by Ralph T. Niemeyer
The “Tauride Peninsula”, as it was called from ancient times to the beginning of the modern period, better known today as Crimea, has historically always been a bridge between the classical world and the Black Sea-Caspian steppe, between Western and Eastern cultures and religions, once colonized by the Greeks, and then the Persians, the Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire, and finally the Trebizond Empire and the principality of Theodoro. Orthodox Christians dominated most of the periods, but Islam also spread, which is still visible today, as new mosque constructions prove.
In 1783, after the Russian-Turkish war, Crimea became part of the Russian Empire, and after the October Revolution of 1917, it received the status of an autonomous republic within the USSR. During World War II, Crimean Tatars, an indigenous population, were deported to Central Asia, but have returned here since the end of Soviet times and live a normal life, including cultural freedom, which can best be seen by listening to numerous Tatar radio stations. However, controversy arose in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when someone “forgot” to return the peninsula back to Russia after it had previously been transferred from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, as he himself did from the border regions of Ukraine and Russia and spent most of his political career in eastern Ukrainian Donbass.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was established as an independent state in 1991, and most of the peninsula was transformed into the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, while the city of Sevastopol retained its special status within Ukraine. A 1997 division treaty on the status and conditions of the Black Sea Fleet divided the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet and allowed Russia to continue basing its fleet in Crimea: both the Ukrainian naval forces and the Russian Black Sea Fleet were to be stationed in Sevastopol.
Ukraine has extended Russia’s lease of naval facilities under the 2010 Kharkiv Pact in exchange for further discounts on natural gas.
But when, under US President Barack Obama, NATO pushed for further eastward expansion, with clear prospects for Ukraine’s annexation, and a Maidan uprising backed and organized by EU negotiators from France and Germany, ousted the pro-Russian President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych in a coup d’état, which led to the formation of a neo-fascist government, Russia hastened to get the population of Crimea to decide in a popular referendum whether to join the Russian Federation or remain in war-torn Ukraine. More than 90% of the population in March 2014 spoke out in favor of becoming part of Russia, thus resolving a crisis that could easily lead to a crisis of the modern bay of pigs with the deployment of Russian soldiers on the territory.
In the seven years since Crimea’s return to Russia, there has been significant infrastructure development, and although coastal cities such as Yalta and Sevastopol have always been a magnet for tourists even in Soviet times, the former Soviet-era submarine port of Balaklava is one of the major development projects designed to competition with Mediterranean resorts.
Fundamental changes in road construction: the Crimean roads are no worse than the German ones, the new Kerch bridge connected the island with the mainland by road and rail.
The sea in Crimea is clean and cool enough to be refreshing, the beaches are well-groomed, new tourist facilities and hotels are being built. Service in hotels has significantly improved, especially the coronavirus pandemic has had a good impact on tourism development. Unfortunately, there is no way to pay with the cards of European banks, so foreign tourists have to use cash.
Despite the fact that the main population of Crimea is Russians, there are Tatar and Ukrainian schools, songs in Ukrainian are played in karaoke bars.
Ravil, a young Tatar from a cafe, said that Crimea is the land of his ancestors, and with the arrival of Russia, they began to repair mosques, build new ones. The city of Bakhchisarai, the capital of the Tatar Crimea, is developing.
In the evenings, live music sounds on the street, young people sing popular Russian songs, play the guitar. Svetlana and Oleg, students from Sevastopol, speak English fluently, and believe that their city is the best.
They want to follow youth fashion, dress in popular world brands Zara, HM. But these stores are not to be found on Crimea, so one has to fly to Moscow or go to Krasnodar. Out of season ticket prices are low and students can afford it.
According to an entrepreneur from Crimea, Mr. Gennady, he supports everything that happens on the peninsula after his return, despite his difficult past in Russia.
Since the 1990s, Mr. Gennady Leontyev has been in the business of repairing Russian Mi8, Mi17 helicopters and their modifications in Vietnam. The confluence of circumstances in business forced the entrepreneur to relocate from Russia to the Ukrainian Crimea.
After the reunification of Crimea with Russia, Mr. Leontyev remained on the peninsula, as the situation in Ukraine has changed a lot:
“I was born and raised in Ukraine, I graduated from a Ukrainian school, but I cannot go to my homeland today, because a fascist regime rules in Kiev: there are repressions, it is forbidden to speak Russian. In an atmosphere of chaos, all Ukrainian competitive enterprises, like Motor Sich and Antonov, have collapsed and gone bankrupt to please Western customers.
“Russia brought peace and development to the Crimea: the unique Kerch bridge, roads, power plants were built, the restoration and modernization of railways is underway. But there are also problems. Let’s take the same construction industry. Since the time of Ukraine, more than 28 thousand Crimean children have not been provided with schools, kindergartens and other preschool institutions. In Simferopol alone, there are more than 10 thousand such children. From the federal budget, Russia began to allocate huge amounts of funding to solve this long-standing problem. It’s good”, Gennady Leontyev says.
And, Mr. Leontyev continues: “However, there are bureaucratic delays: the budget is approved by Moscow in January, the first tranches of 15-30% of the amount arrive in Crimea only in May; the next tranches are received in October – and by December it is already necessary to report on the disbursement of funds or return unused funds. The design documentation indicates building materials that are not on the peninsula: they have to be imported from the mainland, and this is again a waste of money and time. Registration of land allocations is fraught with difficulties: confusion with regard to plots, problems with non-professional personnel.”
“This happened, for example, during the construction of a kindergarten in the village of Stalnoe, Dzhankoy region. To solve these problems, I had to raise a fuss all over the country, even organize a teleconference with the leader of the United Russia party, Dmitry Medvedev. After the teleconference, careless officials were dismissed, new decrees were signed and additional funds were allocated, but the funding schedule did not change”, Mr. Leontyev explains.
As a result, only the first tranche was received – and construction work was carried out for this amount. The builders could not get the remaining budget funds – and the construction of a kindergarten in the village of Stalnoye was delayed for several years. There are many such frozen objects in Crimea, and budget funds are spent on other objects: roads, airport. Some of the unused funds are returned back to Moscow … “
Despite international sanctions, bureaucratic delays, budget deficits and other objective difficulties, Gennady Leontyev sees the prospects for the development of the peninsula in support of the actions of the Russian authorities by the local population. Work goes on, life goes on, and most importantly, in justified cases, a Crimean entrepreneur can freely express his point of view on the ongoing political and socio-economic processes, without fear of being subjected to any repressive measures from the authorities. Moreover, sometimes the head of the Republic of Crimea Aksyonov turns to Mr. Leontyev, as an independent specialist in the field of business.
The decision made by the Crimeans during the 2014 referendum was largely due to the promises of a better life than under Ukraine. Indeed, since the reunification of Crimea with Russia, peninsula’s pensions have increased, even though it costs Moscow about $ 1 billion a year. The infrastructure is developing, creating conditions for the investment attractiveness of Crimea, including for foreign entrepreneurs.
Of course, the entry of Crimea into Russia is beneficial to it from an economic point of view. For example, for the gas industry of the country, because in accordance with international law, the state owns all the resources under water 200 nautical miles from the coastline.
This could be one of the reasons that Ukraine is in the orbit of American interests and could potentially become a NATO member: ExxonMobile and Royal Dutch Shell have already spent billions of dollars on exploration of Black Sea gas fields since 2010, according to Bloomberg News. It is reported that most of its territory is now under Russian control, since Crimea is located in the center of the Black Sea.
The key to all geopolitical and strategic aspects is still as in ancient times, when the Greek philosopher Socrates said that there was no war fought over gold, a symbol that can be seen as synonymous with any commodity that can be traded.