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Russian-occupied Crimea running out of water despite snowy weather – with Moscow still searching for way out

Empty Zahirske Reservoir in Russian-occupied Crimea, January 2021. Photo: TASS via RFE/RL
Russian-occupied Crimea running out of water despite snowy weather – with Moscow still searching for way out

There was an old Soviet joke that comes to mind with this story: What would happen to Saudi Arabia if communism triumphed there? Radio Armenia was asked. Radio Armenia replied, “within five years, Riyadh would be importing sand.” In what is no joking matter, the Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea is leaving that peninsula without water.

Read also: Crimeans have tap water only six hours a day as all Russian attempts to hydrate occupied peninsula fail

Occupied areas in Europe. Three out of six – Crimea, Luhansk, Donetsk are parts of Ukraine occupied by Russia. Based on map by ecfr.eu.

Major reservoirs are running dry, and the occupiers are trying to get water from old wells not deep enough to handle the declining water table, the result of drought, the end of water coming in from Ukraine proper, and Russian mismanagement.

In the last few days, Russian officials both in Moscow and Crimea have suggested the situation is easing as a result of winter snows. But any easing is both temporary and too small to solve the shortages, Ukrainian water experts say.

Precipitation was not enough to refill the reservoirs or raise the water level, and they suggest that the Russian occupation may soon be forced to cut back on its agricultural plans and even introduce water rationing in some locations. All this will almost inevitably lead to a humanitarian crisis later this year.

That puts Kyiv in a difficult position. On the one hand, it certainly does not want to see Ukrainians even under Russian occupation suffer in this way; but on the other, it does not want to take any action that appears to recognize as legitimate the illegal Russian Anschluss or not take action and cause Moscow to launch a new round of aggression to get water.

north-crimean canal
The North-Crimean Canal that supplied Ukraine’s Crimea with most of freshwater it needed from 1975 up until the early months of the Russian occupation in 2014.

In a new commentary, Kyiv writer Vitaly Portnikov says that the crisis in fact highlights what Ukrainians have always insisted on: Crimea is geographically and legally part of Ukraine and must be returned to Kyiv as soon as possible. Otherwise, suffering there will only increase.

Moscow clearly hopes its upbeat statements will distract the world’s attention from this reality, he suggests, but in fact, what the Russian government has been doing in recent weeks to develop a special legal regime for the occupied territory only underscores what it publicly denies, that Crimea is part of Ukraine.

These plans reflect just how different Ukraine’s Crimea is from the rest of Russia by putting in place rules that the Kremlin isn’t prepared to introduce elsewhere in the hope that they will lead foreign businesses to forget about how “toxic” the issue is and how responsible Moscow is for that reality.


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