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Has life in Crimea improved after Russian annexation, as Putin claims?

Last week, when justifying at the UN the annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia by Russia, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vasili Nebenzia, claimed that the people of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula also incorporated after an irregular referendum in 2014, “he has lived better since then”.

To prove his point, Nebenzia cited investments that Moscow made in the region and that others should also be carried out in the areas incorporated by Russia last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used the same argument in 2014 that he used now to incorporate four more Ukrainian areas: Crimea is a region with more cultural and ethnic ties to Russia than to Ukraine itself. In 1954, the peninsula, then part of Russia, was ceded to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Soviet leader at the time was Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor.

Nebenzia is right to mention that Russia made large investments in the region, since the government of Vladimir Putin, willing to demonstrate to the local population that it was more advantageous to be part of the Russian Federation than Ukraine, developed large infrastructure projects on the peninsula.

Among these works, hospitals, new highways, power plants, transmission lines and a 19 kilometer-long bridge connecting the region to mainland Russia (which cost US$ 3.7 billion), in addition to subsidies that totaled more than US$ $ billion.

According to Bloomberg, the economy of Crimea, which has about 2.5 million inhabitants, grew 23% in the first five years after the annexation.

Another front in this strategy of persuasion was education: a report in May of 2020 from the Ukrainian Weekly, the Ukrainian community newspaper in United States, revealed that since 2016 the Russians had invested more than 100 million rubles (about BRL 8.8 million) in a program to transform children in the region into “new citizens” and “patriots of Crimea.”

Iryna Sedova, a member of the Crimean Human Rights Group, told the newspaper that the initiative covered events, competitions , concerts, camps and special classes apparently harmless, but which would actually focus on the “military-patriotic education” advocated by Putin, in violation of the terms of the Geneva Convention.

This indoctrination was added to the Yunarmia, a youth army that “recruits” children from the age of eight.

Difficulties

In addition to Kremlin expenses, the price paid by the local people was not cheap. In the months following the annexation, Russia closed all Ukrainian banks in the region, leaving many people without access to their bank deposits, wages and pensions.

Despite the Kremlin’s investments in energy, the Suspension of supplies by Ukraine and attacks by Ukrainian militants on transmission lines supplying the peninsula led to blackouts during the following years.

Military tension and the requirement for a Russian visa also compromised the sector of tourism in Crimea, one of the engines of the local economy, previously fueled by the ease for citizens of the United States and the European Union (who did not require a visa) to travel to the region.

The Black website Sea News reported that in 2019 Crimea received 2.5 million tourists, while before the Russian occupation the average was 4 million a year. At the time of the Soviet Union, there were 8 million tourists a year (the state funded all or part of the vacations of officials and their families on the peninsula). To make matters worse, the sector was later heavily hit by the Covid pandemic-19 and the war in Ukraine.

Another heavy blow to the local economy was the closure of the North Crimea Canal, supplied with water from the Dnieper River, which divides the Ukrainian territory in half.

The measure, retaliation imposed by Ukraine in 2014, compromised irrigated agriculture and generated rationing in urban centers, since it was the main source of supply for the region: before the Russian annexation, 19% of the peninsula’s water came from mainland Ukraine.

Early at the beginning of the Ukrainian war, in February of this year, one of Russia’s first actions was to blow up the dam that blocked the canal.

An Al Jazeera report in Crimea last year showed that inflation, corruption and the Kremlin-triggered crackdown on dissidents also made many residents vote in favor of entering Russia in

if that question whether it was worth it.

With these difficulties, the economic sanctions imposed on Russia and the war itself, a third of respondents polled by Politico in a report produced in May this year said they planned to move to western Europe in the following months.

“The war will go on for a long time. It will not be a short story and that worries us,” said one.

In August, when Russia suffered major attacks in Crimea, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter: “A reminder: Crimea as a normal region represents the Black Sea, mountains, recreation and tourism, but Russian-occupied Crimea represents warehouse explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves. Demilitarization in action.”

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