May 27, 2015

"The Crimea Is Ours": Bleak Results of the First Year of the Russian Annexation of the Crimea

April, 2015 marked the first anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. And it may well serve as an occasion to make a review of some results of this event. How was this year for the inhabitants of the peninsula, and what consequences has this annexation resulted in? The answer to this question is given by the realities of the situation there.

Most of the population of the ARC, who hoped that their life would be better after the Crimea's becoming part of Russia, are deeply disappointed. In fact, the life there has changed greatly. To be exact: the economy of the Peninsula has deteriorated critically, socio-economic and ethnic problems have sharpened.

This is evidenced by the fall of the gross regional product of the Crimea by more than 11 % during the first year of the Russian occupation of the Peninsula. At the same time, the industrial production in the Autonomous Republic has decreased by 9.9 %; the volume of construction works — by 55.5 % (before the Russian occupation, the Crimean construction industry had one of the first places in Ukraine by the dynamics of development); the volume of cargo — by 32.1 %; the volume of passenger traffic — by 14.2 %.

Before the Russian annexation, there had been 54 thousand enterprises and 135 thousand private entrepreneurs in the Crimea, while in March 2015 there were only 22 thousand juridical persons and 39.8 thousand private entrepreneurs (falling by 2.5 and 3.4 times respectively).

Due to the break of the Crimea's ties with Ukraine, businesses of the Peninsula have lost orders. Russia is unable to allocate the funds needed for maintenance and development of the region. The West's sanctions introduced against the occupation regime of the Crimean Autonomy visibly affect the Crimea. Besides, there has risen a large number of controversial questions regarding the legitimacy of business activity in the Crimea. Most businessmen (except for “protégés” of the new government) cannot develop their own business because of staying in the “legislative vacuum”. In particular, there is no clear mechanism for the payment of taxes, especially by business structures that have their branches on the mainland of Ukraine, and in the occupied territories.

“Self-Defense of the Crimea”

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The Crimean economy is badly affected by illegal activities of representatives of the so-called “Self-Defense of the Crimea” (SC, created by Russia illegal armed groups that carried out the seizure of power by force in the Crimea in March 2014). In particular, representatives of the SC, without presenting any permits, demand from entrepreneurs at markets and in shopping centers to provide licenses, certificates, sanitary and other documents for “verification”. In case of failure to provide the required documents or of their absence — fines are imposed, with the threat of force included.

The economic problems of the Crimea have objectively led to a drop in the standards of living of the inhabitants of the Crimea (except for representatives of the occupying power of the Peninsula), which now are lower than the standards promised, and even lower than they had been before Russia's occupation of the Crimea.

For example, in 2014, inflation in the Crimea was 42 %. At this, the prices of food has increased by more than 70 %. At the same time, despite the Russian leadership's promises to raise salaries and pensions up to the Russian level, after the conversion, and due to the priority rates of inflation, they have actually remained unchanged (as of January of this year they averaged at the level of 10.8 thousand Russian rubles, or 3-4 thousand hryvnyas, while the prices of food and essential commodities have risen to more than Moscow's level). Moreover, due to the lack of funds, at the beginning of 2015 salaries of public sector employees were on average reduced by 30 % (like in the whole of Russia).

But even such trimmed salaries are not paid on time and in full. Thus, according to the so-called the Federal State Statistics Service of the Republic of Crimea (“Krymstat”), in April of this year, the debt in the payment of wages in the territory of the Crimean peninsula made almost 160 million rubles (all in all 65 companies had debt to 7.4 thousand workers). At this, a number of enterprises (primarily in the military-industrial complex) had not been paid salaries for more than 7 months.

Decline of the tourism industry of the Crimea

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Even a bigger problem is due to the decline of the tourism industry of the Crimea, which forms the bulk of the Crimean economy and the budget. Actually, it remains the main source of income for the majority of Crimean residents. In fact, the holiday season was disrupted in 2014, when the number of those who expressed a desire to holiday in the Crimea decreased by 50-70 %.

On the one hand, this was due to the boycott of the holiday in the Crimea by citizens of Ukraine (they always made up the majority of holidaymakers there) after the Russian occupation of the Peninsula. On the other hand — transport connection with the Crimean Peninsula has worsened as a result of the unstable situation in its territory (including the increase in crime and a significant deterioration of the criminogenic situation), militarization of the Crimea and destruction of its environment, as well as higher prices for food and spa services. The suspense (and in some cases, further complication) of these problems opens up real prospects for the breakdown of the holiday season in the Crimea also in 2015 as has already been shown by the May holidays.

Thus, actually, completely have been thwarted plans to increase the capacity of the Kerch ferry — the main way of direct connection between the Crimea and Russia outside the mainland territory of Ukraine. Besides, the declared intentions to reconstruct the roads linking the port and resort cities have never been implemented. The reasons are lack of money in the Russian budget and impossibility to bring the necessary construction materials to the Crimean Peninsula from Russia and Ukraine. Moreover, from the economic point of view the functioning of the Kerch ferry eats head off and requires 100 % subsidies from the Russian Federation.

Similar is the situation in implementation of the Russian leadership's intentions to construct a bridge across the Kerch Strait. Against the background of the Russian side's loud statements about the “beginning” and “successful development” of construction work, so far have not been determined sources of funding (the estimated cost of the project amounts to 228 billion rubles). This means that the announced plans are only declarative. This is confirmed by the fact that Russian private investors and insurance companies refuse to participate in the project due to the introduction of Western sanctions relating to business on the territory of the Crimean Peninsula.

A number of other problems, such as supplying the Crimea with fresh water, electricity and gas, also remain unsolved. They have been delivered mostly from the continental part of Ukraine. Today, it has resulted in significant losses of local agriculture (de facto no more than 10 % of sown areas are watered now), in soil salinity, as well as in sectoral power outage on the Peninsula.

Russia's attempts and airy-fairy schemes to eliminate the Crimea's dependence on Ukraine (including by laying power lines and a gas pipeline under the Kerch Strait, deployment of diesel power plants, increasing the number of artesian wells and creation of new reservoirs) require a lot of time, money and cannot guarantee success.

Worsening of the socio-economic situation in the Crimea causes a negative reaction from the population of the Peninsula, which shows dissatisfaction with the actions of the occupying authority. This is evidenced by the increasing number of protests both spontaneous and quite organized.

In particular, in this respect, the most resonant event was the strike of workers of Simferopol trolleybus park in autumn 2014 and at the beginning of March 2015 due to months-long delays in the payment of wages; as well as the organized by the movement “Let's Defend Sevastopol” in April of this year meeting against the illegal actions of the current government of the Crimea, and for the return to the standard of living that was in the days of Ukraine.

As expected, these processes affect the pro-Russian sentiments in the Crimea, more and more turning into open protests. Dissatisfaction with the current situation on the Peninsula is expressed not only by ordinary citizens, but also by some members of the occupying authorities. Moreover, there is a tendency to increase in number of supporters of returning the Crimea to Ukraine (primarily among young people who grew up in the independent Ukraine and compare it with the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin).

So, even based only on the data presented in the newspaper “Krymskaya Pravda” (“Crimean Truth”) (controlled by the Crimean Communists, always takes the most outspoken anti-Ukrainian positions), to date, more than 60 % of the Crimean population speaks in favor of the returning of the Ukrainian status of the Peninsula. Similar estimates are announced by unbiased Russian sociologists, in particular, by the well-known “Levada-Center.”

It is characteristic that the number of staunchest supporters of the Crimea's annexation by Russia decreases in the Russian Federation itself. In particular, in March 2014 for the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula were clearly 57 % of Russian citizens, while in January 2015 — only 50 %. This trend has continued and is now developing.

Taking into consideration the catastrophic consequences of this development of events for the interests of the Russian Federation, the government of the country is trying to do its best to avoid further strengthening of the Crimea's population's negative attitude to Russia. At the same time, due to the fact that Moscow is unable to provide a solution to the socio-economic problems of the region, the main direction of its actions is the introduction of the tougher police regime in the Peninsula.

In particular, rather strictly and uncompromisingly are suppressed all protests against the activities of the new government (at this, special Police forces are used). Telephone conversations of the Crimeans are totally bugged, people who dare to criticize the regime of Vladimir Putin and express their dissatisfaction with the situation in the Crimea are constantly persecuted. Activity of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar organizations and media is blocked and stopped.

In repressive measures in the Crimea, actively participates the Russian Orthodox Church (of Moscow Patriarchate) — one of the leading conductors of the Russian neo-imperialism and an integral part of Russian special services, initiating cynical enthusiasm, closing of churches and looting of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (of Kyiv Patriarchate) and Crimean Tatar mosques.

There have been recorded numerous cases of administrative punishment of the local population for anti-Russian and anti-Putin remarks, including in private conversations on mobile phones. FSB officers detain people, show them printouts of telephone calls and conduct questioning about the people with whom there were telephone conversations. After that, detainees have to pay fines of up to 40 thousand rubles and are promised more severe sanctions in case of repetition of such “offenses”.

Besides, has significantly grown the number of employees of the Interior Ministry, as well as district Police officers and patrols (including with the involvement of the RF Armed Forces soldiers) to prevent anti-Russian protests in the Crimea.

Within the framework of such actions of the Russian authorities, the main blow is against the Crimean-Tatar community of the Crimea, which has a special non-perception of the leadership of the Russian Federation. This explains the measures of intimidation and displacement of the Crimean Tatars from the Crimea by creating unacceptable conditions for their continued residence there.

Since the occupation of the Crimea by Russia, the following measures have been taken against the Crimean Tatar population: groundless arrests of representatives of all strata of the indigenous people of the Crimean Tatars; murder, hostage-taking (abduction) and torture; searches of offices and residential buildings; withdrawal of licenses for the activities of the Crimean Tatar mass media; prohibition of mass national holidays, as well as equating Muslim customs to acts of extremism; the threat to prohibit and eliminate completely the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; ban on the Crimean Tatar people's leaders entry to the Crimea; shameless seizure or destruction of Crimean Tatar businesses in favor of Russian business in the Peninsula.

Of particular concern is the cessation from April 1, 2015 of broadcasting of the world's only Crimean Tatar TV Channel “ATR”, the children's TV channel “Lale” and radio station “Meydan”, of the printed press — “Avdet”, “Kirim” and others, activity of the information agency “QHA” by the Crimean authorities' unmotivated refusal to re-registrate them, which is actually a violation of Article 16 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Such discriminatory actions of the Crimean occupying authorities in relation to the activities of independent Crimean Tatar media have caused indignation of the Crimean Tatars. The people's action “Do not kill the APR” takes place not only in the Crimea, but also in those countries, where there is the Crimean Tatar diaspora. Several prominent human rights defenders, journalists and public figures of Russia have also spoken against discrimination and threats of closure of independent Crimean Tatar media.

In such circumstances, in the Crimea, there is the atmosphere of the Crimean Tatars' mistrust to the Russians and vice versa. Due to the difficult situation, a part of the Tatar youth is leaving the Peninsula and the rest of it and the older generation are getting prepared for the worst scenario, not excluding the armed resistance to the Russian occupants in case of possible attempts of repetition of deportation of the Crimean Tatar population.

Against this background, Russia cynically shows “concern” about the inhabitants of the Crimea and the “development” of the economy of the Peninsula. One of these demonstrations was the visit to the Crimea of Prime Minister of Russia Dmitriy Medvedev at the end of April this year. Despite the obvious facts, he made a public statement about “growth” and “improving” of the state of the Crimean economy, especially of its defensive-industrial sector, which has allegedly received a lot of orders for the production of new types of weapons and military equipment.

Besides, Dmitriy Medvedev once again promised to give billions from Russia's budget for the support of agriculture in the region, solving the problem of providing the Peninsula with fresh water, gas and electricity, as well as for the reconstruction and development of the tourism and medical spheres.

 

Wonder in what this time will end these ordinary promises, and whether Russian law enforcement agencies will have to open new criminal cases of misuse (read — stealing) of federal funds in the Crimea, as it was done in April this year? By the way, according to the revealed facts alone, the amount of such assets is more than 4 billion rubles.

 

All this begins to resemble Chechnya, Abkhazia and South Ossetia...