Eckstein & Partners”, in Moscow, dedicated to legal and accounting services and trust management. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the company’s practice has expanded to include “protection of business interests in the European Court” and “representation of clients in Interpol”.
It is noteworthy that according to the website of the company “Eckstein & Partners”, this structure “offers a wide range of services in Germany, France, Switzerland and Liechtenstein” and their activities are clearly not limited to the tasks of the “washing machine” created by Eckstein’s “Crimean friends” from Austria. Moreover, “Eckstein & Partners”, among other things, “generously” offers to its customers the Swiss citizenship, real estate and all forms of doing business in this country.
In order for the reader to have no doubt – how such a structure could operate peacefully in Russia for more than 35 years, from Gorbachev to Husnullin, I will add that the company’s partners include former Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov. And the project coordinator of “Eckstein & Partners” Irina Kladova, who graduated from Moscow Military University with a degree in translation in 1987 and then worked in Germany for five years, actually works with clients for all those confidential issues. So it is easy to see that not only professor Eckstein himself has the right to a Russian “general pension” in this structure. In general, Mr. Eckstein has little concealment of his “combat experience”, as he has Russian citizenship and his wife is Russian. Furthermore, in 2007 he became the honorary consul of the Russian Federation in Switzerland, opening his pretentions office in Zurich as a “Russian consulate”.
It would seem that it’s hard to add something to this story, which is as transparent, as a bottle of export-sent “Absolute”. But still it is worth to clarify something. In October 2018, a few weeks after the announcement of the “Friends of Crimea” founding in Rorschach, professor Eckstein was forced to terminate his own consular powers in Zurich. Moreover, at the same time he stopped recording on his own pages on social networks. Someone seems to have lost his temper and inconspicuous officials from Papierfabrikstrasse, 20 in Bern allegedly advised Mr. Eckstein, the esteemed head of the “East-West Forum”, of the “Swiss Russian Chamber of Commerce”, and of the “Swiss Russian Cooperation Council”, of the St. Gallen City Council deputy – to be a little more modest in the State that has given him the “ticket to life”.
But it seems that professor Karl Eckstein did not listen well to such allegedly “friendly advice” of the officials from the “Federal Ministry of Sport” (Swiss counterintelligence generally likes extravagant subordination). After all, according to open Swiss registers, in the same Rorschach in 2019, Karl Eckstein together with Mr. Markus Pflitsch founded the company “Terra Quantum” with a registered capital of 10 million dollars, allegedly located on St. Gallerstrasse, 16a. On the site of “Terra Quantum” these founders are confirmed, together with the attached “technical advisor” Gordey B. Lesovik.
The biography and achievements of these “founding fathers” of “Terra Quantum” warrant additional consideration. After all, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics Gordey Borisovich Lesovik, Head of the Laboratory of Quantum Information Technology Physics of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) is a leading Russian scientist in the fields of quantum metrology and quantum thermodynamics; he is a powerful specialist in quantum information and quantum cryptography and the author of innovative works on high-precision quantum measurements.
Perhaps Mr. Pflitch has even more regalia, as he began his career with the world leader in management consulting, the Boston Advisory Group (BCG), and then worked in Europe’s most powerful banks, “Deutsche Bank” and “UniCredit”, and then, as a quantum physicist, at the CERN International Center in Switzerland (Mr. Pflitch has a specialized education and, by a “strange coincidence”, he is a visiting MIPT professor). Thus, the Russian Federation does not grudge funds or personnel for the “Terra Quantum” project, the name of which can be translated as “tera-quantum”, i.e. “trillion quanta”.
It is noteworthy that more than sixty scientists are currently involved in this project, and “Terra Quantum” does not hide its development tasks in the fields of quantum cryptography, quantum computers and quantum networks on its own website. It is clear in whose interests this work is currently being actively pursued, near the very center of CERN, in the heart of Europe’s financial and energy systems. Therefore, we are sure that sooner or later (preferably not too late, of course) the Swiss “Federal Ministry of Sport” will carry out a corresponding “obstacle course” for the moderators of the “trillion quanta”. Although this is unlikely to happen in the glorious city of Rorschach, as simple monitoring proves that “neither physics nor lyrics” meet at the “official address” of “Terra Quantum” because there is the office center of a third-party Swiss charity union.
Summing up, it is worth to note the following. The “Friends of Crimea” group was formed by the Russian secret services as an obviously priority political and propaganda operation, in which the best foreign “specialists” were not spared, some of whom were “enlightened” precisely for such “friendship”. To a certain extent, this was done by the Russians in a hurry, without assessing the strategic consequences for the fate of the “recorded friends of Crimea” and “friends of these friends” at their home countries.
The response of the national authorities of the “delegates’ of friendship” origin States began after such delegates’ attempts to formalize the structures of “Crimean groups of friends” on such States own territory, but such response was informal and selective. Currently, the activity of “friends” is reduced a bit, but this Russian project itself has not stopped. Careful monitoring of the activities of persons, involved in the “Friends of the Crimea” projects, also as highlighting their commercial, business and educational ties are the important and interesting scientific tasks, because it allows reflecting the range of Russian interests in the respective countries. Open sources contain enough information to deal with this task.
Boris BABIN, professor