The leader visiting a region ahead of elections on September 14 to boost his party’s chances is no unusual thing, but this is Crimea, and Vladimir Putin was scheduled to begin his second day of a visit to Russia’s latest outpost with an expected major policy statement on Crimea and infrastructure projects.
This is shorthand for the billions it is going to cost Russia to improve Crimea’s current drip-feed of supplies via over-extended and inadequate transport links.
Yet at the last minute press agencies pulled their coverage, and Moscow then confirmed the speech was cancelled along with an extensive list of engagements and public appearances by Putin.
No reason has been given for the cancellations, and there has been no statement about any further Crimean campaigning by Putin.
Now severed by force from Kyiv, Crimea needs everything; water and power supplies, food and basic essentials, and it all has to come via torturous road and ferry, or air, from Russia. Some analysts said Putin may have been poised to announce a much-mooted plan, and more importantly funding for a bridge over the mouth of the Sea of Azov.
Just keeping Crimea’s motor ticking over is costing Moscow dear, but then add the costs of restoring banking and insurance systems, accountancy, public administration and so on and the costs rise even higher. Crimea is unable to contribute much itself. Its major industry, tourism and health retreats, has lost its major clientele, Ukrainians, and its beaches have room to spare. This season is a dead loss.
Crimeans who so enthusiastically backed Moscow’s takeover will be hoping for much from Vladimir Putin, but how much can he deliver? The Russian economy and rouble have been hit hard by market reactions to the Ukraine crisis and Western sanctions. Russia’s 2014 budget has had a coach and horses driven through it, and Crimea is the cause.
However it is unlikely voters will sanction him in September even if he comes up with nothing new. Putin’s popularity means he can do no wrong, and the Ukrainian and Tatar minorities may struggle for any representation, although the latter group does have its own
assembly, albeit powerless.
Although spared the destruction and bloodshed being seen in eastern Ukraine, Crimea’s problems remain severe, and there is a sense among some that they will remain until Moscow achieves its ultimate prize, and Crimea will be seen for what it is; a mere stepping stone in Russia’s territorial expansion from the Black Sea to the pro-Russian Transnistria enclave on Moldova’s border with Ukraine.