Press Conference in Donetsk
After he visited a refugee camp in Rostov-on-Don at the end of last year, German Bundestag deputy Wolfgang Gehrcke’s (Left Party) Russian contacts apparently suggested starting a charity drive. Over €70,000 was collected between December and February, which Andrej Hunko and Wolfgang Gehrcke, as well as Junge Welt (Ed. – a Marxist daily newspaper in Germany), announced as being “medical supplies for a children’s hospital in Horlivka” (in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic).
Why did two Bundestag MPs engaged in a humanitarian mission not work together with Doctors without Borders, which has been active in Horlivka since June 2014? That’s one of the more harmless questions.
On February 14, 2015, Hunko and Gehrcke arrived in Donetsk with six tons of medical supplies, where the local “health minister,” Viktor Kuchkovoi, was pleased to reveal the “first humanitarian action in cooperation with representatives of the European Union [since the beginning of the war].”
“In cooperation with?” The Russian broadcaster NTV apparently knows even more: “Russia and Germany send tons of medical supplies to the Donbas.”
Dubious Russian Connections
Who were the Russian partners? Gehrcke explained this in Donetsk – members of the Russian Duma and the “Donbas Benefit Society.” Sure enough, soon thereafter a video appeared of the two German politicians with Vladimir Bessonov, member of the Duma from the Communist Party of Russia, who was also pleased about the aid organized by “communist MPs,” as he put it. This only became possible because of cooperation between the communist parties, according to him, and is being publicized on the website of Patriotic Front – ‘Red Moscow,’ a purported humanitarian project of the Russian Communist Party. The photos posted on the site also show Yakov Samushya, deputy chairman of the Donbas Benefit Society and assistant of the Russian folk singer and Duma deputy Joseph Kobzon, who since recently is also on the EU sanctions list.
The cooperation between ‘Red Moscow’ and the ‘Donbas Benefit Society’ has existed for some time – both organizations are members of the “Committee for Social Support of Southeast Ukraine.” This committee was founded by Valentina Matvienko, the chairwoman of the Federation Council who has been sanctioned by the US and EU. The committee is not an official state institution but uses the state’s infrastructure. Chairman of the committee is Nikolai Ryshkov, also on the EU sanctions list.
In August 2014, the Russian newspaper RBK wrote an investigative article about this committee under the title “How the Federation Council is equipping the Rebels.” According to the article, the ‘Donbas Benefit Society’ is responsible for delivering medical supplies to the so-called people’s republics, and ‘Red Moscow’ collects goods that they claim have no clear military use: camouflage clothing, men’s shoes, bulletproof vests, radios. A regional coordinator of the committee explained to RBK that volunteers [to fight] are also brought to the Donbas with these shipments.
At least there is no reason to be concerned that the ‘Donbas Benefit Society,’ as an NGO, will fall under the Russian law on foreign agents thanks to its cooperation with Hunko and Gehrcke and links to foreign money. While RBK is in possession of documents for the Benefit Society necessary for a registered NGO, the Russian justice ministry denied that such an NGO exists.
A group photo with Alexander Zakharchenko, ‘president’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, added to this round dance with occupants of the EU sanction list. Julius Zukovski-Krebs, an assistant to Andrej Hunko, claimed in a February 18, 2015 Facebook post that this meeting was not planned – hopefully it won’t upset Zakharchenko too much that he, of all people, was apparently the only unwanted guest.
MPs Face Unanswered Questions
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group points out that Hunko and Gehrcke’s entry in Donetsk from Russia was, from Ukraine’s perspective, an illegal border crossing. The two of them will have to clear that up.
They’ll need to clear up the following question: Why are Russian sources citing 28 tons of aid and sources in Donetsk only 6 tons? (See footnotes 3 and 4) Also, is it fully tax compliant to collect donations in a bank account that gives the impression of being a private account?
Was there something else? Oh, right, a quotation from Igor Morozov, a member of the dubious Committee for Social Support of Southeast Ukraine, from February 12, 2015, the day that Hunko and Gehrcke set off on their trip:
“There are already enough European parliamentarians who view Russia’s localization of the conflict in southeast Ukraine positively. The work that has been done by the parliamentarians, including members of the Federation Council, in friendship groups (druzhba) will bear results in a half a year. The parliamentary work in the bilateral format must be intensified, in friendship groups and for a variety of international events.”