Kyiv, September 24, 2015. Blockade of the peninsula returned the Crimean issue back on the Ukrainian and international agenda as well as became an unpleasant surprise for the Russian President ahead of the UN General Assembly and negotiations on implementation of agreements, stated the experts at the discussion organized in partnership with Free Crimea project at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “The blockade that was started came as response to ignoring the Crimea theme by the Ukrainian authorities on one hand, and as a response to massive corruption that has been in place with the border guard and customs services on the other,” said Taras Berezovets, founder of the Free Crimea project. “The official trade figure that was voiced is USD 475 million. Food supplies worth of this sum have been delivered to Crimea since the beginning of 2015. But you won’t hear anyone voicing the real figures. As per our estimations they reach at least USD 800 million,” said Berezovets. He also noted that the end customer of goods brought into the territory of Crimea is often unknown, the trucks often move in transit via Crimea and with the Kerch ferry further to the territory of Russia. Everyone makes money at this sort of smuggling: corrupt Ukrainian law enforcement staff and people from the opposite side. “It is obvious that such situation is totally unacceptable in light of the sanctions introduced by the EU and the U.S. It’s good that the situation starts changing,” said Berezovets.
Serhiy Taran, political scientist, Director of the International Democracy Institute, noted that blockade of the peninsula encourages Ukrainian authorities to act, and it is quite likely that the preparation of more serious legal framework will start at the next parliamentary session, thanks to which the peninsula may stop being the “grey zone”.
“Crimea food blockade is very untimely for Russia as all Russia’s attention is focused now on Syria. It is where Putin’s main geopolitical bargain is now concentrated,” noted Taran. According to the expert current aim of the Russian President is to create the image of the peacekeeper and thus become again an important figure on international arena. Only that instead of speeches on the special role that Russia has got in combatting the international terrorism Putin will have to answer the questions on Crimea. At the same time experts rule out that Crimea will become subject to bargain at negotiations on final implementation of Minsk agreements. “Putin’s problem is he has no one to blame,” he added having explained that the action is formally held not by the Ukrainian authorities but by the activists and from the legal standpoint it is absolutely lawful. “Ukraine currently responds to Russia’s hybrid war with Crimea’s hybrid blockade. It is surely good as Ukraine for the first time strikes at Crimean theme […] and Putin has no idea how to resolve this situation.”
According to the experts the Crimean issue cannot be used to bargain in the context of negotiations on implementation of the Minsk agreements. “Should such a possibility of bargain existed Putin would agree to it. But there is one simple reason Putin will not agree to this: it will be a compromise,” said Serhiy Gromenko, Crimean historian, researcher at the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory. Taran also noted that such a compromise will not be accepted by the civic activists who initiated the peninsula’s blockade. “It is crucial that our foreign policy is led by the civil society itself. It is quite unique for Ukraine,” emphasized Taran. The expert expressed an assumption that in case the Crimea blockade turns out successful the activists will demand blocking Transnistria.
“We realize that any blockade will be effective if it is first of all long-lasting and combined,” noted Berezovets adding that the activists need at least informal support by the Ukrainian authorities. He reminded that the Russian Federation has managed to decrease Crimea’s dependence on mainland Ukraine to 60% but peninsula’s dependence on water and electricity remains very high, thus selective blackouts may considerably harm Russia’s military objects in Crimea. However, the experts noted that this measure should be regarded as an extreme scenario.
Serhiy Gromenko reminded that during the Crimean food blockade of 1918 in times of the “customs war” between the Crimean government of Matsey Sulkevych and Pavlo Skoropadsky’s central government, the peninsula survived a three months blockade. According to the historian to achieve the necessary effect the blockade now needs to last twice longer. “Winter will be decisive from the standpoint whether the blockade had sense at all,” noted Gromenko. Historian thinks that Putin will respond to the action with repressions: “His psychology does not accept any other tools but clamping down […]. That’s why I forecast that there will be suppression, repressions inside the Russian Federation are going to reinforce […]. Nothing good is visible for Crimeans in the short-term perspective but it is probably the mandatory smallest evil that Ukraine has to get to in order to bring the Crimean issue back on the agenda,” he added. According to the historian it is crucial for Ukraine to develop a consolidated strategy to return Crimea.