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Everything works: How companies bypass sanctions in Crimea

Author : Angelina Avdeyeva

Source : 112 Ukraine

Sanctions in Crimea are working on paper but the reality is very different
19:00, 10 February 2020

Open source

Much time passed since March 2014, but US sanctions against Crimea are still in effect. At least formally. Nobody lifted the ban on Apple Pay and Google Pay, app stores, roaming, and US business services. Similarly, the new metropolis has no special loyalty to Crimea; That is, in theory, Crimeans and visitors of the peninsula, who would like to use the usual services for Ukraine and the world, would have to avoid twice as many bans. However, the idea, as is often the case, is very different from reality.

Google Play

Google Play failure was one of the biggest problems for smartphone users at first after the annexation. The add-ons were not updated, and to download and upgrade the OS one needed VPN, which slowed down the work. Among people the contacts of “that guy” who can upgrade the smartphone bypassing the updates. For a while, unknown Robin Hoods were giving away promotion codes for fast VPN for free, and then everything changed.

iOS device owners had it much easier: to make the app store work properly they just had to change their address in the account settings.

Now the situation for both is even. Back in the middle of the year, I noticed that applications could be installed via the mobile Internet. Moreover, they could be updated too (using mobile traffic). But it was impossible to do this when connected to the home internet. By this winter, the situation has changed again. Now I can download applications even on my home network. Photos synchronize seamlessly with Google Photo.

Error 403

In addition to content banned in the Russian Federation, which providers are blocking quite persistently, there is another troublesome type of resource. They are the resources US companies are using in work. For example, when trying to access AIN.UA from the laptop, it shows “error 403,” but there are no such problems with the smartphone in the mobile network (probably Project Shield - Google service for protection against DDoS-attacks does not allow it). If you do not have mobile internet, you can still solve the problem: you can send content to Pocket using a browser extension and read it right away.  

And other business services

In general, it all depends on the service, even in different products from one company there may be variants of their operation in Crimea. For example, a Gmail-based business account works fine on a smartphone, but Google Analytics does not. You can even access the program, even change accounts and run through the settings. However, it is the maximum you can do because the content does not load.

Slack on the smartphone only notifies you when it connects to your home internet but works well on the mobile network. The desktop application immediately notifies you of unavailability in the region.

Telegram

Again, the app works fine through the mobile network. Sometimes, of course, the connection is slow, and messages come and go with delay. Telegram never worked on a laptop on my home network.

VPN

It became more difficult with VPN has as these services are now banned in Russia, and Crimean providers adhere to these bans. Accidentally installed in Ukraine free application, refused to work here. But since the Ukrainian media, banned in the Russian Federation earlier, now open without problems and delays, there is no need for an anonymizer.

Mobile payments

For five years, the Crimea has been well covered with a network of POS machine with contactless payment. Finding a store without a terminal is more of rare luck (or bad luck) than the norm. The card can be used even at some shawarma kiosks. Cards are accepted in shops near the house, at bus stations. Most terminals are contactless.

Until recently, a grumpy middle-aged woman installed almost every terminal. She would lash out viciously upon seeing a smartphone, covering the terminal with her body with shouted: “How many times must I tell you, idiots, you don't approach a smartphone in Crimea, only Russian bank cards.” In fact, only Google Pay and Apple Pay do not work, but digital wallets of Yandex, Tinkoff and other Russian financial technology services work. And there are many of them here. Sanctions are helpless when it comes to financial technology.

Some of the guests from the mainland come prepared but most probably do not know about sanctions at all, and they have been making local saleswomen mad for years.

Cards of payment systems VISA and Mastercard (and digital cards) are accepted for payment in POS machines, as well as Mir cards issued in Russia (in fact, other cards cannot be added to Russian digital wallets).

I have no illusions about that one of the representatives of payment systems could explain how all this works and how come there are POS machines in Crimea. Apparently, everything is like with the app store - it goes through Krasnodar region.

The main thing that has changed since summer is the behavior of POS machines holders. They no longer swear and bite. All because a campaign to promote contactless payments from a smartphone with the help of Mir cards has started on TV (such are being issued here by the main Crimean Russian National Commercial Bank, so, apparently, the application quickly became wide-spread and cashiers - smart). Now the smartphone is humbly allowed to POS machine, and whether you have Mir there or not, nobody cares.

Banking services

In Crimea, you can pay only by cards of Russian banks. If you are a Ukrainian tourist used to the digital world or is afraid to carry cash, there is a way out. Russian financial technology is here for you. There are problems with Qiwi now, but other electronic wallets are working well. And you can have an account without a Russian passport.

To transfer money to your digital wallet, you need to identify yourself - online or offline. In the case of the service I used, the latter one needs you to look for a special representative of the service in the country, and now it is difficult to do it on mainland territory of Ukraine. But the online procedure takes a few minutes and costs 120 UAH (around 5 dollars). BankID is sufficient to confirm the identity online. Essentially, a smartphone with NFC is enough for everything except public transport payments and purchases on the market or rare kiosks with shawarma and souvenirs.

Cross-border transfers to cards of other banks in Ukraine are allowed, including transferring money to a card of a Russian bank or a fintech service, which is a partner of the bank and issues at least virtual cards. Moreover, the transfer from the Ukrainian card is better than from the local Russian National Commercial Bank. The commission is low. For example, a transfer of several thousand hryvnias will cost 50 UAH (2$). This is very accessible, given the sanctions and that it is a cross-border transfer.

Mobile Communication

Those who come to the Crimea from Ukraine have only one insurmountable technical problem - mobile communication. There is no roaming agreement between the operators, and it is impossible to receive calls and SMS from the mainland. However, calls is half of the problem, there are services that solve it via Internet. For example, Roamer. It is inconvenient because the number is not displayed. As far as I know, there are other alternatives. In fact, it is any service that offers to make roaming cheaper by making calls over the internet.

But there is one serious problem - no SMS. This cuts off access to many Ukrainian services. In Ukraine, it is strange that many services are connected to SMS authorization. Banking applications have already transferred to biometric authorization (by the way, it saves on the peninsula, as Privat24 works in Crimea without problems, fingerprint is sufficient for authorization and confirmation of payments). But service messages cannot be obtained at all. Even through Viber. Regular messages between Viber users circulate. But, for example, the messages from Nova Poshta did not reach me here. The only thing that can help if you are waiting for an SMS authorization is the customer orientation of the service itself.

In general, this is how sanctions “work” in Crimea. Cherry on the cake was the opening of Nova Poshta department in Chonhar right at the border, right next to the fence.

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