Savvidis Russia War in Ukraine

While the war is Ukraine is waging, Ivan Savvidis, a Russian oligarchin control of EU media and EU infrastructure, who has known ties to Putin and the annexation of Crimea, continues undisturbed…

A lot has been said over the last few days about US and EU sanctions targeting Russian individuals and Russian companies in connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Even Russian individuals or companies, which are not directly related to the invasion, but have extensive assets in the US and Europe are targeted as a means to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine.

There is however an odd exemption: Greece and Ivan Savvidis. Ivan Savvidis is a Russian billionaire that started in the tobacco industry, served as an MP for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and approximately a decade ago appeared in Greece – almost out of nowhere- and invested across different assets and business in Greece with focus on Northern Greece and Thessaloniki. The Thessaloniki Port Authority, which is the largest port in northern Greece and strategic infrastructure for Greece and the EU is among his many holdings that also include a daily newspaper, a national TV channel, hotels, a mineral water business, real estate and a popular football club. For the Greek public MrSavvidis became a household name due to his ownership of PAOK, the largest football club in Northern Greece and for storming the pitch during an official game to get to the referee with a gun on his belt. MrSavvidis was recently convicted by a Greek court for his actions with 25 months imprisonment on probation.

MrSavvidis is a Russian citizen,but also became a Greek and Russian dual national, when he moved to Thessaloniki. Interestingly he has been known to toe the official Russian government line for some time, as he organized protests designed to stop North Macedonia joining the EU and Nato, according to The New York Times and other leading media.

More importantly though according to an article in the EUObserver, he has been previously referred to the EU Foreign Service and EU Commission for his activities in Crimea as well as the Donbas region, which are in direct violation of the sanctions imposed by the EU for the annexation of Crimea long before the Ukraine invasion. According to the EUObserver, there is a substantial paper trail that links Savvidis to Russia’s Assorti group of companies, which owns more than 25 supermarkets in Crimea, in what amounts to be a pillar of Russian occupation infrastructure. But Savvidis has made no secret of his wider support for Putin’s occupation project. He has been thanked for his “financial and moral support” for Crimea’s annexation at official events involving the Russian president. His charity in Rostov-on-Don in Russia, the Ivan Savvidis Charitable Foundation, has openly funded propaganda events in Crimea.Savvidis has been also involved in the Donbas region and the Russian backed separatist movement that culminated into the current full invasion of Ukraine. MrSavvidis used to supply cigarettes to Russia-occupied Donbas, according to Ukraine. Accordingly, the Ukrainian foreign ministry blacklisted him for his Donbas tobacco operation in 2016 and 2018. The Ivan Savvidis Charitable Foundation even invited people from Donbas on holiday to Greece, according to the Stambulzhi Fund of Donetsk Greeks, a Donbas-based organisation. And Ukrainian intelligence considered Savvidis to be a “high-value” Russian “asset” who can be “activated at any time,” according to a senior Ukrainian source, who also asked not to be named according to the EUObserver.

It is therefore shocking that so far MrSavvidis has avoided EU and US sanctions. He has clearly aligned himself with Mr Putin and his policies in the past, he has been active in Crimea and the Donbas region in violation of previous EU sanctions, but maybe even more importantly he controls a strategic infrastructure asset in an EU country, which is nothing less than the Thessaloniki Port Authority. The recent turmoil in Ukraine has further underlined its importance due to its geographical position. With the Thessaloniki port being the largest port in the vicinity of Ukraine outside the Black Sea, one wonders how it can remain under Russian interests, as one can only guess what would happen if this port needed to be used for troops mobilization against Russia or help to Ukraine.  MrSavvidis also controls a popular daily newspaper and national TV channel that has been heavily criticized since the Russian invasion of Ukraine for relaying Russian propaganda and for their pro Russia coverage of events. OPEN TV – the Savvidis controlled TV channel is among the top national TV channels in Greece and currently provides constant coverage of the war in Ukraine hence making it a dangerous tool in Russian hands.

The UK took a strict line with Russian oligarchs and billionaires freezing their assets in the UK even if they had in certain cases no overt connection with the Kremlin or the Ukraine invasion. In this case, a Russian oligarch that is undeniably pro Putin, is suspected to have violated sanctions related to Ukraine, exerts economic influence and controls strategic infrastructure in Greece -an EU member country- and forms public opinion through his media outlets. Interestingly enough the Greek government has remained silent. And one wonders – what is the Greek government waiting for? Or what is it afraid of? Last time that MrSavvidis’ team, PAOK FC, was threatened with relegation, the government was given an ultimatum: the country will be divided in two if they proceed. At the time, it was decided to succumb to PAOK’s and its owners pressure and the government changed the law to protect PAOK. Is the Greek government to continue to turn a blind eye in view of what is happening in Ukraine and what is at stake here?