Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has visited Crimea, emphasising Moscow’s control of the Black Sea peninsula in a move denounced by Ukraine as a “crude violation” of the rules of international behaviour.
The PM is the most senior Russian official to visit Crimea since President Vladimir Putin signed legislation on absorbing it into Russia on March 21, a move described by the EU and US as an illegal land grab.
Medvedev took several government officials with him on the trip. “(I’m) in Simferopol,” Medvedev said on Twitter after his plane landed in the main city in Crimea. “Today the government will discuss the development of Crimea here.”
He promised a special economic zone to attract investors, saying the potential for tourism could help Crimea become self-sufficient.
The absorption of Crimea and its two million residents creates an added financial burden on Russia, which is struggling with slow growth and facing Western sanctions.
Medvedev said pensions for Crimeans would be raised gradually over the coming months until they reach the national level, and promised upgrades of the peninsula’s roads and other infrastructure.
“Following the addition of Crimea to Russia no-one here stands to lose, they can only gain. The people are expecting precisely that from us – to create the conditions for a peaceful and dignified life, to have confidence in the future, and a feeling of being part of a strong country,” Medvedev told a government meeting in Crimea.
On top of the Russian military presence in Crimea, the build-up of Moscow’s troops along Ukraine’s eastern border has caused alarm bells to ring further west – but according to the government in Kyiv they now appear to have been pulling back.
US Secretary of State John Kerry described the massed forces as “intimidating”, but meeting his Moscow counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Sunday he admitted he could not demand their removal as they were on Russian soil.
Russia’s swift takeover of Crimea, following the removal of Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine’s president in late February, has caused the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War.
While the rest of Europe put clocks forward one hour at the weekend, Crimea jumped two hours ahead – synchronising its time with Moscow.