What ever happened to Crimea? In the year since the peninsula voted to leave Ukraine and become the Russian Federation’s newest holding, Western attention has shifted away from it toward eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists continue to wage an insurgency against Kyiv.
But the case of Crimea is worth a second look, because in the past year, conditions there have deteriorated significantly. As such, the region’s fate offers a telling glimpse into the harsh reality behind Russian rule.
But these plans have become a casualty of the wider Ukraine crisis. Russian aggression has prompted several rounds of Western sanctions to date. Cumulatively, these measures — coupled with the low price of world oil — have had a pronounced impact on the country’s economy. As a result, there simply isn’t enough money to go around, leading Moscow to reallocate funds from its own infrastructural needs just to keep Crimea afloat.
The contrast is striking. When it was a Ukrainian province, Crimea fared comparatively well, with Kyiv supplying it with electricity and food, and tourists visiting in droves.
Crimea’s adverse conditions aren’t simply limited to economics, however. The region’s inhabitants have faced systematic discrimination since becoming Russian citizens.
In particular, Crimea’s Tatar Muslim minority is suffering levels of persecution not seen since the Soviet era. This pressure includes “disappearances, sadistic murders . . . attacks on media, and arrests on trumped-up charges,” according to one informed observer. So pervasive has this discrimination been that, back in February, the United Nations took the unprecedented step of publicly condemning Russia’s treatment of the Crimean Tatars.
Political opponents of the Kremlin, too, have found themselves in the official crosshairs. To date, several Crimean lawmakers have been arrested and even exiled because of their opposition to and condemnation of Russia’s takeover of Crimea. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has equated Russia’s conduct in its newest holding to a “reign of terror” designed to both subjugate and pacify the region’s population.
Crimea’s plight should serve as a cautionary tale. Today, outposts of pro-Russian sentiments (such as Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine, and Transdniester in Moldova) appear to be actively contemplating a “Crimean scenario” in which they declare independence and then seek the Kremlin’s protection. But the experience of Crimea to date suggests strongly that what awaits them if and when they do are not greener pastures but a grim future.
— Leona Amosah is a researcher at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.