Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

Vladimir Putin gives Crimea power for anniversary of annexation

The public's view of the Russian president, which surged after the annexation in 2014, recently plummeted to historic lows

A Russian national flag and a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin are waved at a celebration of the third anniversary of the annexation of the Crimea in Sevastopol. AFP
A Russian national flag and a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin are waved at a celebration of the third anniversary of the annexation of the Crimea in Sevastopol. AFP

President Vladimir Putin marked the five-year anniversary of the annexation of Crimea on Monday by cutting the ribbon at two power stations on the peninsula which has been plagued by electricity cuts since Russia seized the territory from Ukraine in 2014.

The facilities in Sevastopol and Simferopol, which will cover 90 per cent of Crimea’s needs, are at the centre of an international scandal. German engineering company Siemens said its turbines had been installed to generate power without their knowledge and in violation of EU sanctions.

At a pop concert to celebrate the anniversary, Mr Putin compared the contested region’s decision to vote in favour of joining Russia in 2014 to the bravery of Soviet soldiers at the beginning of World War II. He added that Russia was still working to properly integrate Crimea into Russia.

"Only the basic conditions of development have been laid down, but we will do everything to achieve the goals before us," Mr Putin told crowds.

Five years ago last Saturday, the Kremlin organised a referendum on the Crimean Peninsula, asking residents whether they wanted to join the Russian Federation. More than 95 per cent of those going to the polls voted yes to the proposal.

The ballot was criticised by Western leaders as illegal, rigged and an attempt to poll a population held at gunpoint. Regardless, it led to Russia’s annexation of the Ukraine peninsula.

The West and Ukraine have refused to recognise the move and on Monday, Kiev issued a diplomatic note protesting what it said was Mr Putin’s unauthorized visit.

Following the Kremlin’s seizure of Ukrainian territory, Mr Putin’s ties with Western leaders soured. The United States and the EU responded with hefty economic sanctions, which they have redoubled following accusations that Russia meddled in 2016 presidential and orchestrated the poisoning of former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal in the UK last year.

At home, however, Russian authorities enjoyed a surge in approval ratings, a phenomenon dubbed “the Crimea Consensus,” which Mr Putin has failed to sustain in the years since. After a period of economic uncertainty in Russia and the Kremlin’s controversial decision to increase the pension age, public trust in the president fell to 33 per cent in January – a 13-year low.

Following the annexation, Russia has poured more than a billion dollars each year into the territory in subsidies and heavily promoted tourism to the Black Sea region to keep the struggling economy afloat.

Last year, Mr Putin personally opened a bridge connecting the Russian mainland to the annexed region. The 19-Kilometre Kerch Bridge, built by a close ally of the Kremlin Arkady Rotenberg, cost the Kremlin almost $4 billion.

Leonid Bershidsky, a Russian political columnist, has argued that while the economic costs the Kremlin incurred to incorporate Crimea into Russia are manageable for its oil-rich economy, the lasting impact will be on Mr Putin’s reputation as a reliable dealmaker on the global stage.

“Putin’s isolation is evident in Russia’s shrinking share of global arms sales, his inability to broker a political solution in Syria, his failure to persuade Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko to move toward a closer union, the near-lack of Chinese direct investment in Russia,” he wrote in a recent column on the annexation. “Literally all deals are elusive.”

Updated: March 19, 2019 07:41 PM

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