Open Europe Blog

The way influence flows in Crimea

Now that Russia has full military control over Crimea the the implications of taking control are beginning to sink in with President Medvedev claiming that “it’s now our headache. The most obvious headaches are electricity and water. Medvedev directly raised this issue saying:

This question, of course needs to be addressed through international negotiations, but we will need to chose the best way to supply the peninsular.” 

An interesting development given Russia’s reluctance to engage with Ukraine to date. The water situation in particular should concern Moscow as Ukraine supplies most of Crimea’s water, something the above map of the Soviet era North Crimea Canal makes quite clear. So just as Hong Kong’s dependence on China reduced the UK’s room for manoeuvre, Crimea can not survive without Ukraine.

So what will Russia do? Short of annexing yet more territory to secure the canal – which would surely trigger further sanctions – not to mention a military confrontation with Ukraine – and push them into full economic isolation, logically they must at some point come to the table. Ukraine is unlikely to immediately cut off the water and cause real hardship for the inhabitants, who are still Ukrainian citizens, but nor is Ukraine a charity. In the longer term Russia could try to construct alternative conduits but that would be complex, expensive, and time consuming so some agreement with Kiev will need to be reached.

Obviously expecting to strike a deal with Ukraine so shortly after annexing its territory is unrealistic. But there are numerous other issues that Russia will need to discuss, the transshipment of gas to the EU, Ukraine’s outstanding debts to Russia, and other border issues. Russia could perhaps seek to give ground in other areas.

So will Russia change its tune and come to the table? Logic would dictate it has two choices, go further and secure the Crimean hinterland, including the North Crimea Canal or seek a deal with Ukraine. Hopefully it will be the latter…

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