The Siege of Crimea (I)

KIEV/MOSCOW/BERLIN | | ukrainerussische-foederation

KIEV/MOSCOW/BERLIN (Own report) - Berlin is watching with apprehension as the conflict between Kiev and Moscow escalates again following Ukraine's shutting down electrical power to Crimea. Last week, Crimean Tatars and members of the fascist Right Sector are suspected to have blown up several electric pylons, cutting off the supply of power to Crimea. Crimea receives nearly 80 percent of its electricity from Ukraine. The Berlin-sponsored Ukrainian government sees itself as incapable of repairing the power lines. It has imposed - in accordance with the embargo policies of the EU and the USA - its own trade embargo on the peninsula. In the summer 2014, the EU and the USA began imposing economic sanctions on Crimea, which was aggravated by Kiev's embargo of water and blockade of traffic for over a year. Ukraine will squander its remaining sympathy on the peninsula, warn observers. A similar development had been observed in the Georgian secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the 2008 Georgian-Russian war. Early this week, the German government applied pressure on Kiev to restore electricity to Crimea, to avoid another escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which Germany considers detrimental. To no avail - the escalation began yesterday.

One of the Toughest Embargos in the World

Even before the current energy blockade, sanctions imposed by the EU, the USA and Ukraine were already seriously affecting Crimea, particularly the economic sanctions, more than those targeting individuals. The import into the EU of goods produced in Crimea has been prohibited since last summer; since December 2014 - investment on the peninsula. For EU-based companies even the purchase of real estate is forbidden. Export of energy products - including oil and natural gas - as well as goods from the transportation and telecommunication sectors are not allowed. Even service for Crimean tourism is no longer permitted to be offered within the EU. The United States has imposed similar sanctions. Last summer, Thomas De Waal, an expert at the USA's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, assessed that this is "one of the toughest embargos in the world." De Waal has characterized this as the "Siege of Crimea."[1]

Turn off the Water

Since last year, the pro-western Ukraine's embargo has been causing additional severe problems in Crimea; one example being an embargo on water for the peninsula. As a report in "Ukraine-Analysen," published by the University of Bremen has confirmed, before secession, the peninsula had received "up to 85 percent of its water supply from the Ukrainian mainland." In May 2014, Kiev turned off the water supply - with dramatic consequences. Agriculture, in particular, was severely affected, reported "Ukraine-Analysen." For example, cultivation of corn and soya had to be "drastically reduced," and rice had to be abandoned entirely. "Providing drinking water to the major industrial cities" such as Kerch and Feodosia "was a major problem," the report continues. According to official data, "consumption of water has fallen by 20 percent over the past two years."[2]

Cut Off From the Mainland

The numerous blockades of transportation and traffic also have an exceedingly damaging effect. The Ukrainian railroad has ceased service to the peninsula, with no railway access yet to Russia. "Ferry service across the Straits of Kerch" is, for the time being, "the only larger transportation link to the Russian mainland," notes the "Ukraine-Analysen." However, the ferry connection is overburdened and interrupted in bad weather. Moscow seeks to solve the problem with the construction of a railway/automobile bridge across the Straits of Kerch. Construction has begun and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018 [3] - three long years. Because of the difficult accessibility, the import of food from Russia is insufficient to satisfy the needs of the Crimean population.[4] "Ukraine-Analysen" reports that due to the insufficiency of overland connections, "the air traffic to Crimea has significantly increased." "It has tripled since 2013." Only Russian airliners land in Crimea - under high penalty fines - because Crimea's integration into Russia has not been recognized internationally, Crimean airspace is still attributed to Ukraine.[5]

Backfire

Experts, like Carnegie Endowment's Thomas De Waal have been warning for quite a while that the tough sanctions regime may, in the long run, backfire against the West and its allies in Kiev. For the time being, Kiev still has access to "resources of loyalty" in the Crimea, De Waal quoted the journalist Andrej Sambros, who reports from Crimea for liberal Russian journals, last July. For example, out of the two million people in Crimea, only 20,000 have renounced their Ukrainian citizenship, suggesting that most people want to keep their options open. However, because of the ongoing sanctions, locals now pin their hopes on Moscow, De Waal reports. The sanctions strategy are reminiscent of the methods applied by Georgia towards their separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. After the August 2008 Georgian-Russian War, Mikheil Saakashvili, then the Georgian president, instituted tough laws on “occupied territories.” In South Ossetia in 2008, the Saakashvili government cut the gas supply to the Georgian-majority town of Akhalgori, in the hopes of provoking anti-Russian upheavals. The contrary was the case. Following several freezing winters, the population complained of "Georgian cruelty." Abkhazia also suffered years of economic misery but now has few connections with Georgia and has undergone a slow integration into the Russian economy. De Waal reported that one Crimean Tatar bitterly complained that "we are losing Crimea because of this policy"[6] referring to the embargo imposed by Kiev and the West.

No Electricity

The most recent escalation is spiraling the process even further. Crimean Tatars have been blocking overland access to Crimea with the help of fascist Right Sector militants, already since the end of September, to prevent deliveries from Ukraine from reaching the peninsula. Kiev has turned a blind eye. Late last week, it is suspected that Crimean Tatars blew up several electric pylons, cutting off the 80 percent of Crimea's Ukrainian electrical supply, as had been done earlier with Crimea's water supply. Ukraine's Minister of Energy declared that the electrical lines would be restored, but this requires access to the destroyed pylons.[7] Crimean Tatars and fascists of the Right Sector are blocking access to the scenes of the attacks. The Berlin-sponsored government in Kiev has no intention of forcing the repairs. Instead, it has ordered a halt also to commerce in merchandise with Crimea. Russia has declared a state of emergency and is rushing to lay a submarine cable through the Straits of Kerch, which however will not be completed before the end of the year. The majority of the population will have to brave the Crimean winter without lights and warmth until then.[8]

Criminal Acts

The German government, which had helped instigate the sanctions strategy through the imposition of EU sanctions, is now watching these developments with apprehension. Martin Schäfer, the spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry, characterized the sabotage of the electrical pylons as a "criminal act." "We are expecting these incidents to be handled as such" and "that the supply of electricity in and to Crimea will be restored," he said at the Federal Press Conference. Berlin would like to get the Ukraine conflict finally under control. The objective is to prevent an EU-endangering resurgence of the civil war, render German business relations with Russia possible again - and, along the way, become Europe's number one regulatory force. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[9]) However, Kiev - in the process of becoming more radicalized - refuses to heed Berlin's admonitions, balks at re-establishing the supply of electricity. Rather than react to Russia's call to pay its gas bills or have its gas supply cut off, Ukraine has declared it was closing its air space to Russian flights. Escalation spirals further.

The Crimean Tatars, implicated in blowing up the electric pylons, are playing an important role in the escalation strategy against Crimea. german-foreign-policy.com will continue with a report on the Crimean Tatars.

For more information on this topic see: Moving West and Steinmeier and the Oligarchs.

[1] Thomas De Waal: The New Siege of Crimea. nationalinterest.org 09.07.2015.
[2], [3] Julia Kusznir: Russische Wirtschaftsförderung für die Krim - eine Zwischenbilanz. In: Ukraine-Analysen Nr. 158, 28.10.2015, 2-5.
[4] Katerina Bosko: "Es geht ums Geschäft": Die Krim-Blockade und die Realität der Wirtschaftsbeziehungen mit der Krim nach eineinhalb Jahren Annexion. In: Ukraine-Analysen Nr. 158, 28.10.2015, 5-9.
[5] Julia Kusznir: Russische Wirtschaftsförderung für die Krim - eine Zwischenbilanz. In: Ukraine-Analysen Nr. 158, 28.10.2015, 2-5.
[6] Thomas De Waal: The New Siege of Crimea. nationalinterest.org 09.07.2015.
[7] Friedrich Schmidt: Halbinsel im Dunkeln, aber unter Strom. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 25.11.2015.
[8] Axel Eichholz: Krim bleibt dunkel. www.neues-deutschland.de 24.11.2015.
[9] See Kontrollmission in Kiew and Like in the Cold War.