Staunton, January 11 – Ten months after the Anschluss of Crimea, the Russian occupation authorities have succeeded in changing that Ukrainian peninsula to such an extent that Crimea now resembles Belarus, a place where one can live “in sufficient comfort” as long as one doesn’t have “any need to have any contact with the state,” according to Pavel Kazarin.
Kazarin, who is an observer for RFE/RL’s Crimean Realities portal, drew that conclusion on the basis of his latest visit to Crimea, one that he said challenged both what some Ukrainians are saying about the peninsula and what some Russian media outlets routinely claim.
On the one hand, he says, the shelves in the stores are not empty although there has been a significant reduction in the variety of good available. “Drunken Cossacks with whips are not going through the streets.” But on the other, “you notice immediately the lack of a desire to discuss politics,” a feature that is also true of Belarus.
Residents of Crimea are suffering from inflation: today, Kazarin says, “prices are comparable to those in Kyiv and for some things even exceed those,” and pay hikes have not kept up either with the rising prices or the falling exchange rate of the Russian ruble. One thing in short supply is alcohol.
In many respects, January 1 “became a moment of truth,” he continues, because from the start of this year, Crimea residents and businesses are supposed to complete the transition from the Ukrainian legal environment to the Russian one – although the occupation authorities have been forced to delay portions of this transition until mid-year.
The people hardest hit by this transition, he says, are the operators of small stores and businesses who are now being forced to bring their operations up to Russian technical standards, which are much harsher than the Ukrainian, or go out of business. Many of them have no choice but to close down.
The challenges presented by the “legal integration” of Crimea with Russia have raised far more questions among Crimeans than have the sanctions regime imposed by the US and the EU. They seldom used Visa or MasterCards, they as before don’t expect many Western visitors, and rising prices for air tickets are irrelevant: 70 percent of them haven’t gone outside the peninsula in recent times.
On the other hand, Kazarin says, “certain specialties have disappeared in the peninsula.” There is little or no demand for translators, and those who trained to work in that area are now mostly without work. But the “most unfavorable profession” of all is that of teachers of political science.
They are now forced to talk about the “incurable” difficulties Crimeans had when they lived as part of Ukraine, and they have to ask their students to prepare reports on themes like “The Overcoming of the Consequences of EU and US Sanctions,” as if, Kazarin says, “someone in the Kremlin knows the answer to this question.”
No one wants to talk politics, and criticism of the authorities stops with those Russian officials in charge of the peninsula, Kazarin stresses. It does not extend to Moscow or Vladimir Putin.
The recent visitor sums up the situation in the following way: “In everything else, Crimea continues to remind one of the center of a hurricane,” a place of relative calm around which everything else is swirling. Its annexation last year triggered a change of “the entire architecture of international security,” but today Crimeans feel its consequences primarily on “secondary” issues like inflation.