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Russia’s largest bank Sberbank operates in occupied Crimea covertly to avoid further sanctions — report

Sberbank office №8619/0336 in the Russian town city of Temryuk, where Sberbank of Russia grants mortgages for purchasing Crimean real estate. Photo:
Russia’s largest bank Sberbank operates in occupied Crimea covertly to avoid further sanctions — report
The largest Russian bank, state-owned Sberbank of Russia, despite its repeated public statements about a lack of intentions to operate in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea, is massively issuing mortgages to purchase real estate in the occupied peninsula, according to the Ukrainian-language report “Crimean Banking System: What is Actually Happening on the Occupied Peninsula compiled by the Monitoring Group of BlackSeaNews and the Institute of Black Sea Strategic Studies.

The reason for the bank’s covert tactics in Crimea is Sberbank management’s hope to avoid harsher Western sanctions. Currently, the bank is on the US Department of Treasury’s Sectoral Sanctions Identifications (SSI) List and on the EU sanctions list, which restricts Sberbank’s access to the EU and US capital markets, but doesn’t include blocking the bank’s foreign assets.

As most of the world’s countries keep recognizing the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia back in 2014 led to a number of Western sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. Thus, involvement in business activities in Crimea may pose the threat of more serious sanctions for Sberbank.

The report reveals that the first mortgage agreements on the Crimean real estate to involve Sberbank were recorded in 2019, but now this type of activity has become widespread.

Webpage on Sberbank Real Estate Center’s website featuring real estate ads for Russian-occupied Crimea. Each advertisement has an option of applying for Sberbank mortgage. Screenshot:

According to BlackSeaNews, the conditions for receiving a Crimean mortgage from Sberbank are as follows:

  • getting residence registration in the territory of Russia’s Krasnodar Krai, adjacent to Crimea across the Kerch Strait – there is an option of temporary registration;
  • using the services of the Sberbank subsidiary “Sberbank Real Estate Center” to find real estate on the occupied peninsula and start a mortgage;
  • visiting a Sberbank office in Temryuk, Krasnodar Krai for finalizing paperwork.

Registered in Moscow in July 2015, according to official records, Sberbank Real Estate Center LLC that runs the website is a 100% subsidiary of Sberbank and isn’t on any sanctions list yet.

As of early November 2021, the website of the Sberbank Real Estate Center had 9,249 real estate sale ads for the “Republic of Crimea” – this Russian post-annexation name for Ukraine’s territorial unit of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Additional 5,097 ads were on the company’s website for the “federal city” of Sevastopol which is considered a separate territorial unit from the rest of the peninsula.

The website allows you to apply for a Sberbank mortgage without visiting the bank’s office and to launch the application process.

“Thus, Sberbank provides grounds for strengthening the international sanctions regime against it,” BlackSeaNews suggests.

NGOs to push for sanctions on 29 Crimea-based enterprises and their 60 Russian collaborators

Since the beginning of the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014, 34 Russian banks tried to launch operations in the region. Additionally, two local banks re-registered in Russia. Of these 36, 29 lost their licenses – six have already been liquidated while other 23 have been undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. As of 4 November 2021, only five Russian banks were openly operating in Crimea, according to the report.

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