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Regular version of the site

Article

Crimea. Transforming the Ukrainian Peninsula into a Russian Island

Russian Politics and Law. 2016. Vol. 54. P. 74-95.
Translator: P. Golub.

The accelerated integration of Crimea into Russia's state system illuminates the overall sociopolitical process in Russia. The process was largely improved, with various agencies each pursuing its own course of action. Some were formed on the basis of existing Ukrainian institutions, while others were created de novo. In some cases, locals were given senior positions, while in others the top posts were assigned to appointees from other regions who had no previous ties to Crimea. Overall, Moscow was careful to take into account local factors, such as the role of the Crimean Tatar population. The situation remains fluid, with many state institutions still subject to modification. A year and a half ago, the Russian Federation grew by three new subjects: the Republic of Crimea, the federal city of Sevastopol, and, encompassing them both, the Crimean Federal District. The Russian system of governance, which was already cumbersome and difficult to manage (as a result of excessive centralization and a lack of coordination among various agencies) met with a unique and difficult challenge. Crimea is being “embedded” into Russia during unfavorable economic conditions, which are aggravated by the confrontation with Kyiv and Western sanctions. The need to integrate the peninsula poses an enormous and diverse range of challenges for both Crimea and Russia: there are infrastructure problems related to Crimea's transition from the Ukrainian sphere toward greater self-sufficiency, as well as economic, sociocultural, and ethnic issues that must be resolved. Since even the model of governance has yet to be finalized, only the initial approaches and efforts can be assessed. This article will focus primarily on the transformation of Crimea's sociopolitical space and its system of governance, resulting from being embedded into the Russian Federation. As far as can be judged, the majority of Crimean residents are happy with recent events on the peninsula. This is according to an authoritative study conducted by [market research company] GfK Ukraine at the beginning of 2015, which showed that 82 percent of Crimean residents fully supported Russian annexation, 11 percent supported it, and only 4 percent were opposed to it.1 1. “The Sociopolitical Mood of the People of Crimea.” A study conducted by GfK Ukraine commissioned by Berta Communications, supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives for the project, Free Crime, February 4, 2015 (http://gfk.com/ua/documents/presentations/gfk_report_freecrimea.pdf) (all URLs accessed September 2, 2015). View all notes It is also significant that among the fifteen issues that most concerned residents, those associated with governance ranked last: 2 percent expressed concern with the work of law enforcement, 3 percent expressed concern with a crisis of governance and a lack of order, and 5 percent believed the authorities were indifferent to the problems of ordinary citizens. However, conflicts do periodically flare up in relation to disputes either between local elites (often in Sevastopol) or between federal and local governments (as in Simferopol). The Crimean transformation from post-Soviet to Russian space that began on March 21, 2014 is interesting for several reasons. First, just as a developing embryo recapitulates the evolution of its species, Crimea's accelerated integration has illuminated certain features of Russian space. Second, Russia continues to evolve as the inclusion of Crimea is changing the Russian regime. Its history and the history of Russia as a whole can be divided into two periods: the pre-Crimean period and the post-Crimean period. Third, substantial changes are taking place not only in Crimea and mainland Russia but also in their relations with one another. For Crimea, these relations are essentially altered by a shift from the Ukrainian model of external governance in a relatively decentralized system to the Russia model of external governance in a centralized system.