Did Crimea and Russia exchange Ukraine for the Taganrog region?

Did Crimea and Russia exchange Ukraine for the Taganrog region?

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Did Ukraine give Russia the Taganrog region in exchange for Crimea?

No, that's not true.

The Taganrog Okrug was administered by the Ukrainian SSR, but only briefly (1920 - 1924) and it was transferred back to the Russian SFSR 30 years before Khrushchev gifted Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR.

No, that's not true. The Crimea was joined to Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) for the same economical, culture and agricultural contacts between Crimea and Ukraine under authority of Decree of the presidium of the supreme soviet of the USSR on January 19, 1954. The Minutes of the meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU No. 49, January 25, 1954 have not mention about Taganrog or other citieslands: So, Crimea was joined to Ukraine without other supplementary conditions. More importantly - Taganrog was officially founded by Peter the Great on September 12, 1698 as first Russian Navy base near Turkey border. Soviet power was established on December 25, 1919, On December 17, 1920 the city joined the Ukrainian SSR as the administrative center of Taganrog Okrug. However, it was transferred to the Russian SFSR along with Shakhty Okrug on October 1, 1924. 1920-1924 - that's only. (the russian wiki Таганрог have more historical, economical and geographic details). Here is a link, find official archival documents (original) of Protocol # 49 - these documents prove that the Russian Federation did not receive anything in exchange.

Yes, that is 100 % True!

"There is one very important detail that somehow everybody today shamefully keeps silent about. In exchange to Crimea received (Minutes of the Presidium of the CPSU (Communist Party of Soviet Union) Central Committee number 49 from January 25, 1954) Ukraine has given up to Russia Taganrog and its bordering lands the size of Crimea peninsula in the Black Sea."

"Есть еще одна очень важная деталь, о которой почему-то все сегодня стыдливо умалчивают. Что взамен Крыма от Украины в Российскую Федерацию тогда же (протокол Президиума ЦК КПСС №49 от 25 января 1954 г.) передали Таганрог и приграничные к нему земли, по территории равные площади полуострова в Черном море."

Full text can be found here:

What Russia had received in return Crimea in 1954

5 Key Facts About Crimea

In the ongoing international showdown between Russia and Ukraine, the region known as Crimea has emerged as the top prize — a position it has held, for better or worse, for millennia.

Russian-allied troops in Crimea have taken hold of key targets — including airports, government offices and military bases — and Russian military leaders demanded the complete surrender of all Ukrainian forces in Crimea on Monday (March 3).

What is it about this peninsula that makes it so desirable as a geopolitical trophy? The answer lies in Crimea's unique climate, diverse culture, geography and often-troubled history. [The 10 Epic Battles That Changed History]

1. Crimea is semi-autonomous

Crimea has been a part of Ukraine since 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev "gave" it to Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. Since that time, Crimea has existed as a semi-autonomous region of the Ukrainian nation, with strong political bonds to Ukraine — and equally strong cultural ties to Russia.

Crimea has its own legislative body — the 100-member Supreme Council of Crimea — and executive power is held by a Council of Ministers, which is headed by a chairman who serves with the approval of the president of Ukraine. The courts, however, are part of the judicial system of Ukraine and have no autonomous authority.

2. Crimea's climate and geography

Crimea is surrounded almost completely by the Black Sea, and encompasses an area of about 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers), roughly the size of the state of Maryland. The peninsula is connected to the Ukrainian mainland by the narrow Isthmus of Perekop.

And Crimea — which rests about 200 miles (322 km) northwest of Sochi, Russia — enjoys the same mild, year-round climate as the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The climate is a big reason why Russian leaders are so adamant about keeping Crimea within their sphere: The Black Sea is home to Russia's only warm-water ports.

Though Crimea is recognized worldwide as a part of Ukraine, the Russian Navy has kept its Black Sea Fleet stationed at a naval base in Sevastopol (in southern Crimea) since the late 1700s. In 2010, Russia negotiated an agreement that allows the country to share the all-important Sevastopol naval base through 2042, in exchange for deep discounts of about $40 billion on natural gas from Russia.

3. Guns, gas and grains

Beyond the strategic importance of Crimea and Ukraine, the situation in the region is complicated by both the abundance and scarcity of certain natural resources.

Ukraine has been called "the breadbasket of Russia" for centuries, since the region produced much of the grain needed to feed the country's vast czarist empire. Even today, Ukraine is one of the world's largest producers of corn and wheat, and much of that passes through Crimean ports. (More than 50 percent of the Crimean economy is devoted to food production and distribution industries, according to Ukrainian government figures.)

But the semiarid climate that makes Crimea such a popular tourist destination also makes the peninsula largely dependent on Ukraine for water, as well as about 70 percent of its food, according to Slate.

The energy picture in Crimea and Ukraine is also tricky: Crimea relies on Ukraine for much of its electricity, and Europe relies on Russia for about 25 percent of its natural gas, according to CNN. Furthermore, the natural gas that Russia sends to Europe travels largely through pipelines that snake across the Ukrainian landscape.

That's why any instability in the region is bound to send shock waves through international energy markets: Crude-oil prices jumped by $2.33 a barrel on Monday (March 3), due in large part to jitters over the Russian aggression in Crimea, according to the Associated Press.

4. The Crimean War

If you're looking for a time when the geopolitical scene in Crimea was stable, you won't have much luck. The peninsula has, throughout its long history, been occupied by ancient Greeks, Romans, Goths, Huns, Ottomans, Mongols, Venetians and Nazi Germans. [In Photos: Amazing Ruins of the Ancient World]

From 1853 to 1856, the Crimean War roiled the area, as France, England and the Ottoman Empire fought the Russians for control of Crimea and the Black Sea. Russia eventually lost and ceded its claim to the peninsula, but not before the cities and villages of Crimea were ravaged.

Despite its devastation, the Crimean War was noteworthy for several advances: Florence Nightingale and Russian surgeons introduced modern methods of nursing and battlefield care that are still in use today the Russians soon abolished their medieval system of serfdom (in which peasants were bound to serve landowners, even as soldiers) and the use of photography and the telegraph gave the war a distinctly modern cast.

5. Crimean Tatars wield influence

For proof that the past is never really gone, you need look no further than Crimea, home to an ancient ethnic group known as the Tatars, who still wield considerable influence.

Primarily Muslim, the Tatars of Crimea were instrumental in making the peninsula one of the centers of Islamic culture. They were also known as slave traders who raided lands as far north as modern-day Poland.

The Tatars didn't fare well in the Crimean War or in later conflicts, and many fled the region. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin may have dealt the Tatars their cruelest blow: By shipping food out of Crimea to central Russia in the 1920s, Stalin starved hundreds of thousands of Tatars.

During World War II, Crimean Tatars were deported by the thousands to serve as laborers and other menial workers in Russia under inhuman conditions — about half the Tatar population reportedly died as a result. [Video - World War II Underwater Graveyard Discovered]

After the fall of the Soviet empire, Tatars began to return to their ancestral Crimean homeland, where they now number about 250,000 — roughly 12 percent of the Crimean population.

For obvious reasons, the Crimean Tatars take a dim view of renewed Russian incursions into their homeland, and are likely to put up some resistance. "If there is a conflict, as the minority, we will be the first to suffer," Usein Sarano, a Crimean Tatar, told Reuters. "We are scared for our families, for our children."

They may be outnumbered, however: While much of western Ukraine favors a greater political, economic and cultural alliance with Western Europe and the United States, the majority of those in eastern Ukraine and Crimea — where many residents are ethnic Russians — look to Moscow for leadership and support.

The crisis in Crimea and eastern Ukraine

As pro-Russian protesters became increasingly assertive in Crimea, groups of armed men whose uniforms lacked any clear identifying marks surrounded the airports in Simferopol and Sevastopol. Masked gunmen occupied the Crimean parliament building and raised a Russian flag, as pro-Russian lawmakers dismissed the sitting government and installed Sergey Aksyonov, the leader of the Russian Unity Party, as Crimea’s prime minister. Voice and data links between Crimea and Ukraine were severed, and Russian authorities acknowledged that they had moved troops into the region. Turchynov criticized the action as a provocation and a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, while Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin characterized it as an effort to protect Russian citizens and military assets in Crimea. Aksyonov declared that he, and not the government in Kyiv, was in command of Ukrainian police and military forces in Crimea.

On March 6 the Crimean parliament voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, with a public referendum on the matter scheduled for March 16, 2014. The move was hailed by Russia and broadly condemned in the West. Meanwhile, Yatsenyuk affirmed Kyiv’s position that Crimea was an integral part of Ukraine. On the day of the referendum, observers noted numerous irregularities in the voting process, including the presence of armed men at polling stations, and the result was an overwhelming 97 percent in favour of joining Russia. The interim government in Kyiv rejected the result, and the United States and the EU imposed asset freezes and travel bans on numerous Russian officials and members of the Crimean parliament. On March 18 Putin met with Aksyonov and other regional representatives and signed a treaty incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation. Western governments protested the move. Within hours of the treaty’s signing, a Ukrainian soldier was killed when masked gunmen stormed a Ukrainian military base outside Simferopol. Russian troops moved to occupy bases throughout the peninsula, including Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol, as Ukraine initiated the evacuation of some 25,000 military personnel and their families from Crimea. On March 21 after the ratification of the annexation treaty by the Russian parliament, Putin signed a law formally integrating Crimea into Russia.

As international attention remained focused on Crimea, Yatsenyuk negotiated with the IMF to craft a bailout package that would address Ukraine’s $35 billion in unmet financial obligations. He also met with EU officials in Brussels, and on March 21 Yatsenyuk signed a portion of the association pact that had been rejected by Yanukovych in November 2013. The IMF ultimately proposed an $18 billion loan package that was contingent on Ukraine’s adoption of a range of austerity measures that included devaluation of the hryvnya and curbs on state subsidies that reduced the price of natural gas to consumers.

Russia continued to solidify its hold on Crimea, and it abrogated the 2010 treaty that had extended its lease on the port of Sevastopol in exchange for a discount on natural gas. The price Russia charged Ukraine for natural gas skyrocketed some 80 percent in a matter of weeks. While Russia openly exerted economic pressure on the interim government in Kyiv, Russian officials publicly stated that they had no additional designs on Ukrainian territory. In early April, however, a NATO press briefing revealed the presence of an estimated 40,000 Russian troops, massed in a state of high readiness, just across Ukraine’s border. Subsequently, heavily armed pro-Russian gunmen stormed government buildings in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, Horlivka, and Kramatorsk. In Kharkiv a group of ostensibly local gunmen mistakenly seized an opera house, believing it to be city hall. As was the case in Crimea, a number of these takeovers were executed by men with Russian equipment, in uniforms bearing no insignia, acting with military precision. In the city of Slov’yansk in the Donets Basin, a gun battle erupted as pro-Russian militiamen occupied buildings and established roadblocks.

Turchynov imposed a deadline on those occupying the buildings, offering them immunity from prosecution if they surrendered but threatening a military response if they did not. The deadline passed without incident, the occupiers consolidated their gains, and Turchynov called on the United Nations to dispatch peacekeeping forces to eastern Ukraine to restore order. Meanwhile, he signaled his support for one of the key demands of the pro-Russian camp—a popular referendum on the conversion of Ukraine into a federation, a change that would convey greater autonomy at the regional level. On April 15 the Ukrainian military successfully retook the airfield at Kramatorsk, but the following day a broader effort to reassert control in Slov’yansk went sharply awry when Ukrainian troops surrendered six armoured personnel carriers to pro-Russian militiamen. As emergency talks between Ukraine, the United States, the EU, and Russia began in Geneva, Ukrainian troops in Mariupol repelled an assault by pro-Russian gunmen that left several militiamen dead.

Although all parties at Geneva agreed to work to defuse the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russia commenced military maneuvers on its side of the border, and pro-Russian militants expanded their zone of control, seizing additional government buildings and establishing armed checkpoints. In late April Volodymyr Rybak, a Horlivka city council representative and a member of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party, was kidnapped and killed by a pro-Russian militia. Subsequently, dozens would be abducted and held by pro-Russian forces, including eight members of an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission, numerous Ukrainian and Western journalists, and several members of Ukrainian police and security services. The U.S. and the EU unveiled a fresh round of sanctions against Russia, and Kharkiv mayor Gennady Kernes, a member of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions who had reversed his pro-Moscow course and declared his support for a united Ukraine, was seriously wounded by a sniper. On May 2 the Ukrainian government restarted its offensive against pro-Russian forces in Slov’yansk. Although two helicopters were lost to hostile fire, Turchynov reported that many separatists had been killed or arrested. That same day, violence erupted in Odessa, a city that had been relatively unscathed until that point, and dozens of pro-Russian demonstrators were killed when the building they occupied caught fire.

On May 9 Putin celebrated Victory Day, a holiday that commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, with a trip to Crimea and a review of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Days before Putin’s visit, the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, a Kremlin advisory body, had released a cautionary report about Crimea that sharply contradicted the officially published results of the March 16 independence referendum. Actual voter turnout was estimated to have been between 30 and 50 percent, with just over half of those casting ballots choosing annexation by Russia. As self-declared separatist governments in Luhansk and Donetsk prepared to stage their own referenda on independence, Ukrainian security forces continued to contest territory with pro-Russian militias, and a particularly bloody clash in Mariupol left as many as 20 dead. Those referenda, held in separatist-controlled cities on May 11, were dismissed by Kyiv as “a farce” and were widely criticized throughout the West. Widespread irregularities were observed: masked gunmen directly supervised polls, voters casting multiple ballots were commonplace, and Ukrainian police reportedly seized 100,000 pre-completed “yes” ballots from armed separatists outside Slov’yansk. While stopping short of recognizing the results of the referenda, which overwhelmingly favoured independence, Putin said that he respected the will of the voters, even as the Kremlin called for negotiations. The EU responded by expanding its sanctions against Russian individuals and companies.

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No More Obstacles For War In Ukraine. Russia Deploys Troops In Crimea

As of March 30 th , Russia has deployed up to 28 battalion tactical groups to Crimea and Krasnodar, with up to 25 more allegedly on the way, according to Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Ruslan Homchak.

He also said that Ukrainian formations were position in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast and in the Crimean direction.

Social media is filled with videos showing the movement of Russia’s heavy equipment towards Crimea and Krasnodar.

Video from March 29:

Crimean bridge. Deployment of Southern Military District heavy equipment. – reasons unknown.

&mdash KreatelyOSINT (@KreatelyOSINT) March 31, 2021

Video from March 27, 2021

Krasnodar region: movement of Russia’s Military. – reasons unknown

&mdash KreatelyOSINT (@KreatelyOSINT) March 31, 2021

Escalation in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea appears inevitable, at this point.

On March 29 th , the Ukrainian Parliament adopted a draft of so-called resolution on the situation in Donbass.

It is for the first time that the Parliament in Kiev adopted a document, which says that the war in Eastern Ukraine is a Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. Previously, the phrase “aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine” was used in Kiev’s official documents. Today, the war in Donbass was designated as an international armed conflict – war.

Separately, Ukrainian diplomats have raised the alarm this week over news of Russian plans to hold Ukraine peace talks without Ukraine’s participation. Allegedly, Moscow aims to bypass Kiev and reach agreement directly with the West over Ukraine’s geopolitical future.

Speaking in Moscow on March 29, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed to reporters that preparations were currently underway for a video conference between Russian President Vladimir Putin and fellow Normandy Format leaders German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, with the conflict in Ukraine set to feature prominently on the trilateral agenda.

Peskov stated that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyywould not be invited to join the talks.

“We continue coordination with Berlin and Paris,” the Kremlin spokesman noted when asked whether it was planned to hold such an event and when it could take place.

“When there are specific results, we will inform you,” he assured.

At the same time, Peskov stressed that the video conference was not being prepared as a Normandy Four summit, adding that it was planned to discuss a number of other issues as well.

When asked why the list of the participants did not include Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, Peskov said, “Because the issue at hand is not a Normandy Four event. There are many others issues for discussion. This is not the Normandy Four.”

The Kremlin spokesman agreed that it was impossible to hold such a summit without discussing the situation in Donbass. “Of course, the issue will be on the agenda in one way or another, but this is not the only issue,” he said.

He declined to comment on other issues that the leaders could discuss. “I would refrain from making any announcements right now. When everything is finally clear regarding the time of the meeting, we will let you know,” Peskov concluded.

Observers expect that a potential date for hostilities in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea would be between April 15 th and 25 th , when there is less humidity, and the roads are easier to navigate.

At the same time, on April 18-22, Turkey is holding a Loyal Bonus I 21 NATO Ground forces command exercise, playing out an Article 5 defense of an invaded ally.

Turkey’s interests are suffering in Greater Idlib, and it is not unlikely that Kiev and Ankara would, at least partially, coordinate their operations, so that they can attempt and strain Russia on two fronts.

Why Is Joe Biden Risking War with Russia Over Ukraine?

It is bad enough when the United States incurs grave risks to defend even indisputably democratic allies, if those countries lack sufficient importance to America’s economic and security interests. Too many U.S. allies, such as the Baltic republics, fail that crucial risk-benefit calculation. However, it is even worse when the United States incurs excessive risks on behalf of undemocratic allies or clients that have little intrinsic importance. And yet, Washington is making precisely that blunder with respect to Ukraine.

The United States has no treaty obligation to defend Ukraine from an adversary. Indeed, the notion that Ukraine should be an important U.S. ally is a rather recent phenomenon. Until the end of 1991, Ukraine merely was part of the Soviet Union, and before that, the Russian empire, and no credible American ever argued that the territory was a significant U.S. interest. That attitude began to change during George W. Bush’s presidency, but Ukraine still remained outside Washington’s geostrategic orbit. Even though both Bush and Barack Obama pushed NATO allies to make Kiev a member of the Alliance, Germany, France, and other key powers balked at doing so. Although they (correctly) worried that such a move might antagonize Russia beyond endurance, German and French leaders also had another objection. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalled that German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarded the government that had emerged from Ukraine’s ostensibly democratic “Orange Revolution” in 2004 as a corrupt “mess.”

Indeed, that pro-Western government did not endure, and elections in 2010 produced a victory for pro-Russia presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych. U.S. leaders were unhappy with that result, and in late 2013 and early 2014, Washington and several European allies supported anti-government demonstrators to oust Yanukovych before his term expired. That “Maidan Revolution” succeeded, but Russia retaliated by annexing Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and supporting an armed insurgency by pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donbas region. Since then, Washington has treated Kiev as a de facto NATO member and a crucial U.S. ally. Donald Trump’s administration approved multiple weapons sales to Kiev and trained Ukrainian troops—a policy the Biden administration is intensifying. In early April, Biden assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of Washington’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea.”

U.S. officials consistently have praised Ukraine’s political system and supposed respect for individual liberties. In congressional testimony, William Taylor, who served as interim U.S. ambassador to Kiev in 2019, described Ukraine’s domestic governance as “an inclusive, democratic nationalism.” Ukraine’s nongovernmental fans in the United States are even more effusive. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg asserts that the country has become “a vibrant democracy.”

The reality is murkier. Ukraine does have competitive elections, although the continuing insurgency in Donbas and the loss of Crimea severely weakened pro-Russia factions and correspondingly strengthened nationalist, anti-Russia factions to the point of dominance. Within that democratic framework, moreover, there are disturbing, authoritarian features. Earlier this year, Zelensky’s government closed three independent television stations, supposedly for being Kremlin tools. It was hardly coincidental, though, that the move significantly reduced the number of opposition media outlets, not to mention having a chilling effect on those that remained open.

Nor was such censorship the extent of the government’s recent troubling actions. In a March 27 decree, Zelenskiy removed Constitutional Court Chairman Oleksandr Tupytskiy and another judge, Oleksandr Kasminin, for continuing to “threaten Ukraine’s independence and national security.” Those jurists had ruled against the government in several cases. Their removal hardly was intended to foster an independent judiciary in Ukraine.

Such behavior continues the autocratic tendencies of Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko. In July 2015, Ukraine’s State Commission for Television and Radio Broadcasting outlined new measures to ban books, magazines, and movies that were guilty of “promoting war, racial, and religious strife,” and “threatening the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Prohibited conduct also included “humiliating and insulting a nation and its people [i.e., Ukraine]”

It soon appeared that anyone who disputed the government’s version of developments surrounding the Maidan Revolution or the conflict in eastern Ukraine was likely to be silenced. Ukrainian officials even banned the movies of French actor Gerard Depardieu, a critic of Kiev’s policies.

Authorities later issued an order preventing 34 journalists and seven bloggers from even entering the country. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the newly publicized list was merely part of a larger blacklist containing the names of 388 individuals and more than a hundred organizations barred from entry on the grounds of “national security” and allegedly posing a threat to Ukraine’s “territorial integrity.” Human Rights Watch criticized the Kiev government in September 2017 for imposing yet more restrictions on journalists.

Because of the North Atlantic Treaty, the United States already is stuck with an obligation to defend Alliance members, such as Turkey and Hungary, that are (at best) “illiberal democracies.” Washington should not put itself in a position of militarily supporting a similar country to which it has no such treaty obligation. Yet U.S. policies are leading to exactly that situation. Biden administration statements signal that the United States is even willing to go to war to back Ukraine in its ongoing confrontation with Russia. Risking war with a nuclear-armed great power would be unwise even if Ukraine were a model of democratic values. Doing so on behalf of a quasi-authoritarian Ukraine would be the essence of folly.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in security studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of 12 books and more than 900 articles on international affairs.

Putin’s twisted imperial logic: The (many) historical claims on Russian lands

Russian neo-imperialistic propaganda has been claiming that the annexation of Crimea is a form of “historical justice.” Perhaps, most famously, in his March 16th speech during an event in the Kremlin formalizing the annexation, Vladimir Putin stated that “ Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia.” Even though this claim is laughable (Crimea was a part of Russia for 204 years, 37 of which it spent in Soviet Ukraine, while the independent Crimean Tatar state existed there for almost 3.5 centuries, and the Byzantines ruled Crimea for 650 years), it is still an example of truly dangerous rhetoric that could trigger endless conflicts around the world. Perhaps the most vulnerable to that kind of reasoning is Russia itself, with vast territories once taken from her neighbors over the years.

Novgorod Republic

Originally a part of Kyivan Rus, Novgorod was founded in the late 10 th century and enjoyed de facto independence since the 11 th century, a century before Moscow was founded. With public assemblies and elected officials playing a central part in its politics, Novgorod was arguably the first example of a democratic government within modern Russia. A bustling northern trade hub, Novgorod controlled vast territories of what is now the Russian north.

Novgorod Republic circa 1400

Novgorod was conquered and annexed in 1478 by the Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan III, whose grandson Ivan the Terrible became the first Tsar of all the Russias. In a symbolic gesture Ivan III took down the Novgorod bell used to call Veches (public assemblies), ending Novgorodian republican traditions. Still, Novgorod has not been ruled from Moscow for almost half of its millennial history.

Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Founded by Lithuanian Baltic tribes in the 11 th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, at its peak in the early 14 th century, included territories of modern Belarus, Latvia, and Lithuania, and parts of Estonia, Moldova, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. It was a multicultural Christian state that ruled over vast lands in what is now Western Russia. Their control of Russian Orthodox lands did not sit well with Moscow, which aimed to “reunite” all the territories of the former Kyivan Rus. These territories were conquered by the Tsars in a series of wars with Lithuania and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth spanning over a century. The best-known episode of these conflicts is the 1514 battle of Orsha, where a combined Polish-Lithuanian force of 30,000 defeated a Muscovite army of 80,000 men.

Territories ceded by Poland-Lithuania in one of the wars, including parts of modern Ukraine.

The Battle of Orsha is a defining historical moment for Belarusian nationalists, who trace their origin to the Grand Duchy. Recently, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko denounced the Russian annexation of Crimea and reminded Putin of Belarusian claims to the lands of Bryansk and Smolensk, the latter transferred from the nascent Soviet Belarus to Russia in 1919, mirroring the transfer of Crimea.

By the 16 th century, the once-great Golden Horde was fractured into several warring khanates. The rulers of Muscovy, once appointed by the Khan, had overthrown their Tatar overlords and looked to the East. In 1552, Ivan the Terrible captured, sacked, and nearly destroyed Kazan, forcing the Tatars out. Astrakhan, although originally intended to be annexed peacefully by installing a pro-Russian khan, eventually suffered the same fate in 1556, and its capital Xacítarxan never recovered. The Tatars of Siberia Khanate were also conquered by conquistador-like Cossack forces during Ivan IV’s reign in 1582.

It should be noted that the Tatars at that point were not foreign newcomers, but a mixture of a broad number of indigenous peoples with the Mongol elites, much like how the Normans and Saxons eventually formed the English ethnicity. Under Russian rule they endured Christianization and forced eviction from their lands, resulting in a number of uprisings that were often brutally quelled by Russian troops. Presently, some of these peoples enjoy local autonomy in name only, with Moscow’s grip on the “national republics” as tight as any Russian region.

The Caucasus

The Russian conquest of the Caucasus is perhaps one of the most gruesome parts of early modern Russian history. The wars that lasted from 1817 to 1874 were characterized by fierce resistance, punitive actions, and ethnic cleansings, the most well-known of the latter occurring during the conquest of Circassia in the North Caucasus. Modern Circassian activists label these events as the “Circassian Genocide” and were recently outraged by the Sochi Olympics being held in the ancient Circassian lands.

This map shows the extent of Circassia, with the Sochi Olympics sites marked in red

During the war, Russia saw the first wave of Islamic insurgency in history, which was waged by Imam Shamil for decades. History repeated itself one and a half centuries later, when the crackdown on Chechen separatism (accompanied by numerous atrocities by the Russian military) sparked a wave of jihad across the Caucasus that has continued until the present, occasionally spilling into Russia proper. Holding Chechnya came at the cost of hundreds of civilian Russian lives and billions transferred from the federal budget as effective tribute to the Caucasus autonomous republics, including the Chechen dictator Kadyrov, himself a former insurgent, and his cronies and clansmen. This policy has repeatedly come under fire from even the most die-hard Russian nationalists, their popular slogan being “Stop feeding the Caucasus!” A Russian nationalist intellectual, Konstantin Krylov, was sentenced to 120 hours of correctional labor for urging the “end this weird economic system.”

The Russian-Chinese border clashes started in the 17 th century, during the Russian colonization of Siberia. At that time Russia failed to gain the lands north of the Amur river, which forms the modern Russian-Chinese border. Numerous treaties confirmed Chinese sovereignty over territories of modern Southeastern Russia (known in Russian as Priamurye and Primorye).

The Russian-Chinese border in the 18th century under Peter the Great ran much further north then it does now.

In the 19 th century, when China fell on hard times and was forced to fight most European powers in the Opium wars, the Russian Empire threatened to open a second front in the north and annexed the territories north of the Amur river and the Pacific coast, later legitimized by the Treaty of Aigun . Islands on the Amur river became the battleground of Sino-Soviet border conflicts in the 1970s, and fears of an overpopulated China reclaiming the vast and sparsely settled Amur region still sour Russian-Chinese relations.

Perhaps the most well-known Russian territorial dispute is the one with Japan over the Pacific Kuril islands. In the 19 th century, exploration and settlement of the Kurils and Sakhalin by the sprawling Russian Empire and modernization of Meiji Japan happened almost simultaneously. The Treaty of St. Petersburg in 1875 formalized Japanese control over the Kurils in exchange for dropping claims to Sakhalin. After the Russo-Japanese war, which ended in disaster for Russia and sparked the first Russian Revolution, southern Sakhalin came under Japanese control and remained that way for another 40 years.

Map of Japan showing the acquisition of the Kurils and Southern Sakhalin

In the last months of the Second World War, the Soviet Union denounced their non-aggression pact with Japan and attacked Japanese-held Manchuria, Korea, and the Pacific Islands. The Japanese-settled Kurils were invaded and occupied by Soviet marines, and the Japanese villagers were forced out . Later, these acquisitions were legitimized by post-war Allied conferences. However, Japan views the four southern Kuril islands as not covered by those treaties and maintains the claim to them to this day, which has led to the failure to negotiate a formal Russian-Japanese peace treaty 70 years after the war.

East Prussia

Another dubious post-WW2 Russian acquisition was the “Kaliningrad Oblast” – a part of German East Prussia, with its capital of Konigsberg, renamed to Kaliningrad in honor of Soviet figurehead Mikhail Kalinin. Since 1618, the German-settled East Prussia was part of the Duchy of Brandenburg, which later became the Kingdom of Prussia and eventually formed the modern German state. While East Prussia was briefly claimed by Russia during the Seven Years’ War in the 18 th century, by the time of WW2 it had been a part of Germany for more than three centuries. The 1945 annexation was followed with forcible expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Germans from their homeland, only the magnificent Prussian architecture remaining as a reminder of Kaliningrad’s former inhabitants.

Modern Kaliningrad recently served as a great example of Russia’s hypocrisy and double standards in dealing with separatist movements inside and outside of Russia. In an apparent mockery of Russian flags hoisted in Crimea and Donbas, on March 11, 2014 the German tricolor was raised over the garage of the local Federal Security Service department. The three young men who performed this act are now facing long prison sentences under Russia’s new anti-separatism laws.

The vast majority of modern Ukraine was not ruled from Moscow before the 17 th century, while the Ukrainian-speaking population inhabited lands stretching far to the east of the modern Russian-Ukrainian border. These territories, comprising modern Russian Kursk, Belgorod, Rostov, and Krasnodar regions, were claimed by the Ukrainian People’s Republic that declared independence from Russia in 1918.

One of the first maps of independent Ukraine, although far from all of these areas were controlled by Kyiv in the chaos of the Independence War.

Some of those lands were ceded from Soviet Ukraine to Russia in 1919-1924, including several rural districts and the cities of Belgorod and Taganrog, despite their population being Ukrainian-speaking. Judging by Russia’s logic, Ukraine could send troops to those regions anytime Russia is thrown into a crisis.

Granted, all these claims based entirely on historical precedent may seem laughable and certainly not an excuse for a partition of Russia. However, Putin’s claims to Crimea and “Novorossiya” are no less laughable, yet they resulted in thousands of deaths and Russia’s rapid slide into a diplomatic and economic crisis. The moral, perhaps, is that historical claims are a thing of the past and definitely should not play any role in present-day international politics.

The consequences of the annexation of Crimea

On 16 March, an illegal referendum was held on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the separate municipality of Sevastopol, in which 96.8% of voters opted to join the Russian Federation as its subjects, with a turnout of 83.1%. The results of the referendum, during which significant abuses occurred, have no meaning. They only provide a ‘fig leaf’ for the decision Russia had already taken to separate Crimea from Ukraine. 18 March saw Moscow proclaiming the annexation of Crimea (both the Republic and Sevastopol) to the Russian Federation as two of its entities. This decision has not been recognised by Kyiv.

For Ukraine, the loss of Crimea – in addition to its geopolitical and military importance, as well as its impact on the internal political scene (more on which in subsequent analyses) – is associated with the economic consequences resulting from the loss of state property located on the peninsula, including in the energy and mining sectors, as well as the port infrastructure, which is significant for Ukrainian exporters.

For the Russian authorities, the takeover of Crimea is a propaganda success for domestic consumption, but it is associated with significant costs on the international political scene (Russia has acquired the image of a dangerous and unpredictable state), as well as financially (one preliminary estimate puts the total cost of annexation at $82 billion).

The secession of Crimea also confronts the new authorities on the peninsula with a number of serious problems related to the need to establish a new relationship with Ukraine, on which the region is profoundly dependent (such as deliveries of raw materials and supplies, the transport and tourism sectors, the need to rebuild the financial system, etc.).

The problem of demarcation

The de facto land border between Ukraine and Crimea (Russia) will be the existing border between the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the Kherson region of Ukraine, a total of around 20 km. Russia may attempt to grab part of the Arabat Spit belonging to the Kherson region (on Crimea’s eastern shore) in order to control the gas pipeline compressor station there which supplies Crimea.

The previous negotiations on delimiting the waters of the Azov Sea are no longer relevant, as the starting points for such a division have now changed fundamentally. Moreover, it will be necessary to demarcate the waters and the continental shelf west of Crimea, where valuable fisheries, oil and natural gas are found and to determine the courses of the shipping routes to the ports of Odessa, Belgorod, Nikolayev and Kherson. Kyiv will not want to hold any talks on these matters, because to do so would be an acknowledgement of the territorial changes.

In all likelihood, the Ukrainian government will instead insist on speeding up the demarcation of the Ukrainian/Russian land border beyond Crimea (work on this has been ongoing for several years, and should now be resumed after the winter break), although Moscow will almost certainly sabotage them. Until there is a political solution, passport and customs checkpoints on the de facto Crimean border are unlikely to be built.

Crimea’s dependence on Ukraine

Crimea is dependent on supplies from Ukraine of water, for agricultural and industrial products (75-80%), and electricity (80-85%). Supplies of natural gas are probably only important for certain industrial plants Crimea extracts a significant amount of this material itself, and is able to meet the vast majority of the needs from its own territory (currently over 80%).

Kyiv is unlikely to interrupt the supply of these raw materials to Crimea, above all because that would mean a de facto abandonment of its sovereign rights over the peninsula (the formalities connected with continuing supplies will probably be governed by a law on the status of the occupied territories prepared in Kyiv), and also because Russia could treat such a move as a casus belli and use force to take over the hydroelectric power plant in Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region (the Kakhov Bay is also a water source for Crimea).

If Kyiv (or both parties) close the land border between the peninsula and the rest of Ukraine (i.e. the two railway lines, two major and two minor roads), the only way to supply Crimea would be the Kerch ferry. As this is inadequate for the purpose (a bridge over the Strait of Kerch could not be built in the space of a few months), this would cause not only serious supply difficulties, but would also contribute to the collapse of the tourism industry (the much longer rail route would be an additional disincentive for tourists from Moscow, etc.).

Consequences for Crimea

The major problems are linked to the separation of Crimea’s budget from Ukraine, and of the Crimean financial system from that of Ukraine. In 2013, two-thirds of the Crimean budget was based on transfers from the central budget (80% in the case of Sevastopol).

These disturbances have affected the banking sector in Crimea, where local branches of banks operate whose head offices are in Kyiv. The Crimean authorities are putting the Russian rouble into circulation, which will force banks to adapt to a new situation (the transitional period is to last until 2016). However, even before the referendum, the Crimean authorities had introduced severe limits on withdrawals from savings accounts denominated in Ukrainian hryvnia.

Another particularly important issue for the residents of the peninsula is the uncertain income from tourism. Russia’s militarisation of the peninsula could, especially in the short term, result in the collapse of proceeds from tourism, and strike especially hard at the small and medium businesses on Crimea’s southern coast. Approximately 70% of tourists coming to Crimea were from Ukraine, who in the current environment will probably not come any more.

There will also be problems with issuing new ownership and property documents, as Ukraine has blocked access to the central registry for Crimean sites, and the Crimean autonomous government did not make its own records.

We should also expect pressure to be put on the Crimean Tatars, primarily to force them voluntarily to leave the land they occupy. If this is not associated with the legalisation of owning at least those properties on which residential buildings have already been established, the Crimean Tatar community’s opposition to the new government will be strengthen, accelerating their radicalisation.

The economic consequences for Ukraine

From an economic point of view, the effect of losing Crimea on the Ukrainian economy as a whole will have limited macroeconomic consequences (Crimea’s part in the country's GDP was 3.6% in 2013), although it could seriously affect selected sectors of the economy. This may to a large extent be caused by the Crimean state taking over Ukrainian property located on the peninsula. The loss of local energy and mining assets will be particularly expensive, above all the company Chornomornaftohaz. This is one of three state-owned mining companies owned by NAK Naftogaz Ukraina, and was one of the fastest increasing gas producers in recent years (in 2013 it increased its production to 1.65 bcm, which in the short term could fully meet the peninsula’s demand, estimated at between 1.7 and 2 bcm). Nevertheless, Ukraine’s loss of Chornomornaftohaz’s production does not have to fundamentally change its gas balance (with the exception of gas consumption on the peninsula) however, the considerable efforts made in recent years to develop the company (including the purchase of two new drilling platforms) will represent a big loss.

The loss of Crimea is also associated with a reduction in size of Ukraine’s exclusive economic zone on the Black and Azov Seas. It practically negates the possibility of Ukraine implementing projects to extract hydrocarbons from the Black Sea shelf which it had planned jointly with Western companies. For example, in late 2013 Kyiv had signed an agreement with ENI and EdF to extract natural gas from the continental shelf in the Kerch Strait and on 19 March, the British Shell company (which had been a participant in the Ukrainian partner consortium) withdrew from negotiations to sign a contract to divide up production on a project to extract hydrocarbons from the Skifski shelf in the Black Sea.

It is also not clear how the annexation of Crimea will affect the implementation of the Ukrainian-Russian agreement from 2010 known as ‘Fleet for gas’ (in exchange for extending the lease of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukrainian Crimea, Ukraine received a 30% discount in the price of gas imported from Russia). Moscow could use the new situation to put pressure on Kyiv, although in recent years Russia did not fully exploit all the possible options for doing so under the two parties’ existing agreements.

It is almost certain that there will be significant changes in the ownership of private companies operating in Crimea. We may expect a rapid expansion of Russian business, and not just those associated with the current local authorities. In this context, there is uncertainty about the future status of the Crimean assets which currently belong to big Ukrainian business. Rinat Akhmetov, Dmytro Firtash and Andriy Klyuyev, among others, have businesses in Crimea. Although the Crimean authorities have so far tried to insist that they will not attempt to take over private businesses, in the case of local energy, for example, there are signs of the possible nationalisation of all electricity generation facilities (due to a lack of capacity). One of the private tycoons is Andriy Klyuyev, who in recent years has invested a great deal in solar energy. Many Ukrainian businessmen have estates in Crimea, and they also lease thousands of acres of beaches on the south coast.

The costs and financial benefits for Russia

The annexation of the peninsula entails a number of costs for the Russian Federation. For Crimea, the urgent problem is how to finance the huge local budget deficit, estimated at $1 billion. According to preliminary announcements, Russian economic aid for Crimea is expected to amount to at least $2.2 billion annually. This sum does not cover the expectations (aroused during the referendum campaign) that after the peninsula joins the Russian Federation, pay and pensions in the public sector will rise to Russian levels (salaries in Russia are on average more than two and a half times higher than in Crimea). Subsequent costs will be incurred by adapting the apparatus of state and the economy of the peninsula to Russian requirements, especially the transition to the Russian rouble and the Russian financial and legal systems. Moreover, investments are needed in the peninsula’s infrastructure. Government officials estimate the need for Russian investment in the transport and tourism sectors at $4-5 billion. Just to ensure effective communication with Russia, it will be necessary to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait. The Russian transport minister Maksim Sokolov estimates the cost of such an investment at a minimum of $1.4 billion. For Crimea to become independent of the electricity and gas supplies from Ukraine, Moscow will have to bear the costs constructing a power connection through the Kerch Strait, as well as a pipeline (initially there is talk of building a branch of the South Stream pipeline, or even re-routing the whole project to run through Crimea). According to the late deputy finance minister Alexander Pochinok, the annexation of Crimea could cost Russia a total of up to $82 billion.

Apart from the need for direct financial outlays, Russia’s annexation of Crimea generates administrative and organisational problems. They will need to create a border infrastructure and ensure the defence of the borders as well as the demarcation of new borders, including maritime borders, and the division of territorial waters to regulate access to and ownership of the shelf. Settling these issues will be more difficult as Ukraine, which should be a party to most of the agreements, does not recognise the annexation of Crimea, and will not want to hold talks to resolve these issues.

In addition to the costs, however, the annexation of Crimea could also bring Russia some financial benefits. Among them we should first mention the cost of the Black Sea Fleet. So far, Ukraine had been paying Moscow $97 million a year to station the Fleet on the peninsula ($30 million of which remained in Crimea’s budget). In accordance with the existing agreement, as of 2017 this amount was to have risen to $100 million. The takeover of Crimea not only eliminates the need to pay these fees, but Russia gains an opportunity to modernise the Fleet in any way it sees fit, which so far had been limited by the Russian-Ukrainian agreement which only provided for the possibility of renovating the equipment that was already there. Russia intends to take over the Ukrainian ships which were in Crimea, as well as the entire Ukrainian military infrastructure and ports. By gaining control over Crimea, Russia will reduce the cost of the passage of ships through the Kerch-Yenikal Canal. According to the Russian Ministry of Transport, the Russian Federation has paid about $15 million annually to the Ukrainian budget. Russia and Crimea will also take over the peninsula’s entire infrastructure, along with the property of the Ukrainian state.

The consequences of Crimea’s secession on Ukrainian domestic politics

The effective loss of Crimea will be one of the main themes of Ukrainian political debate in the coming months, including the beginning of the presidential campaign, and will be an important element in preparations for the autumn parliamentary elections (unless further developments force Kyiv to declare a state of emergency or martial law, making it impossible to hold those elections).

Crimea and Sevastopol have 13 single-member seats in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine. The MPs elected to them will retain seats unless they themselves abandon them. Their eventual departure would weaken the pro-Russian camp in parliament. Since elections in the Crimean districts cannot be held in the current situation, they will probably not be held the loss of up to 13 MPs will not threaten the parliamentary quorum.

If any of the deputies elected in proportional seats resign, this will not affect the functioning of parliament, because their places will automatically be filled by successive candidates from the appropriate party lists.

The Ukrainian presidential elections scheduled for May 25 will not take place in Crimea (although electoral commissions for the 13 constituencies in the peninsula will presumably be set up). This will not be relevant to the elections’ validity, although support for a possible pro-Russian candidate will be significantly reduced, as it will for the Communist Party of Ukraine.

Everything points to the fact that in the parliamentary elections, which will probably take place in the autumn of 2014, a purely proportional electoral law will apply, so the failure to hold elections in the 13 constituencies of Crimea will not matter. A problem will arise if regional (i.e. open) lists are introduced, since in this case the mandates allocated to Crimea will be vacant. This will be probably a strong argument for staying with national lists.

The debate over the de facto loss of Crimea, its causes and consequences, will likely push arguments about the future development of the Ukrainian state into the background, and any attempt to come to terms with this fait accompli will be criticised very severely by representatives of the Maidan. Crimea’s status will also be a problem during discussions on a new constitution for Ukraine, as it will be impossible to retain the existing laws concerning Crimean autonomy it is possible that Crimea will become the dominant theme, casting into shadow matters which are much more important for the future of the state.

Political consequences for Russia

There is no doubt that the absorption of Crimea is a huge domestic propaganda success, and has translated into real support for Vladimir Putin among both the general public and the elite. The annexation is a response to the imperial sentiments which still flourish in Russia and the myth, sustained over years, of the unity of the so-called Russian world (russkiy mir). This was well illustrated by the reaction to Crimea’s incorporation from Sergei Naryshkin, chairman of the State Duma, who said that this was a happy moment in the history of Russia, which for the first time since the collapse of the USSR has not lost territory, but gained it.

On the other hand, the question is how long the current euphoria of most of Russian society summoned by the annexation of Crimea will last, taking into account the costs Russia will incur in connection with the annexation. Resources for Crimea have come largely from the National Welfare Fund, which also subsidises the Russian Pension Fund. In turn, the Pension Fund, which has been suffering from constant deficit, will now cover residents of Crimea. Direct and indirect costs connected with the annexation will also come from the regional budgets. The finance minister Anton Siluanov announced on 18 March that the first payment for Crimea will come from the budget of the Krasnodar krai which borders the peninsula.

From the Russian point of view, the Kremlin has strengthened its geopolitical position by the annexation of Crimea, and positioned Russia as a country ready to actively defend the implementation of its interests in the international arena, and able to bear the costs of such actions. In fact, it seems that these activities will reinforce the West’s image of Russia as an unpredictable and dangerous country, which does not necessarily mean their acknowledgement of Russia’s regional ambitions. Moreover, it appears that the annexation of Crimea will strengthen the concerns of leaders of post-Soviet states about Russia, and could increase their tendency to seek opportunities to reduce their dependence on Moscow by efforts to strengthen their cooperation with alternative international partners. However, the options for the region’s countries are limited. The fear of Russian expansionism will adversely affect the Eurasian integration process.

Major challenge for Putin as Russia looks to resolve water crisis in Crimea

A water emergency in Crimea is absorbing billions of taxpayer rubles as Russia tries to patch up an impossible problem stemming from the peninsula’s annexation in 2014. President Vladimir Putin’s Black Sea gem looks increasingly like a millstone.

Ukraine dammed the North Crimean Canal seven years ago, cutting off the source of nearly 90% of the region’s fresh water and setting it back to the pre-1960s, when much was arid steppe. Add a severe drought and sizzling temperatures last year, plus years of underinvestment in pipes and drilling, and fields are dry. In the capital Simferopol and elsewhere, water has been rationed.

Tiny Crimea gave Putin a boost, when, following protests that overthrew Kyiv’s Russia-friendly government, he seized a territory that belonged to Moscow for centuries but had been part of an independent Ukraine since 1991. The annexation of the territory that’s equal to less than 0.2% of Russia’s total helped lift Putin’s national popularity to record levels in the year or so that followed. That bump has since faded.

Today locals, who were made ambitious promises in 2014, are struggling with the fallout from a wide-ranging nationalization drive that's not always served their interests, a poorly handled, muffled coronavirus crisis — and dry taps. Sanctions-inflated prices, high even after a $3.7 billion bridge over the Kerch Strait linked the territory to Russia, have meanwhile eaten away at pension and salary increases. Opinion polls are hard to come by, but anecdotal evidence reveals building frustration.

The need to pour even more cash into Crimea means Russians elsewhere may lose out. They’re already suffering in an economy slowed by Western sanctions incurred over that move and other misdeeds, and bearing the brunt of the Kremlin’s decision to focus on stability over growth, limiting pandemic income support. The crisis of 2020, perhaps as much as 2014-2015, has hurt households first and foremost.

Crimea cost 1.5 trillion rubles to support in the first five years of occupation, equivalent to roughly two years of Russia’s education budget, according to one former central bank official — more than $20 billion at today’s exchange rate. This year, subsidies, grants and subventions alone will add up to around $1.4 billion. And the price tag is set to rise.

Water isn’t the only struggle, but it’s been the toughest to resolve, especially since winning the return of Crimea remains a priority for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Last month, the Simferopol reservoir was 7% full. Without water from the Dnieper River, Crimea’s arable land has shrunk, from 130,000 hectares in 2013 — already a fraction of Soviet-era levels — to 14,000 in 2017. Thirsty crops like rice have shriveled.

It wasn't until last year that officials were spurred into significant action on water, with a 48 billion-ruble plan that includes pipe repair to end wastage, well drilling and, crucially, desalination — expensive for crops, but a solace for residents. Government officials said at a Kremlin meeting on Thursday that the problem will be solved.

That’s a challenge. Even if there’s more rain this year, it’s long-term access to cheap water that is vital. That could easily be achieved by reopening the canal — an option Kyiv rules out. Barring that, the idea of a self-sufficient Crimea is a distant one, however many Chinese tourism delegations are welcomed in the hope of drumming up new sources of cash.

Water disputes are nothing new between neighbors and near-neighbors, from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan sparring over the Rogun dam to the Nile and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or the Mekong, in Southeast Asia. In Crimea, it touches the very heart of Russia’s balancing act, between geopolitical ambition, national pride, rising discontent — and the costly reality of sanctions holding back development in the territory to the point where the Kremlin wants to offer some big-spending investors anonymity.

If it isn’t patched up soon, this crisis risks coming to a head at an important time for Putin. He needs a solid win in September’s Duma state assembly and regional elections — the last before 2024, when his current term ends. Russians still overwhelmingly support the annexation of Crimea. It’s less clear that will continue as the resulting costs rise, national growth stagnates and the pandemic endures, potentially prompting other regions to demand their share of spending.

The Kremlin faces a difficult pass. After unprecedented street protests over the jailing of critic Alexey Navalny, it’s cranked up efforts to silence naysayers, with social media clampdowns and the mass arrest last weekend of municipal deputies.

Could rising political pressure and sheer thirst combine to spark a Russian incursion into Ukraine? Such a move could mean access to the dammed canal, while delivering a timely nationalist boost. But that seems improbable. It would raise questions over plans for the eastern Donbas separatist region, where conflict simmers. And Ukraine is useful bogeyman to explain away the failure to develop Crimea, Maximilian Hess, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, points out — an easier discussion than under-investment and allegations of kleptocracy.

Water interests on both sides could even shape helpful, if informal, bargains, Hess adds. One possibility would be for Russia to provide guarantees around disputed access to the Sea of Azov, through which Ukraine exports steel, coal and more. In 2018, Russia seized a group of Ukrainian ships and blocked off the Kerch Strait.

The reality is there’s no prospect of an imminent solution. Parched Crimea, where even Russia’s banks fear to tread, is a reminder that the price of international isolation means costly life support and stagnation for all involved.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

The past is never past in Sevastopol. It waves from flagpoles and drapes the parade stand on patriotic holidays. It finds sanctuary in war monuments and is posted on signs: Lenin Square, Heroes of Stalingrad Street, Cinema Moscow. It even simmers in a pot of borscht.

Take Galina Onischenko's version of the eastern European staple. "This is Russian borscht," she said, setting down a porcelain bowl of "green" or summer borscht with its dill-flecked mosaic of beets, carrots, and potatoes. "No lard with garlic like they put in Ukrainian borscht." (Related: "After Ukraine Crisis, Why Crimea Matters")

Galina, a 70-year-old grandmother with a cumulous cloud of white hair and stern, cornflower blue eyes, had returned to her fifth-floor walk-up from marching down Lenin Street waving a Soviet Navy flag in support of her beloved Black Sea Fleet. "Sevastopol is a Russian city, and we will never put up with the fact that Ukraine is in charge," she said.

Though Galina would protest, borscht, according to Russian food historian V. V. Pokhlebkin, is originally Ukrainian. Though Galina protests, Sevastopol, a city in Crimea, is Ukrainian too.

The Crimean Peninsula is a diamond suspended from the south coast of Ukraine by the thin chain of the Perekop Isthmus, embraced by the Black Sea, on the same latitude as the south of France. Warm, lovely, lush, with a voluptuously curved coast of sparkling cliffs, it was a jewel of the Russian Empire, the retreat of Romanov tsars, and the playground of Politburo fat cats. Officially known as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, it has its own parliament and capital, Simferopol, but takes its orders from Kiev.

Physically, politically, Crimea is Ukraine mentally and emotionally, it identifies with Russia and provides, a journalist wrote, "a unique opportunity for Ukrainians to feel like strangers on their own territory." Crimea speaks to the persistence of memory—how the past lingers and subverts. (Photos: "Ukraine's Ring of Fire")

In 1954 Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, signed Crimea over to Ukraine as a gesture of goodwill. Galina was 14 at the time.

"Illegal," she said, when asked about the hand­over. "There was no referendum. No announcement. It just happened."

What was Khrushchev thinking?

"He wasn't," she snapped. "Khrushchev had roaches in his head."

Crimea was a lovely present, but the box was empty. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union anyway. "My parents discussed the transfer, but we weren't concerned," Galina said. Moscow was still in charge. No one could have ever imagined the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when Crimea would be pulled out of the orbit of Russian rule along with an independent Ukraine.

Do you miss the Soviet Union? I asked Galina, as she reminisced about the stability of life under the Soviets. Prices were artificially low. "You could get a kilo of sugar for 78 kopeks," she said. "Butter, only 60! Now, I don't even buy it." Education and medical care were free. As for a vacation: "I could go to a resort"—now completely out of the question on her monthly pension of $130.

"Yes, we have a longing for the Soviet Union," she said. "But it cannot come back, no matter how much we wish. We can only toskavat."

Toskavat, verb, to long for. Toska, noun, a longing, darker than nostalgia, verging on depression. Russian culture is embedded in a matrix of toska. When in Three Sisters, by Anton Chekhov (who owned a dacha in Crimea), Irina wistfully says, "Oh, to go to Moscow, to Moscow!" that is toska. If Sevastopol, where 70 percent of the population is ethnic Russian, could talk, I imagine it too saying, To Moscow, to Moscow. In a 2009 poll by the Razumkov Centre, a top Ukrainian think tank, nearly a third of the Crimean respondents said they wanted their region to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia.

In some ways it still is. But not just Russia. Crimea is practically a throwback to the old Soviet Union: the Early Concrete Bunker style of architecture, the rusting hulks of Russian warships in the harbor, the hammer-and-sickle medallions on the iron gates of Primorsky Park. It's also attitude. Brusque, rigid, humorless: the worst kind of Soviet hangover. You can take Crimea out of the Soviet Union to pry the Soviet Union out of Crimea is something else. When I asked Yelena Nikolayevna Bazhenova, director of a Sevastopol-based tour company, why Crimea with its lovely seaside didn't attract more tourists, she hesitated. "We are not accustomed to greeting people with a smile," she finally said. (Related: "Behind the Headlines: History and Geography Help Explain Ukraine Crisis")

Crimea also sounds Russian. Ukrainian may be the official language, but Russian is the lingua franca, even in city hall. Of 60 secondary schools in Sevastopol, only one holds classes completely in Ukrainian.

A quirk of history had swept Crimea away from Russia, leaving Moscow with its own share of toska. As a former Russian deputy foreign minister told Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine: "In my head, I know Ukraine is an independent nation. In my heart, it is quite another thing." An inventory of Russian forfeiture in Crimea: the vineyards of Massandra and Inkerman champagne the color of rubies Yevpatoriya and Feodosiya, the briny health resorts of the west and east coasts sun-bleached Yalta and Foros on the south coast orchards heavy with peaches, cherries, and apricots fields tawny with wheat.

Finally, harbors that never freeze. Unlike Russia, Crimea has the blessing of warmth. Sixty-five percent of Russia is covered in permafrost. None of Crimea is. A fifth of Russia is above the Arctic Circle. None of Crimea is. In February, when it is 14°F in Moscow, it can be 43 in Yalta. "Russia needs its paradise," Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine the Great's general and lover, wrote in urging annexation. Nearly every European power had carved slices of Asia, Africa, and the Americas for their imperial platters Russia was no different in its appetite to expand. In 1783 Catherine declared Crimea to be forever Russian, adding 18,000 square miles to the empire, extending its border to the Black Sea, paving the way for its rise as a naval power. Russia had claimed its paradise.

And kept it for 208 years, until the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the emergence of newly independent states, assets of the former empire—including its military bases—became the property of those states. But Catherine's prize was not readily relinquished. Russia had few cards to play, but one strong hand.

"We were seriously dependent on Russian gas and oil," explained a Ukrainian official. "Our debt to Russia was about a billion U.S. dollars. The pressure was terrible." The two nations brokered a deal in 1997. The fleet could stay until 2017. Ukraine was credited tens of millions of dollars against its debt. Last year the pro-Russian government led by newly elected President Viktor Yanukovych extended the lease for 25 years. Again, gas and oil were the lubricants. In exchange, Russia gave Ukraine, still drowning in debt, a 30 percent discount on natural gas.

Reaction was split, as usual, between the Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine and the western regions, where Ukrainian nationalism runs strong.

Galina was pleased. The Russian Navy is in her genes. "My grandson is in the St. Petersburg military academy. My husband was a naval offi­cer. My grandmother sewed sailor uniforms. I grew up in a house of heroes in a city of heroes."

A city of heroes, a shrine to war. There are 2,300 memorials in Sevastopol the city itself is practically bronzed. In 1945 it was awarded the Order of Lenin by the Soviet Union and named a Hero City for enduring a 247-day siege by Germany in World War II. Nearly a century earlier it suffered a 349-day siege by French, British, and Turkish troops in the Crimean War.

A cautionary note: Crimean history would suggest that it is folly to think that possession of any place, especially paradise, is anything other than a tenancy. Crimea has passed from hand to hand, from Scythians to Greeks to Romans, Goths, Huns, Mongols, and Tatars. The latter, Turkic Muslims who migrated from the Eurasian steppes in the 13th century, were brutally targeted by Joseph Stalin and suffered mass deportation.

For three days in May 1944, Soviet militia pounded on Tatar doors, rounded up families, ordered them to pack, and expelled them to Central Asia—some 200,000 in all. Nearly half died from illness or starvation. "I was a young boy the night they came," said Aydin Shemizade, a 76-year-old retired professor from Moscow. "I remember reaching for my book bag hanging on the wall. A soldier ripped it out of my hands." His voice cracked. It was 20 years before he saw his homeland again.

In 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev allowed Tatars to return to Crimea. About 260,000 have done so, and they now represent 13 percent of Crimea's population. Many live in squatters' shacks on the outskirts of Simferopol and Bakhchysaray, hoping to reclaim their ancestral lands, haunted by dispossession and neglect. Even so, Tatars are largely pro-Ukrainian. They fear Russia reflexively—because of its nationalism and because it is the successor to the Soviet state—but Ukraine has no such baggage.

"Conversation about Crimea was constant in my family," said Rustem Skibin, a 33-year-old Tatar artist with the hooded eyes and intensity of a falcon. We sat in his studio in back of his house in Acropolis, a village northeast of Simferopol, where the green of coastal Crimea gives way to the long horizon of the hot, dry steppes. "I heard the stories," he said, "but I didn't feel them." The family had been forcibly resettled in Uzbekistan. "In 1991 we came back. Crimea was home. I went to Alushta to see the narrow streets with their small Tatar houses. I felt a sense of belonging and understood what it meant to be Tatar in my homeland."

It is our motherland, I kept hearing, but whose motherland? For Galina Onischenko, the motherland was Russia. For Rustem Skibin, Crimea was the Tatar homeland and had been for at least seven centuries. For Sergey Kulik, 54, formerly an officer on a Russian submarine and now director of Nomos, a Sevastopol think tank, the motherland was Ukraine.

"I was sorry when the Soviet Union collapsed," Kulik admitted over dinner one night. "Suddenly I was nowhere. I had to adjust."

As a naval officer, Kulik had lived comfortably under Soviet rule, but the collapse inspired an epiphany. One could live a cushioned life and still be surrounded by repression, brutality, and falsehood. "I too have nostalgia, but it is not blind," he explained.

When Ukraine became independent and took over Sevastopol (a closed city under the Soviets entry required a permit), both governments faced the task of dividing up the Black Sea Fleet. Kulik and his fellow sailors—there were about 100,000—had a year to decide between the Russian and Ukrainian Navies.

"I didn't think twice," Kulik said. "I am Ukrainian. My parents are here. I speak Ukrainian. So I chose the Ukrainian Navy." But what does it mean to be Ukrainian? I asked.

Kulik thought a while. "Being Ukrainian is like breathing," he answered.

It seemed important to keep asking.

"In the 21st century it's all about political boundaries. If you consider yourself to be Ukrainian, you are," said Olexiy Haran, a political science professor.

"To be Ukrainian is the cherry trees in blossom, the ripening wheat, our stubborn people who work so hard, and the language I love," insisted Anatoliy Zhernovoy, a lawyer and member of the Ukrainian Cossack movement. The Ukrainian Cossacks, whose forebears patrolled the steppes from the 13th to the 18th centuries, represent a muscular revival of national identity.

"The era of nationalism is past. To be Ukrainian is to be a citizen of Ukraine. That's it," said Vladimir Pavlovich Kazarin, the president's representative to Crimea in Simferopol.

But Sergey Yurchenko of the Crimean Union of Cossacks disagrees. His paramilitary group of about 7,000 men consider themselves defenders of Russian nationalist ideology. I met Yurchenko at a Cossack compound an hour's drive from Sevastopol, where in a month 200 boys 12 to 15 years old would attend summer camp and receive military-style training, which he'd supervise. Yurchenko wore a beret and battle fatigues and had the face of a pugilist who'd taken too many punches. He showed me the field where the boys would live in tents. "We teach them patriotism," he said. They'd also be taught martial arts and how to shoot machine guns.

The camp was in the shadow of a 16-foot-high wood cross Cossacks had hauled up to the top of Ay-Petri Plateau. Government officials had demanded, unsuccessfully, that it be removed because it offended the local Tatar population. "You may have noticed, there are many Tatar squatters in the area. We keep an eye on them," Yurchenko said. "The Ukrainian government turns a blind eye. It's up to us to keep things in line." Keeping things in line included several fights in 2006 between Tatars and Cossacks at the Bakhchysaray market. "We don't wait for court orders to act," Yurchenko said of the violence that sent dozens to the hospital.

"He's a provocateur," Refat Chubarov, deputy of the Mejlis, the Tatar parliament, said at the mention of Yurchenko's name. "We're worried about any paramilitary movement, but the fact that kids are taught to play with guns is not nearly as important as the ideas they are taught to play with."

On one of those balmy summer days Slavs must dream about in winter, I sat in a restaurant in Balaklava with Konstantin Zatulin, a Russian Duma deputy. Zatulin, persona non grata in Ukraine during Viktor Yushchenko's tenure as president, was enjoying a warm welcome back under the new, pro-Russian regime. Our table overlooked the harbor where Russian submarines had once glided into port. Across the bay, beyond sleek white yachts at their moorings, you could see the dark mouth of a cavelike entrance to a four-acre submarine complex carved into the side of a mountain.

The Cold War relic, a top secret military installation under Soviet rule, was now a museum. Tourists could file past the 150-ton nuclear-blast-proof titanium doors, walk through tunnels, and peer into chambers where nuclear warheads had been stored. The deadly game of flinch between the two superpowers seemed far removed from the Crimean champagne a waiter was pouring.

"Deputy Zatulin," I asked, "do you know what Catherine the Great wrote Potemkin after claiming Crimea? 'Seizing objects is never disagreeable to us it's losing them we don't like.'"

"Catherine wrote something else," he replied, looking at me steadily. "Potemkin suffered several defeats he wanted to withdraw. Catherine wouldn't hear of it. 'To have Crimea and give it up is like riding a horse, then dismounting and walking behind the tail,' she told him.

"Well, we've given it away." He scowled. "The question is under what conditions it will continue to exist."

The same question was being asked in Kiev by the opposition. "Russia doesn't need its fleet in Sevastopol," a former minister of defense had said with barely suppressed anger. "It's just there to create instability."

Zatulin practically curled his lip when I quoted the former minister.

"The government that terminates the lease will have to answer the question of where to buy cheaper gas," he said.

Will the Russian fleet ever leave? I pressed. And when?

Zatulin, a man with a broad, florid face and thick build, picked up a red mullet from a platter of grilled fish and snapped its head off.

"My personal opinion? Never."

Write the truth, Galina kept urging—the Russian word is pravda—but truth wasn't easy to sound out, not with the colliding dreams of Ukrainians, Russians, and Tatars. Conventional wisdom held that violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea was unimaginable because of close cultural and historical ties, especially now that Yanukovych had made Russia Ukraine's new best friend by extending the lease. It was tempting, but simplistic, to assume Yanukovych was Vladimir Putin's man in Kiev. The election had been fair, under the Yanukovych administration parliament had voted to take part in NATO military exercises, and Ukraine still hoped to join the European Union. Nonetheless, uneasiness lingered.