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Wanted In Ukraine, Welcomed In Georgia? Pro-Russian Separatist Supporter Trades Crypto In Tbilisi


"You see, when I entered and left Georgia, they didn't interrogate me. It seems that they don't pay attention to such things," says Daniil Deev, who Kyiv accuses of supporting Donbas separatists.

TBILISI -- He's accused of supporting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine -- even posing for a photo with one of their top leaders -- and blacklisted by a Ukrainian NGO that monitors individuals who allegedly have committed crimes against Ukraine.

But not only did Daniil Deev slip into Georgia, he has lived and worked for over a month in the capital, Tbilisi, documenting some of his time there openly on social media. Posts on his Telegram account indicate the 22-year-old has kept busy by coaching Russians on how to make money from cryptocurrencies.

Deev was born in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, where parts of the wider Donetsk region have been under de facto control by Russia-backed separatists since 2014. According to the Ukrainian NGO Myrotvorets (Peacemaker), which aims to inform local law enforcers about foreign citizens who allegedly commit crimes against Ukraine, Deev is "an accomplice of terrorists and occupiers" in eastern Ukraine.

Deev's current whereabouts are unclear. In an Instagram post on September 1, Deev wrote he would be traveling soon to Russia's North Ossetia region in the Caucasus.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service reached out to both the Georgian Interior Ministry and the State Security Service of Georgia for comment on why Deev was not stopped at the border, but at the time of publication had not received any reply.

Georgia has been a popular destination for more than 300,000 Russians who have fled their homeland since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to invade Ukraine on February 24.

Despite the visa-free regime, Tbilisi has not always proved welcoming, especially for outspoken Putin critics, including members of Russia's beleaguered independent media, facing even more hardships at home since the invasion began.

But Deev appears to have faced no such problems traveling to Georgia.

"I have been living in Georgia for almost a month and I came here completely by accident," Deev wrote in an Instagram post on August 29, adding that he and "his team" were originally planning to travel to Turkey. Accompanying the post is a picture of a man, apparently Deev, wearing oversized sunglasses and a red cap as he stands on a busy street taking a drag from a cigarette.

In an interview on August 31 with the Russian-language Georgian news website Sova, Deev indicated he had moved in and out of Georgia unimpeded and that he had entered the Caucasus country with a Ukrainian passport.

"You see, when I entered and left Georgia, they didn't interrogate me. It seems that they don't pay attention to such things. Because after that I moved to Turkey via Batumi and traveled there just as calmly. I think that if I broke the law somewhere, I wouldn't have been able to enter and leave with no problems," Deev said.

Based on his posts on Telegram, Deev appears to be involved in the cryptocurrency business, writing that he advises Russians on how to profit from it. Other social media posts indicate he has been active in attracting new clients from Russia, noting that Georgia, along with Uzbekistan and Greece, offer the most favorable conditions for cryptocurrency mining.

In his previous life in Donetsk, however, Deev was a "propagandist" and "volunteer" for the Russia-backed separatists, according to Myrotvorets, adding that he was a member of a so-called separatist youth group, Young Republic.

Deev's activities in Donetsk appear to be well documented since 2014, when Russia-backed separatists took de facto control of areas not only there but in the neighboring region of Luhansk.

Deev took part in a separatist rally in the city of Donetsk in 2019 and was in fact interviewed by Russian state-run media at the event.

"We are fighting for the right to speak Russian. We are fighting for history not to be rewritten, so that people with Nazi swastikas don't walk on our streets," Deev told Russia's First Channel.

To further claims of his separatist sympathies, a photo appearing to show Deev shaking hands with top Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin was uploaded by Myrotvorets, apparently taken in 2018 at an unspecified location.

Tbilisi-based media outlet Sova said it had uncovered photos on an Instagram account registered to Deev depicting someone very similar in appearance wearing military fatigues and with the inscription: "I understand ZOV."

Zov means "call" in Russian, while the three letters "Z," "O," and "V" have been painted on Russian military vehicles used in Ukraine.

In another picture, an individual said to be Deev appears to be defacing images of Ukrainian soldiers on a poster, joking that they will one day fertilize the soil.

Asked about the incriminating images by Sova on August 31, Deev only confirmed that the photo with Pushilin was authentic, but claimed that he was not the individual dressed in military fatigues or the individual defacing the posters.

While the pro-Kremlin Deev appears to have had a hassle-free time in Georgia, critics of Putin's regime have faced a different fate.

In perhaps the highest-profile case, a member of the Pussy Riot protest group, Olga Borisova, was refused entry in June to Georgia, despite her having lived there since fleeing Russia.

Borisova, a Russian national, tweeted late on June 20 that Georgian police gave no explanation for the decision to bar her from entering the country, even though she now lives in the country and has an apartment in the capital, Tbilisi.

She added that she had instead been sent back to Istanbul, where she had traveled from.

Borisova and other members of Pussy Riot have openly protested Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014 and Moscow's unprovoked war against Ukraine.

A blogger from Russia's Kabardino-Balkaria, Insa Lander, has been caught in a neutral zone between the Russian-Georgian border since June 12 after the Georgian authorities refused to allow her to enter the country.

Lander fled Russia seeking political asylum in Georgia after she was charged with participation in terrorist activities over a 2014 online chat she had with an acquaintance.

Lander rejects the charge as politically motivated and calls it retaliation by Kabardino-Balkaria's officials for her investigation of possible corruption in a local charity foundation.

Independent Russian journalists have also found the doors shut in Georgia.

A journalist from Russia's independent channel Dozhd was denied entry to Georgia on March 5, RFE/RL reported at the time.

"It's obvious they didn't allow me in because I am a popular journalist in Russia," the reporter, later identified as Mikhail Fishman, said.

David Frenkel of the Mediazona website said he was refused entry at the Georgian border after a 14-hour ordeal. (file photo)
David Frenkel of the Mediazona website said he was refused entry at the Georgian border after a 14-hour ordeal. (file photo)

The Georgian Interior Ministry rejected claims that Fishman was barred from entering the Caucasus country due to his professional background, arguing Tbilisi had let in others from Dozhd, which was forced to suspend operations in Russia in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the invasion of Ukraine.

A few days later, Tbilisi blocked another independent Russian journalist. On March 10, David Frenkel of the Mediazona website said he was refused entry at the Georgian border after a 14-hour ordeal.

The latest Russian independent journalist to be denied entry to Georgia was Vasily Krestyaninov, a photojournalist who has been living in the Caucasus nation for nearly a year now.

"I don't have a home in Russia anymore.... Georgia was a refuge for me," he told RFE/RL's Georgian Service.

According to Krestyaninov, he was denied entry to Georgia twice, once when returning from Turkey on August 23 and the other time when trying to return from Armenia on September 3.

"I don't know what to do. I lived in Tbilisi for 11 months. My wife and apartment are there," he said.

While Tbilisi and other cities in Georgia have witnessed demonstrations in support of Ukraine and condemnation of Russia's invasion, the government has taken a more cautious approach.

When many European countries introduced sanctions against Russia, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili refused to impose curbs on the country's northern neighbor, angering the populace.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, whose post is mostly ceremonial, has voiced strong backing for Ukraine, saying Georgia has a sense of solidarity since it was invaded by Russia in 2008.

Written by correspondent Tony Wesolowsky based largely on reporting by Lana Kokaia, a regional fellow for RFE/RL's Georgian Service.
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