Russia faces struggle to wean Crimea economy off Ukraine supplies

Jun 05 2014, 11:39 IST
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SummaryScrambling to compensate for a lack of water from mainland Ukraine, farmhands are laying row after row of pipe to drip water across dusty fields in Crimea's arid north.

Scrambling to compensate for a lack of water from mainland Ukraine, farmhands are laying row after row of pipe to drip water across dusty fields in Crimea's arid north.

The water shortage highlights the huge logistical hurdles Russia faces to wean Crimea off dependence on Ukraine, from which it seized the Black Sea peninsula in March.

More than two months after the annexation, denounced as illegal by Kiev and the West, Moscow needs to secure Crimea's basic needs - chief among them, the water and power almost entirely supplied from Ukraine - in order to prop up the local economy and sustain its popularity among its 2 million people.

"We've drilled wells, we're using drip irrigation, but there's still not enough water," said Vasily, a burly man whose 50-hectare (124-acre) vegetable farm near Dzhankoi has been irrigated by water from the Dnieper river diverted along a canal across a strip of land that links Crimea to the mainland.

He and other farmers have planted less thirsty crops since, they say, Ukraine reduced flows across its new de facto border with Russian-controlled Crimea - a move Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev decried as political retribution. Ukrainian officials say water is still flowing but will not say how much.

The stakes are high for Moscow, which has said it could spend up to $7 billion this year alone to integrate Crimea's economy with Russia and nurse a euphoric pro-Kremlin mood that saw the majority ethnic Russian population of the peninsula vote for annexation in March.

"People are optimistic about the future but ... the Russian leadership understands perfectly well that if the Crimean economy stagnates, the responsibility will fall on Russia's shoulders," said Yuri Korban, director of one of the many vineyards that dot Crimea's jagged coastline.

Russia's economy is already teetering on the brink of recession amid Western sanctions imposed over the annexation of Crimea, which was completed within a month of the ousting of a Moscow-backed president in Kiev and followed a military takeover supported by troops from Russian bases on the peninsula.

Going by the experience of the much smaller Georgian region of South Ossetia, over which Russia gained effective control after a 2008 war with Georgia, the process of integrating Crimea is likely to be both lengthy and very costly.

SECURING SUPPLIES

Ukraine seems unlikely to cut Crimea off abruptly from supplies. But its grip on some 80 percent

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