Hendrik Weber, the founder and leader of the NGO People's Diplomacy Norway, which recently visited Crimea, has opened a company in Moscow that is tasked with introducing the peninsula to Norwegian tourists, despite the sanctions his country has adopted against Russia.
"This week, I have opened a company in Moscow. Hereby, we have the opportunity to bring tourists and interested people to Russia and especially to Crimea to avoid the sanctions," Weber informed on his Facebook page.
The newly-established travel company is based in Moscow. According to Weber, the location has been chosen to avoid the sanctions imposed by the Norwegian government, which sees Crimea's re-unification with Russia as a "hostile takeover."
"In Norway, it is not allowed to organize travel to Crimea, let alone make money on it. With the company being run from Russia, though, you can do this completely legally, and it is not against any sanctions that Norway has imposed. Moscow is a good base because it is full of lawyers and has good transportation to Norway," Weber told the Norwegian tabloid daily Verdens Gang.
Weber's company will focus on prepaid package tours. The main target group includes not only his fellow Norwegians, but people from across Scandinavia. In the long term, he hopes to enter the international market for business tourism.
Since 2016, Weber has visited Crimea several times, including when he joined an international observer mission to the peninsula during the Russian election. This spring, he also visited the late leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) Alexander Zakharchenko, who was killed by a blast on August 31. In October, he visited Crimea as part of People's Diplomacy Norway, an NGO.
"Crimea is perfectly suited as a resort. Fine hotels, great restaurants and the Black Sea, with a water temperature of just over 20 degrees in October. Its many sights invite you to (enjoy) a relaxing holiday." Weber described his journey on Facebook, adding some photographs to illustrate his delight.
"After my repeated trips to Crimea, I came to believe that the sanctions violate human rights. Business people in Crimea have no problems with the sanctions, it's ordinary people who are hit the hardest. Therefore, I do not think it would be unethical to do what we do, on the contrary," Weber told Verdens Gang, which confronted him on the ethics of his undertaking.
The company will be launched in earnest in early 2019. According to Weber, future tours are being prepared and the development of its website and a company logo are in progress. At present, the newly-established company is fronted by a Russian general manager, but Weber intends to apply for a work permit in Russia and eventually take over himself.
Norway's Foreign Ministry was highly critical of Weber's initiative and his previous trips to Crimea, which it views as "annexed by Russia." According to Foreign Ministry press officer Ane Haavardsdatter Lunde, his actions help legitimize the "annexation."
Norway joined the EU campaign against Russia, introducing several rounds of sanctions without and end date, targeting the financial industry, the energy sector and the defense sector, as well as all trade with Crimea.