'Russian' Crimea: a Pyrrhic victory?
The annexation of the Crimean Peninsula seven years ago is celebrated with great fanfare. Some 80,000 people crammed Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, almost all without a mask. Health regulations were temporarily suspended to “revive the population” depressed by COVID-19 and the economic crisis. Polls suggest that the people of Crimea believe they were better off under Ukraine. There is a shortage of water pipes.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – Seven years ago, thanks to a plebiscite held on 18 March 2014, the Russian Federation annexed Crimea. The anniversary was celebrated in Russia with great fanfare to revive a waning nationalist fervour.
Fortunately for Putin, US President Joe Biden's attack on him pepped up the popular mood, if not quite to the level of his Crimean triumph, at least to the kind of pride that existed when the Soviet Union was a “great power”.
The most creative of the enthusiasts is Sergey Nosov, Governor of Magadan on the Pacific coast, who wrote a poem in response to Biden's insults: Dear overseas neighbours / Satiated and imposing as little gods / Do not awaken the Russian bear to stir / Let him sleep in his mausoleums... The eastern region he governs is home to white bears, and the threat appears to be very effective.
An impressive show was held at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium In the presence of President Putin, with a large concert by Russia’s main variety stars. The 80,000 spectators were almost all without masks, despite the anti-pandemic regulations in place.
Numerous celebratory actions took place on the Crimean Peninsula as well, titled The Crimean Spring. Seven years at home. In Sevastopol, flowers were laid early in the morning at the Eternal flame, in the presence of many Members of Russia’s State Duma (lower house) elected in Crimea. A concert was held in the evening.
The decision to suspend social distancing rules was motivated by the need to “revive the population” depressed not only by a year of COVID-19, but also by Russia’s seven years post-Crimean economic crisis.
The hyper-nationalist ideology of Krym Naš! (“Crimea is ours!), Putin's victory cry on the evening of 18 March 2014, has now rather faded, and the return of the “holy land” on the Black Sea has now gone from front-page news to the history book, although such a return is not recognised by either Ukraine or the international community.
It is curious however, opposition activists, meeting in Moscow on 14 March, were arrested for non-compliance with health regulations. Supporters of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, tried to meet again today, in the same Ismailovo Hotel where they met last Sunday.
Since then, two of them were arrested in Moscow, Galina Filchenko and Sergey Tsukasov, one of the organisers. The two municipal councillors were stopped in front of their homes, one while taking out the trash, the other on his way to work. Both were detained for “breach of health regulations” and “danger to public order”.
At the stadium celebration, Putin tried to keep a solemn tone, while admitting to the problems that occurred in Crimea in the years following the annexation. The most serious problem is drought because of the lack of pipes for drinking water.
The president promised that “after the implementation of the largest priority projects”, like the construction of the Kerch Bridge, the Krymsky Most between Crimea and the Russian Black Sea coast, the new Tavrida (Tauride) highway and the Simferopol airport, “the water problem will be solved by 2024”.
Yet, dissatisfaction is growing in Crimea. Polls show that most people believe they are worse off now than when they were under Ukraine. The big projects did not boost tourism. Russians used to visit Crimea for its seaside even when it was Ukrainian, but at that time it was much cheaper. Except for large-scale government transfers, no private company, Russian or foreign, is currently investing in Crimea.