Experts: In three years Crimea has become a gray zone and a “territory of fear”  

Kyiv, March 20, 2017.

After three years of Russian occupation, Crimea has become a gray zone and a “territory of fear”. The peninsula is under total control, there is no freedom of speech, and there are only controlled media, historical facts are falsified. The tourism industry is not a priority; the main driver of Crimean economy is the military-industrial complex. Crimea needs support from the Ukrainian government and the media. To return Crimea, it is necessary to liaise with people on the peninsula and form the Council of Ministers of Crimea in mainland Ukraine. The state, media and activists should work together. These opinions were expressed during a discussion held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

Russia was consistent in its actions, it seized the main administrative building of the peninsula within a few days in late March 2014. Russian passports were issued within a month after they announced results of the “referendum” held on March 16. People were very often forced to give away their Ukrainian passports. “This is, perhaps, an attempt to figure out fragmentarily what has become of Crimea over 3 years of occupation. […] This process is very extensive, and it cannot be considered one-sidedly. First, these are political changes on the peninsula, as well as economic, social, and cultural changes. Secondly, this is total lawlessness in the area of ​​human rights,” said Gayana Yüksel, Mejlis member, editor of “Agency “Crimean news”.

Russian policy on Crimean media

According to Gayana Yüksel, one of the main areas that suffered mopping up is information. Russian authorities made any free speech impossible very fast simply by introducing a permitting system. “An absolutely open, free peninsula, accessible to many media, various research and monitoring groups, has turned into a closed gray zone. […] Several hundred media were registered on the peninsula before the occupation,” said Guyana Yüksel. 11 of them are currently working in mainland Ukraine. Among them are channels “ATR”, “Chernomorka”, “Agency “Crimean news”, “Black Sea News” and others. “We record a large number of violations against the media and journalists. Overall, there have been more than 460 violations against journalists and the media over three years of occupation,” added Guyana Yüksel.

Andrii Klymenko, economist, expert of the NGO “Maidan of foreign affairs”, editor of web-page “Black Sea News”, added that people are afraid to express their opinions openly, and it is not without reason. All facilities are monitored and controlled; there are actual criminal proceedings and prison terms.

Cultural aspect

“The cultural situation is very difficult and alarming. Of course, Russian propaganda affects opinions and puts a lot of pressure on people in Crimea. […] There is massive falsification of historical facts. They try to present Crimea as a truly Russian territory, a territory that has never been related to Ukraine and the Crimean Tatars,” noted Guyana Yüksel. The Russian government conducts active propaganda in schools, kindergartens, influencing the minds of the younger generation.

Sanctions and investments

Sanctions against Russia work. “There are neither normal banks with international activities nor investment and investors in Crimea,” noted Andrii Klymenko. For the world, Russia has become a “toxic asset which is risky to deal with.” “Russia can neither attract loans nor refund their major projects; […] it has to pull the money out from the “stashed-away funds.” Ukrainian and European sanctions completely disrupted the entire program of modernization of Russian surface fleet,” informed Andrii Klymenko.

In 2014, on the wave of euphoria an idea started up to make Crimea a “new showcase for Russia,” by the example of Sochi. “Now the idea has been closed. The decisive factor of its closing was a civil blockade of Crimea in 2015. In 2016, Crimea became an island, to which neither gas, nor water, electricity, cargoes are supplied from mainland Ukraine. Besides, trade and transport logistics changed,” noted Andrii Klymenko, economist, expert of the NGO “Maidan of foreign affairs”, editor of web-page “Black Sea News.”

The required amounts of cargo cannot be transported by air. The main resource is sea transport. “The only available facilities are the port of Sevastopol, which now operates only at 5% of its capacity before the war, and the Kerch ferry. Other ports have died. […] Russia loses billions to tackle all problems. This island will continue to suck the money from the occupant budget,” noted Andrii Klymenko.

Militarization of peninsula

Russia has a huge missile complex in Crimea and control over the Black Sea. “Today the whole complex of the navy, air and missile troops actually holds complete control over the Black Sea. NATO has not yet found an answer on how to counteract this,” stressed Mr. Klymenko. Crimea is in the Southern Military District, the one that is fighting in Donbas. “The defense industry complex is the main driving force of Crimea,” the expert added.

Obstacles and necessary steps towards future de-occupation of peninsula

“In legal terms, the events that took place in Crimea were properly assessed at the level of international organizations. And we are glad to realize this fact, despite the massive attack on Crimea carried out by the Russian government and propaganda media in the international arena in attempts of giving an appearance of legality to the forcible takeover,” noted Gayana Yüksel.

Andrii Klymenko emphasized that it is necessary to keep a register of recreational and defense industry facilities, which became a military trophy of the RF.

“The more Crimean residents have Ukrainian documents, the more of Ukraine is in Crimea,” noted Valentyna Samar, chief editor of news agency “Center for investigative journalism”, economist, expert of the NGO “Maidan of foreign affairs”, editor of web-page «Black Sea News». According to her, Ukrainian authorities contribute to the destructive policy of Putin, for example, through declaring Crimeans non-residents of Ukraine and separating them. We need a strategy. Now we have an action plan for Crimea and Sevastopol, but this is tactics without a strategy. The Ukrainian authorities should attract people who are professionally engaged in counter-propaganda. Now we lack Crimean issue lobbyists. The Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs of Ukraine and Department for the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol are just lacking motivated employees. “The territorial integrity of Ukraine, return of Crimea and Donbas should be eventually legislated,” concluded Valentyna Samar.