PayPal Blocks Russian Account For Nemtsov Report On Ukraine War
15.05.15 | Carl Schreck
Ilya Yashin presenting the book Putin. War on May 12
The U.S.-based online payment service PayPal has blocked an account set up by Russian opposition activists to raise funds for a report alleging Russian military involvement in the Ukraine war, citing the political nature of the donation campaign.
Vsevolod Chagayev told RFE/RL that PayPal informed him on May 14 that it decided to block the account because of the political nature of the report, started by Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov before his slaying, which asserts that more than 200 Russian military personnel have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine.
"I talked with employees of the Russian office, they said that this is the official position of the company, " Chagayev said in e-mailed comments.
The Nemtsov report focuses on Russia’s involvement in the armed conflict between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. It has been posted online its entirety and published in an initial print run of 2, 000 copies.
The PayPal account was set up by the activists promoting the report to collect online donations to pay for an eventual mass printing and free distribution.
Chagayev says he opened the account on May 12, the same day that the report -- titled Putin. War -- was presented at the Moscow headquarters of RPR-Parnas, the opposition political party that Nemtsov co-founded.
Chagayev said the account attracted around 100, 000 rubles ($2, 000) in donations before PayPal informed him in the early afternoon on May 14 that it would be blocked.
"PayPal proposed to withdraw [the funds] as soon as possible, " he told RFE/RL.
Chagayev posted a screenshot of the notification he received from the company that it would block the account. The notification echoed the statement PayPal provided to RFE/RL.
A PayPal spokesperson told RFE/RL that the California-based company "does not provide the option of using its system to receive donations to political parties or causes in Russia."
"We made this business decision due to complexities of complying with the related control procedures, " the spokesperson said in an e-mail. "We regret any disappointment this may cause for our customers."
More than 200 Russian military personnel have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine, the Nemtsov report asserts.
The report was completed by a group of opposition activists and journalists led by the slain former deputy prime minister’s friend, Ilya Yashin.
In a May 14 post on his Facebook page, Yashin called PayPal’s decision to block the fundraising account “shameful.”
Russia’s liberal opposition, which operates largely on the fringes of a mainstream political landscape tightly controlled by the Kremlin, relies significantly on the Internet as a means of mobilizing activists and fundraising.
Russian authorities have actively pressured the U.S.-based social media networks Facebook and Twitter to remove online content published by Kremlin critics on the grounds that the posts violate Russian laws.
Both companies have blocked or removed content based on these complaints, eliciting accusations that they are abetting a crackdown on free speech in Russia.
Russian opposition activists also regularly use the online payment system operated by Yandex, a leading Russian search engine and Internet company, to raise funds.
Chagayev told RFE/RL that organizers of the Netmsov report on the Ukraine war have raised around 300, 000 rubles ($6, 000) via an account with that service, called Yandex.Money.
The report was completed by allies of Nemtsov after he was shot dead near the Kremlin in a contract-style killing on February 27.
Among other assertions, the report alleges that at least 150 Russian military personnel were killed during a Ukrainian offensive in August 2014, and that a further 70 were killed during fighting near the bitterly contested town of Debaltseve in January and February.
President Vladimir Putin and Russian officials deny that Russian forces are involved in the fighting in Ukraine, saying that any Russians participating are there of their own accord.
Kyiv and NATO say there is incontrovertible evidence of direct Russian military involvement in the conflict, which the United Nations says has killed more than 6, 100 civilians and combatants since April 2014.