By Nick Grothaus, Robert Kim, and Kharon Staff
July 14, 2022
The risk that cryptocurrencies could facilitate sanctions evasion has been the subject of numerous actions by U.S. government agencies since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. A Kharon investigation has found that a supporter of a sanctioned Russian terrorist group listed a non-fungible token (NFT) for sale on OpenSea, the largest U.S.-based NFT marketplace, attempting to raise cryptocurrency to support Russian fighters in Ukraine.
The Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) is a Russian white supremacist group that the U.S. designated, along with its leaders, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) in 2020. In June of this year, the U.S. sanctioned two RIM supporters and designated an affiliated Swedish national as an SDGT. One of the sanctioned RIM supporters is Alexander Zhuchkovsky, who has since 2014 used his account on the Russian social media platform Vkontakte (VK) to raise funds “to purchase weapons and military equipment for RIM and other pro-Russian fighters in the Donbas in Ukraine,” according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Zhuchkovsky has continued to use his social media accounts and online payment methods to assist in the purchase of military equipment and supplies for Russian forces in Ukraine, the Treasury alleges.
A Kharon investigation has found that Zhuchkovsky promoted and solicited donations for the so-called Terricon Project.According to its website, the Terricon Project was created in April 2022 with the goal of providing support to Russian soldiers fighting to “liberate” the Donbas region of Ukraine to create a breakaway state called Novorossiya (‘New Russia’).
The Terricon Project’s website says that cryptocurrency is a means to circumvent Western sanctions while raising funds from the Russian diaspora for soldiers fighting in Ukraine. Further, the site provides links to pages advertising the sale of two Terricon Project NFT offerings hosted on the OpenSea NFT marketplace.
The “Memory of Novorossiya” collection offers eight NFTs that each display the coat of arms of a Ukrainian city claimed to be part of Novorossiya.
The “Art for Victory” collection offers an NFT claimed to represent a Wassily Kandinsky painting, Murnau House on the Hill. Zhuchkovsky stated on social media that the buyer of the NFT will become the owner of the painting, which the Terricon Project’s website claims is being contributed by “friends of our project.” Doubts about the authenticity of this offering have appeared in media reports, including allegations that the painting is a fake.
In addition to NFT sales, the Terricon Project’s website offers ways to donate funds via cryptocurrency wallet addresses listed for Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Tether. A review of those wallets has shown a little over USD $1,000 of cryptocurrency was transferred into the Bitcoin wallet, while the other two wallets remain dormant. The website also claims to accept donations to accounts held at Sberbank, Tinkoff Bank, and the online tipping app CloudTips.
The Terricon Project claims to have already delivered 520,000 rubles (USD $9,500) worth of gear — including radios, a laptop, and a night vision device — to a unit of the militia of the Luhansk People’s Republic on June 1. Its website has solicited further donations to buy additional military equipment, including body armor, communication devices, medical supplies, and a quadcopter drone to weaponize.