Do Not Forget Crimea

Volodymyr Kish

Almost two years ago, an almost surreal invasion of Crimea took place, with mysterious, well-armed and well-coordinated masses of “green men” suddenly appearing throughout Crimea and seizing control of this beautiful Ukrainian peninsula. The fact that these troops were regular Russian troops was no surprise to anyone, though Putin denied it strongly at the time. Since then, he has admitted that he lied about that, which also is no surprise to anyone. As the world now knows only too well, Russia’s President Putin has raised lying to an art form.

The invasion of Crimea set off a chain reaction of events that has led the world to finally take a stand against Putin’s barbaric imperialism. Russia has been economically crippled by sanctions, which, unless Putin reverses his course, will cause Russia to collapse both politically and economically within the next twelve to twenty four months. Already there are signs that the power structure in Russia is in some turmoil. Over the past month, two senior military generals who orchestrated the invasions in Crimea and the Donbas have mysteriously died. General Aleksandr Shushukin, the supposed mastermind behind the Crimean takeover, died in December at the prime age of 52.

Meanwhile the two million inhabitants of Crimea are facing a dire winter. In November and December, Tatar saboteurs dynamited power lines providing electricity to Crimea from Ukraine. Although the Russians were able to fairly quickly install emergency undersea power cables across the Kerch Straight from Russia, these were nowhere near sufficient to supply all of Crimea’s power needs. Additional power lines to meet the remaining needs will not be completed until later this spring.

Since the Russian occupation began, the economic infrastructure of Crimea has pretty well disintegrated. Most of the banks were Ukrainian owned and they quickly closed up shop. Most foreign ventures and investments also withdrew from Crimea. Tourism, the peninsula’s chief income earner was decimated. To further aggravate the situation, the Russians appointed a reputed gangster by the name of Sergei Aksyonov as Governor. Again unsurprisingly, the authorities are now running Crimea more or less like a mafia state. Even the Russians are getting tired of the situation. Although they claim to have invested some two billion roubles in Crimea since the occupation, Governor Aksyonov recently complained that he has received no Russian financial support. This has prompted Russian prosecutors to launch an investigation into just what happened to all that money.

Prior to the invasion, Crimea received most of its supplies, water, power and utilities from Ukraine. This source has now been almost completely cut off. A de facto blockade was made official last month when the Ukrainian parliament formally voted to suspend all trade and commerce with the occupied peninsula. Russia has been trying to plug the gap with supplies shipped by ferry across the Kerch Straight from Russia, but this channel is nowhere near sufficient to meet Crimea’s needs. The Russians have begun construction of a 19 km bridge across the Kerch Straight, which is scheduled for completion by 2018, but experts who understand the technical challenges involved, are highly skeptical it can be completed in this time frame. As Russia’s economy disintegrates and government revenues shrink drastically, the $4.25 billion cost of such a bridge would also become highly problematic.

In the meantime, the beleaguered Tatar population is becoming more activist, particularly those on the Ukrainian side of the border and those who have escaped from the occupied peninsula. In recent weeks, one prominent Tatar leader and former Deputy PM of Crimea, Lenur Islyamov, declared the formation of a 560 man Tatar volunteer battalion as part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Supposedly, Turkish President Erdogan has pledged support for the battalion as well as for the Tatar Meijlis government in exile.

Over the past week, members of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars gathered from all over the world in Kherson on the borders with Crimea to plan their next initiatives. Large demonstrations were held in Chonhar and Henichesk. They are determined to reclaim Crimea, and their resolve is to be applauded.

Regrettably the situation in Crimea has faded from most global media coverage, as Putin shifts his focus to creating trouble elsewhere. But the Crimean crisis has not gone away, and we cannot allow the world to forget Crimea. The continued Russian occupation of Crimea is not only illegal, it is moral blot and sin against civilized international relations. It cannot be allowed to stand. Do not forget Crimea!