Crimea: Eight years later

Grigory Yavlinsky
Russian United Democratic Party “Yabloko”

Higher School of Economics
Moscow, Russia

The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 laid the foundation for the current “special military operation in Ukraine”, or rather, aggression against an independent and democratic state. Watching the unfolding tragedy, we must remember this step as the first clear violation, when Russia ceased to comply with universally recognized laws and standards, and brute force played a decisive role.

The seizure of the territory of a neighboring country was presented in official propaganda as a major “geopolitical victory” and the restoration of historical justice”” In fact, it marked the moment when Russia began to separate from the modern world, broke with reality and began to rudely destroy relations between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples.

What has happened in Crimea since 2014? According to various estimates, by the beginning of 2022, direct investments under the Federal Target Program “Socio-economic development of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol until 2022” exceeded 1.3 trillion rubles ($11.1 billion as on March 8, 2022). Crimea also receives annual aid from the Russian budget in the amount of more than 700 billion rubles ($ 6.3 billion), and Sevastopol – 140 billion rubles ($ 1.2 billion). Major infrastructure projects have been implemented: the Crimean Bridge, the Tavrida highway, two power plants, an airport terminal in Simferopol, an energy bridge to Crimea, reconstruction of social infrastructure, etc. Approximately 70% of the regional budget of Crimea and Sevastopol comes from the federal budget of Russia. The region is among the five most subsidized in Russia. And yet Crimea has not become the gold standard for resorts, or a hotbed of innovative technologies, or even a gambling mecca that local politicians have been touting for so long.

Meanwhile, world-famous Crimean wine brands are being sold for a song to the Kremlin elite as a reward for loyalty. Similarly, state sanatoriums are distributed to oligarchs for the construction of private resorts, especially since more and more Russian officials and businessmen are blacklisted.

Politically, the regime implements three proven strategies in the “Russian Crimea”.

Politics and the media were eradicated: even the loyal artificial opposition, acting as “courtiers”, was sometimes allowed to utter only meaningless statements. The work of an objective press, not to mention independent media, is impossible, while hundreds of public activists are constantly harassed by law enforcement agencies and receive prison sentences.

The border region is being militarized: according to open sources, the concentration of military formations and weapons has increased many times compared to the period before 2014. Crimea has turned into an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”

Even by Russian standards, the complete incompetence of Crimean officials stands out (which is confirmed by the numerous resignations of ”ministers” of the Crimean “government” – some positions changed hands seven times in eight years), as well as the level of corruption, confirmed by regular reports of the arrest of officials for bribery or abuse of office – and I mean here only the last four months of 2021.

One could say that Russia has completed the assimilation of the region, although it is very doubtful that the population of Crimea expected such integration.

What’s going on now? Since the beginning of the “military special operation in Ukraine” Crimea is moving from a “gray zone” to a black one – a territory that will never attract investment and new technologies. After losing the opportunity to travel freely around the world in 2014, now its residents will have to wait forever to do so.

The Russian authorities demand that the Ukrainian leadership recognize Crimea as part of Russia as one of the key conditions for ending the “special operation”. Most likely, this will not happen, because Kiev will not succumb to direct political pressure and threats from Russia. Any other scenarios crystallize a single act: eight years later, the “Crimean issue” is still unresolved; Russia’s public separation from the whole world only exacerbates the problems created in 2014 and leads to a dead end. In fact, current events will postpone the decision indefinitely. However, the answer must be found. The solution of the “Crimean issue” with due consideration for the interests of the local population depends on holding a special international conference and making a decision that will not only set a precedent for Crimea and Sevastopol, but also serve as a roadmap for resolving similar issues between other countries.

However, what is crucial now is how the current tragic so-called “special military operation” will end. A lot depends on this, and not only for Crimea.

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