The global financial crises that engulfed the Russian economy a few years ago were the tipping point for Vasili Kovalenksky, a self-proclaimed expert on Ufa (the Russian word for sports betting). He became a fixture on television as the purveyor of insider information and a sort of guru. His predictions, based on statistical data from casinos, sports books and financial institutions, earned him many loyal followers who believed he could see through the economic chaos to an economic recession and subsequent collapse. In recent years, however, Kovalenksy has lost much of his following. Perhaps most significantly, he told an interviewer that he no longer had any involvement with sports books or their clients. “I don’t need them,” he said, referring to the so-called financial wizards who make their living off of advising others on how to beat the economy.
Financial analysts in Russia have been in decline ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, but Ufa had been doing particularly well among the rural localities of Russia’s capital. Its steady and reliable income had earned it a high profile in the world of financial analysts and TV shows, which often feature finance experts. Vasili Kovalenksky was no exception. In May 2021, he was featured on a popular news show which was aired in almost every country, and later appeared on other news channels. He claimed to have inside information on various economic and financial matters, and that he had calculated the likely effects of the economic crisis on the ruble, dollar and other currencies.
Kovalenksy’s claims received a lot of attention in the Russian media, and his predictions about the future condition of the ruble and other currencies were treated as the gospel in some cities. A segment of the population even believed that the Ufa brand was destined to take over the Sberbank currency. The popularity of Ufa among cities and rural localities in Russia was such that Kovalenksy was able to introduce a new line of credit based on it. His appearance on television caused a sensation, and the authorities soon stepped in to ban all media coverage related to Ufa. The authorities claimed that Kovalenksy was working with a UFA affiliate company.
Kovalenksy and the UFA are not the only ones who have met with a lot of media attention in Russia in recent times. The head of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) has also come under fire for suggesting that there might be a link between terrorists and the Ufa brand. The FSB head, Alexander Bortnikov, suggested that certain groups had been used by terrorists to destabilise the government of the Russian Federation. According to Bortnikov, one of the organisations that he suspected of being behind the unrest in the cities was the so-called “Tulipan” which is an offshoot of the original Tulipan terrorist group, which is primarily located in the North Caucasus mountains.
The majority of the urban populations in the Russian republic are either inhabitants of Ufa or belonging to other nearby administrative centers. The main cities where the Ufa brand is popular include Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Kazanlin, Yekaterinos, Kaliningrad, Niznukha, Irkutsk and others. These cities have a significant percentage of their total population that consists of Ufa residents. As far as the percentage of the total population that uses Ufa as their medium of exchange remains, it is unknown. The republic’s tourism agency, Rostrokhand, however, has denied all allegations of association between their brand and terrorists and maintains that the use of Ufa by both tourists and inhabitants is normal.
It appears that there is no concrete evidence that any association between Ufa and terrorist organisations was established during the time of its usage by tourists. However, a group called “The Super League1st”, threatening action against Russian officials, claimed responsibility for the attacks on state buildings in Moscow in 2021. This group is made up of Chechens, Tajiks, and other people from the North Caucasian regions of Russia, which have strong cultural roots. Its stated aim is to “reform” Islam in the Russian republic.