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Putin’s shell game with Crimea intended to cut importance and costs of the anschluss

An official Putin mural on a crumbling wall in Crimea says: "Crimea is our common wealth." The infrastructure of the occupied peninsular has been steadily deteriorating since its anschluss by Russia. (Photo: Nik Afanasiew)
An official Putin mural on a crumbling wall in Crimea says: “Crimea is our common wealth.” The infrastructure of the occupied peninsular has been steadily deteriorating since its anschluss by Russia. (Photo: Nik Afanasiew)
Edited by: A. N.

Vladimir Putin’s decision to disband the Crimean Federal District which he created after the Russian seizure of that Ukrainian peninsula in 2014 is intended to reduce the attention of Russians to the rising and unmet costs of what had been the centerpiece of his foreign policy, according to Vitaly Portnikov.

Far more attention has been devoted to the Kremlin leader’s reshuffling of officials and installation of more siloviki in key regional positions than to the suppression of the Crimean Federal District and the inclusion of occupied Crimea in Russia’s Southern Federal District, he says.

But officials are often shifted about, while federal districts are not “liquidated” nearly as often – and especially not one in which Putin had invested so much political capital in order to show that he had raised Russia “from its knees” and restored its former power and glory, Portnikov continues.

The Crimean Federal District was created on the territory of “two occupied Ukrainian subjects, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol,” and its existence “symbolized the special status of the annexed region within the Russian Federation,” a status which gave its leaders direct access to Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin’s establishment of the now-defunct federal district also gave him the opportunity to reward “two military criminals,” Oleg Belaventsev and Sergey Menyailo, who have now been dispatched to the North Caucasus and Siberia where they may be able to engage in even more corrupt activity than they have in Crimea.

Crimea, in Putin’s new scheme, will be under the head of the Southern Federal District, “one of the most odious representatives of the Russian force structures, former Prosecutor General of Russia Vladimir Ustinov” who can be counted on to behave in the future as he has in the past and not to give Crimea more than any of the other parts of his domain.

What this means “in practice,” Portnikov says, is that “Putin and Medvedev have simply had enough of ‘sacred’ Crimea as they would any useless toy,” especially one that needed money that Moscow does not have. And they have also “had enough” of complaints by the leaders of other regions who have been insistently asking why Crimea should get more than they.

“Now money for the development of Crimea will be distributed among other regions of Russia not in Moscow but in Rostov,” Portnikov says, and Krasnodar governor Veniamin Kondratyev and his colleagues in the Southern Federal District aren’t going to concede anything to it in comparison to their areas.

So as far as the future is concerned, there will not be “any special Crimea.” Indeed, this latest move will mean that “there will not be any Crimea in Russian political life and possibly propaganda ever again. It will be one of the poor republics within the Southern District as well as a military base in Sevastopol.”

No one in Moscow or elsewhere in Russia is going to be “interested in Crimean roads, Crimean budgets, Crimean pensioners, and Crimean tourists.” Duma deputies won’t be focusing on it or on the shenanigans of the Russian occupiers. As for the people of Crimea, “they will immediately remember their Ukrainian citizenship” and behave accordingly.

There is only one positive aspect of this latest Putin decision: when the time comes for Crimea to be returned to Ukrainian sovereignty and control, no one will have to disband a federal district: that has already been done. Instead, it will only be necessary to take two subjects out of another federal district to do the job.

Edited by: A. N.
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