Crimea looking just like Singapore

Now, in just 5 years, the country’s GDP doubled and is in the comfortable middle, on the 40th place among the 80 regions

By DMITRY KOSYREV / Pic By BLOOMBERG

A Diamond-Shape peninsula, linked to the mainland by a narrow causeway. A peninsula with a population markedly different from the rest of the state. A peninsula that in the end, has split from that state. Singapore?

Yes but then there is also Crimea, in the Black Sea. It used to be ancient Greek (Byzantine), then Turkish, then Imperial Russian, then a part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), shifting from Russia to Ukraine inside the same state; then part of independent Ukraine for a couple of decades. Finally, Russian again for the last five years.

The Crimea Anniversary was easily the main media event in Russia recently. President Vladimir Putin visited several cities there and launched two power stations, making Crimea a net exporter of energy.

It was the time for some revelations about the dramatic way in which the peninsula returned to its Russian fold. And it was also the time for some statistics on Crimea’s economic development in these five years.

That paradise peninsula had turned into a total ruin in the “Ukrainian” period, so when it became a part of Russia in 2014, it found itself on the last-but-one place among Russia’s regions.

Now, in just five years, the local GDP doubled, and Crimea is in the comfortable middle, on the 40th place among the 80 regions.

The most immediate result is the revival of tourism, almost hitting the record of seven million visitors annually, and also of medical and many other industries.

That revival took a lot of budget money, and still does. Let’s mention five new mosques that have been built for the local Muslim Tartar people. Investments went to power stations and roads, which only recently looked like dilapidated remains of the 1960s.

The Crimea Bridge, the longest in Europe, connecting the peninsula with Russia’s mainland, also did not come cheap, same goes for a completely new central airport and huge investments into clinics.

To recall, Crimea used to be the most famous sanatorium place in the USSR, but the whole industry almost crumbled down in the Ukrainian period. Now, it’s back.

Ukraine has to pay for mismanagement and plunder of these 25 years of its rule, and also compensate for human rights breaches of the period, said Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Parliament, also visiting Crimea these days.

But how do you calculate the damage from reluctance of Ukrainian authorities to teach Russians in Russian, and Tartars in their own language?

The compensation idea caused some eyebrows raised high in Kremlin, where the presidential office is. Nevertheless, the turbulent Russian Parliament is still discussing the figures of damage and compensation.

The recent polls showed that 89% of Crimeans approve of the reunification, which exceeds the results of the March 16, 2014 referendum.

At that time, over 90% of the participants voted for getting back to Russia, which constituted about 80% of all the population.

Russia, in general, may grumbled about the ongoing huge budget allocations to Crimea, but 88% of Russians surveyed still approve of the transition.

As for the numerous interviews of the locals about how it really was back then in 2014, we see the picture more clearly now.

The main events happened around Feb 22-23, when Kiev, Ukraine capital city, was flaming with riots.

The ones protecting the government against the rightist gangs were special troops from Crimea and the East (Donbass), and the rightists were burning them alive. Then the coup d’etat in the Ukraine was complete, and the survivors among the special troops trickled back to both regions, telling their stories.

And the people began to draft themselves into militia, getting the weapons from hiding places. Same things happened in the Donbass area.

These self-protection groups managed to stop plenty of buses and trains, filled by the fully armed rightists, on the Crimea borders.

There were several scary days when the locals made frantic calls from Crimea to any possible addressees in Moscow. Finally, there came the message: You hold the referendum, and our troops, mostly the ones that were stationed in Crimea anyway, will ensure that nobody interferes in the process. Only on March 18, the reunification was officially completed.

The almost-Singaporean version of Crimea’s future has often been discussed by the locals throughout these two miserable decades under Ukraine.

That meant, simply speaking, a nominally independent state, in reality linked to Russia by millions of ties (since Crimea is about 80% Russian by population).

And that option could have worked, too, if Ukraine did not descend into bloody chaos of 2014.

If Singapore was linked physically to China…and if there was a civil war in the Federation at the time…and if China in 1965 has not been a Maoist state…who knows what might have happened. But then, all similarities in global history are very, very relative.

  • Dmitry Kosyrev is an author of 8 novels and a book of short stories, as well as a columnist for 2 Moscow publications. Orientalist by education (Moscow University), he has a special love for Malaysia. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.