Russia Pushes Ukraine to Sign Water Deal in Crimea

  • A month after the invasion, Kiev blocked the North Crimean Canal.
  • Only Ukraine can provide water to the peninsula, and only Kiev is able to solve Moscow's problem.
  • Any resumption of water supplies to Crimea runs the risk of not just being a step that closes the story of the annexation of the peninsula for Moscow.

Ukrainian media is reporting that in Simferopol, in occupied Crimea, authorities are drafting a schedule of hourly water supplies to the city residents due to lack of water in the Crimean reservoirs. There are water shortages on the peninsula. In cities, they are preparing to give hot water only on weekends. Reserves in the reservoirs are not enough to ensure uninterrupted supplies. In general, the main reservoirs in the region are one-third full— and this may be enough until June.

The Crimean Peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation between February and March 2014, and since then has been administered as two Russian federal subjects—the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. The annexation from Ukraine followed a Russian military intervention in Crimea that took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and was part of wider unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine.

Water is the main deficit of the peninsula after annexation. Since 2014, water from the Dnieper River provided up to 90% of the region’s needs. A month after the invasion, Kiev blocked the North Crimean Canal. The Russian authorities constructed water tanks and drilled wells, but fundamentally this could not solve the problem.

On the contrary, it led to the salinization of soils in northern Crimea, and agriculture in those parts died out. But only Ukraine can provide water to the peninsula, and only Kiev is able to rid the Kremlin of a headache that has appeared with it ever since Moscow decided to change flags in the Crimea.

Also, the Ukrainian authorities recently announced an upcoming deal signing with the Russian Federation. Officials said that the formula “All for All” will be implemented. They hinted that Crimean Tatars might appear on this list, whom the Kremlin has been actively imprisoning for the past six years.

The Dnieper is one of the major rivers of Europe, rising in the Valdai Hills near Smolensk, Russia, before flowing through Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea. It is the longest river of Ukraine and Belarus and the fourth-longest river in Europe.

Oleg Sentsov, Ukrainian filmmaker and activist from Crimea once said that political concessions cannot change people. But the Kremlin’s logic is exactly the opposite and in the near future, Ukraine may again plunge into another internal confrontation. “They can offer us a choice again. When on one side of the scale there will be a political decision (resumption of water supplies to Crimea), and on the other, a humanitarian one (return of Ukrainian citizens). At the same time, they will tell us that water supplies to the peninsula is also a humanitarian act,”  Sentsov said.

This logic will find many supporters. Because at stake there are specific lives and private destinies. While the other side will appeal with things much more abstract and intangible, like sovereignty, state interests, and institutional memory. Negotiations with terrorists are always a space of difficult choice. Starting from the principle admissibility of such a step and ending with the border of possible concessions.

Any resumption of water supplies to Crimea runs the risk of not just being a step that closes the story of the annexation of the peninsula for Moscow. There are situations in which there are no obvious solutions. In which each choice is accompanied by a train of consequences. The presidency requires the ability to calculate situations and it also requires the ability to take responsibility not only for popular decisions but also for unpopular ones.

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Benedict Kasigara

I have been working as a freelance editor/writer since 2006. My specialist subject is film and television having worked for over 10 years from 2005 during which time I was the editor of the BFI Film and Television.

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