The devastating human and economic costs of the annexation of Crimea News from Russia

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Larisa Vasilyeva claims that the annexation of Crimea killed her brother.

But Igor Vasiliev did not die during the capture of the Black Sea peninsula in 2014 in Ukraine.

At age 67, he was also too old to fight for pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine, who were so inspired by Crimea’s “return to their homeland” that they took up arms against the central government.

For years, Vasiliev struggled with chronic heart disease.

Before the Kremlin channeled billions of dollars to restore Crimea’s infrastructure and “optimize” health care by reducing costs, his village district, outside the city of Chelyabinsk in the Urals Mountains, had four ambulances. , and always came to the rescue.

But on Nov. 13, 2015, the only ambulance left arrived late, her sister said.

“It simply came to our notice then. Issue a death certificate, “said Vasilyeva, 71, who declined to identify the name of her village.

The annexation of Crimea shot President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings to 88%.

The sandy beaches, cypresses and wines of the Black Sea peninsula make some look like a holiday paradise, as most of Russia’s coastline overlooks the Arctic and North Pacific.

But if you look at Crimea seven years after annexation from the perspective of financial analysis, the peninsula that has no land border with Russia looks completely different.

It is a fiscal victory that caused a devastating toll: it provoked Western sanctions, slowing Russia’s economic growth, significantly affecting the livelihoods of the average Russian and even contributing to a crisis in the famous space industry.

The Kremlin spent tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure projects in Crimea, such as the $ 3.7 billion 19-kilometer-long bridge that connects the peninsula with mainland Russia.

It splashed splendidly on new roads and hospitals, power plants, transmission lines and subsidies for the population of more than 2.5 million countries with a rapidly rising Crimea.

Western sanctions imposed on Moscow after the annexation cost Russian companies more than $ 100 billion, or 4.2 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to a study by Daniel Ahn and Rodney Ludema, former U.S. State Department economists.

Putin’s efforts to protect corporations, most controlled by his former colleagues and neighbors, add up to losses at 8 percent of GDP, the study published in the European Economic Review in November said.

“Eight percent is nothing to sneeze. That’s a big number, “Ahn told reporters in December.

However, other analysts argue the number.

“The direct losses are tiny,” Ukrainian analyst Aleksey Kushch told Al Jazeera. He said the sanctions resulted in the loss of only one percent of Russia’s GDP.

However, Russia’s bilateral trade with Ukraine fell from its peak of nearly $ 50 billion in 2011, and annual losses amount to at least $ 20 billion, he said.

Ukraine, the second most populous ex-Soviet republic with a population of 43 million, was Russia’s main trading partner and a source of migrant workers, food products, steel and high-tech products.

Dozens of Ukrainian factories and research facilities working for Russia’s industrial-military complex and the space industry broke their ties overnight, inflating the cost of new weapons and spacecraft.

But Western sanctions for annexation, which included a ban on advanced technology exports, paralyzed Russia’s already troubled space industry, an expert said.

“They severely hampered the development of Russia’s space program,” Pavel Luzin, an analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think tank in Russia, told Al Jazeera.

Beef on water

Many in Crimea supported the annexation because of Moscow’s promises to increase its salaries and pensions, build better roads and boost tourism.

But these days, prices are skyrocketing, corruption and spiraling pressure on any form of dissent makes them wonder why they voted to “join” Russia in the March 2014 “referendum” that has not been recognized in Ukraine or internationally.

“To make people less agitated, [Moscow] has to spend colossal amounts to solve their problems, “Nikolay Poritsky, former Crimean Minister of Housing and Communal Services in Ukraine, told Al Jazeera.

Life under Russia became complicated.

A butcher living outside Simferopol, the administrative capital of Crimea, said that after the annexation he lost access to Ukrainian meat products and that it took months to find a reliable supplier in southern Russia.

After the first purchase, the supplier tried to sell him low-quality frozen beef.

“He said,‘ You live far away and maybe you won’t come back anymore, and I have to feed my family, ’” the butcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.

Now he only opens his shop once a week to sell chicken, because the demand is too low.

There is another catastrophe that is awaiting in Crimea, at home.

Crimea is best known for its southern coast, a subtropical and perfect postcard of green land full of hotels, resorts and former residences of top communist leaders and Russian tsars.

Most of the peninsula is, however, steppe and arid mountains.

The Soviet-built North Crimea canal supplied 85% of the water from the mighty Dnieper River, making irrigation agriculture and population growth possible.

Ukraine closed the channel in 2014, almost obliterating agriculture in the Crimea and force the de facto authorities to ration the water supply to urban centers.

These days, Simferopol, the second largest city on the Crimean peninsula, receives water for three hours a day on weekdays and for five hours on weekends. Residents of apartment buildings rush to fill the bathrooms.

Water pumped from almost depleted reservoirs and contaminated wells is sometimes dirty.

“I filled a bathroom once and the water was the color of brandy,” Edem Kurtveliyev, a doctor living in a nine-story apartment building south of Simferopol, told Al Jazeera.

De facto authorities announced several million projects to pump water from aquifers, but admit that the only long-term solution to the water crisis is the construction of expensive desalination plants.

“Desalination is the only way out,” Crimean pro-Crimean leader Sergey Ationov told RIA Novosti news agency in December.

Four months later, he compared Ukraine’s refusal to reopen the channel to “state terrorism” and “genocide.”

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