Attempts at a food blockade of Crimea appear to be nothing more than a stunt coordinated by the Kiev authorities that may actually end up hurting Ukraine more than it hurts Russia.
A member of a right sector nationalist group carries tires to block a road heading towards Crimea, in the village of Chongar, Ukraine, on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. Photo: AP
For a different take read: "What are the implications of the Crimean food blockade for Russia?"
The ongoing food blockade of Crimea by activist groups seems to be one of the strangest steps yet in Ukrainian foreign policy and public diplomacy in the past 18 months. Closed roads, concrete blocks on the railways, hundreds of trucks stuck at the border for several days – all this combined with the permanent threats to shut down the electricity supplies to the peninsula puts Crimea further away from Ukraine and buries the last hopes for peaceful coexistence with its neighbors.
Some would argue that the campaign has nothing to do with the official line of Kiev and is nothing more than a civil society protest in favor of the rights of the Crimean Tartars. In fact, it does not appear to be so.
One may remember the early statements of those who began the campaign as well as supportive messages of the Ukrainian officials. It is difficult to imagine a situation where the authorities do not prevent chaos on the major transportation routes and allow, if not help, “civil activists” to impede the movement of cargoes.
Moreover, the protesters were soon joined by the militants from the radical wing – the Right Sector – and it seems that these groups have seized the powers of the police, border guards and customs in the areas bordering Crimea. Such circumstances mean that either Ukraine is a failed state with no central power and law enforcement agencies, or the administration in Kiev actually encourages this form of “popular justice.”
However, the implications of this shortsighted policy will be rather grave. First of all, the blockade strengthens the population of the Crimea in proclaiming the rightfulness of their choice in the referendum 18 months ago. It adds arguments to the concept that, without joining Russia, Crimea would have fallen victim to the Ukrainian radicals who would not have stopped at bringing any sorts of sufferings to the Russian-speaking locals.
Secondly, the disruption of economic ties has the opposite effect – instead of convincing people to surrender, it simply broadens the gap between the peninsula and continental Ukraine, aggravating the hatred and eliminating meaningful ways of reasonable cooperation. Finally, the blockade may worsen the positions of the Tartars in the Crimea – under the current circumstances, people may start regarding them as the “fifth column” and, hence, suggest restrictions on their autonomy.
The economic impact of the blockade is negligible. It has already provoked mockery in the comments of the Crimean authorities, general public and Russian experts. The trucks simply stopped crossing the border and the checkpoints were moved 10 km (approximately 6 miles) further into Ukrainian territory.
Moreover, it is quite clear that there is no peril for the fate of the Tartars in Crimea either. They enjoy cultural autonomy and full protection of their rights as any other ethnic group within the Russian Federation. At the same time, any attempts to establish exclusiveness detrimental to the rights of other nationalities living in Crimea (including Russians and Ukrainians) is totally unacceptable – not only at the federal level in Russia, but also at the regional level by the people of the Crimea.
Many nations in Russia – from the Chechens and the Balkars to the ethnic Germans of the Volga region – suffered from the Stalin oppression and were sent in exile. However, their needs have been accommodated in modern Russia, the government has done a lot to correct the historical injustice and they gain political, administrative and financial backing in maintaining their culture, religion and traditions in fair sharing with other groups in the federation. Thus, it would be erroneous to claim that the fate of the Crimean Tartars is more unique and requires some totally different approach.
Meanwhile, despite the blockade, Moscow continues to act friendly and, as some argue, even inflicts damage to its own business interests. Gazprom is ready to supply gas to Ukraine at a significant discount ($230, slightly more expensive than the cost to the closest Russian ally – Belarus), to write off a part of the gas debt and undertake other rapprochement steps to end the “total war” with Ukraine, including the restoration of the purchase of coal.
Besides, Russia continues to take care of the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees on its territory and does not really apply pressure on Ukraine as far as $3 billion in debt payments are concerned. Let alone the fact that Russia neglects the improvised smuggling of Ukrainian goods onto the territory of the Crimea via cars and “private visits” instead of truck transportation.
It may happen that the current blockade is just a PR action to draw attention of the international community before and during President Putin’s visit to the United Nations and his talks with President Obama. If so, this trolling of the Russian authorities will stop soon. Even if it does not, it is quite clear that such action will only widen the distance between Crimea and Ukraine and will hardly bring a constructive note to Russian-Ukrainian relations in both the short and long run.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.