- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2015

Crowdfunding technology making news in the U.S. over gay wedding cake controversies is being used for a very different purpose in Russia: war.

Russian groups are using private payment systems to help bankroll separatists in eastern Ukraine. Some, such as The Novorossiya Humanitarian Battalion, openly state a desire to produce “modern, combat-ready” military units, The New York Times reported Thursday.

“Violent groups operating in war zones and their supporters abroad are exploiting advancements in communications and financial services technologies to more efficiently increase popular support and raise funds for their cause,” said Howard Mendelsohn, a former deputy assistant Treasury secretary and now the managing director of Camstoll Group, an advisory firm in Washington, The New York Times reported.

The newspaper’s reporting found networks that included “former Russian military intelligence officer credited with starting the uprising, Igor Girkin, who uses the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov; the dissident writer and Putin critic Eduard Limonov, whose neo-nationalist followers have championed the territorial expansion in ethnically Russian regions with far more vigor than Mr. Putin’s Kremlin; and a former “foreign minister” of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Yekaterina Gubareva, and her husband, Pavel, an ethnic Russian from Ukraine and one of the most prominent separatist leaders there.”

The groups constantly change names and shift assets as systems with ties to U.S. and European financial institutions are tracked down by authorities. Russian groups have also used a company called QIWI, which is affiliated with Visa and traded on the Nasdaq, the newspaper reported. Russia’s version of Facebook is another means to raise funds for rebels.

The groups seek to create a region within Ukraine that is loyal to Russia. That region is sometimes referred to as Donbass or Novorossiya.

“Anyone in Russia who wants to provide assistance to the [pro-Russian separatists] is encouraged by and gets support from the Russian government,” said John E. Herbst, a former American ambassador to Ukraine now at the Atlantic Council in Washington, The Times reported.

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