Against the background of a sharp decline in Russian incomes and a drop in the rating of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin may dare to launch a new attack on Ukraine to gain control of the North Crimean Canal. This opinion was expressed in an interview with Krym.Realii, a project of Radio Svoboda, by the chairman of the board of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, Eskender Bariev.
At the same time, the Crimean Tatar activist emphasizes that drinking water on the peninsula, despite the arid climate, could be enough to meet the needs of the local population. However, the Russian-controlled Crimean authorities prefer to spend it on industrial and military needs, which is causing a serious crisis, Bariev said.
"Of course, droughts, warm winters, during which there is little rainfall, and the onset of summer cause a reduction in fresh water. However, this issue cannot be considered in a humanitarian context, as even this amount of water is sufficient for the needs of the local population. It is clear that this supply can be carried out on schedule, however, its number is able to cover the basic household needs of people. However, the problem is that in practice this water is spent on the military-industrial complex, heating plants, agricultural services. Of course, there is not enough water in Crimea for such needs, ”he explains.
Eskender Bariev adds: Russia is actively settling in Crimea, which is also increasing water consumption.
"New apartment buildings are being built. And even, according to official data, 300 thousand more people now live in Sevastopol than at the time of annexation. Most of them are retirees from the military, security forces and civil servants. We should not forget about the workers from Central Asia, who are busy building housing and infrastructure for them. The next category is migrants from the Caucasus who are trying to start their own business in the Crimea and carry out a criminal redistribution of control over the territory. Due to this, there is a sharp increase in the population in Crimea and, accordingly, the consumption of drinking water, ”explains a member of the Mejlis.
According to him, from the very beginning of the annexation, Moscow has been trying in various ways to restore mainland Ukraine's water supply to the peninsula through the North Crimean Canal.
"The first method was especially relevant in 2014, when the Russian military tried to seize the land corridor to the Crimea, including access to the Kakhovka Reservoir. Then it was possible to stop their advancement at the level of Mariupol. Another way is to lobby for the idea that Ukraine should restore water supply to the occupied territories. It is carried out through certain Ukrainian politicians, officials and the media. It can be said that in the last year this tactic has intensified, and there have been many more statements on the topic of "humanitarian catastrophe" and the need to open a channel, for example, in exchange for the release of political prisoners. The same views are actively held by Russian politicians. The third way of Russia's influence on the Ukrainian authorities in terms of water supply is lawsuits, "said Eskender Bariev.
One such plaintiff was the Crimean fish factory, which announced the occurrence of "significant damage" due to the blocking of the North Crimean canal by the Ukrainian side. The lawsuits were initially filed in Ukrainian courts, passed three instances, but were never considered on the merits. As a result, the plaintiffs filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights.
"According to Ukrainian law, legal entities established in the occupied territories are considered illegal. At the same time, the plant did not pay, and most likely, due to its illegal status, was unable to pay the court fee, without which the case cannot be considered on the merits, ”the Crimean Tatar activist said.
As a result, on June 3, the ECtHR rejected the complaint of the Crimean fish factory, which led the Russian side to accusations of prejudice and discrimination against Crimean people, as well as hints at the judge's Azerbaijani origin.
"The complaint was rejected on purely formal grounds: the response clearly stated that the case did not need further consideration. This was a perfectly legitimate decision. For her part, Natalia Poklonskaya filed a complaint with the UN, in which she, in particular, pointed out that the cessation of water supply harms the ecosystem of the peninsula. However, the North Crimean Canal was an artificial structure and was not part of the Crimean ecosystem. At the same time, in her letter, she expressed concern over the fate of indigenous peoples, although officially Russia does not want to recognize even a few indigenous peoples of Crimea as indigenous, ”Eskender Bariyev said.
At the same time, the Crimean Tatar activist fears that against the background of the failure of the judicial and information campaigns, Russian President Vladimir Putin may return to attempts to solve the problem by force.
"The drop in his rating against the background of the coronavirus may also play a role here. Let us recall that Putin has always used external aggression to raise his authority and mobilize the population. In addition, the water situation in Crimea may indeed become critical. Russian propaganda can skillfully use this by shifting the population's attention to the "Ukrainian junta," which "condemns our citizens to death by thirst," Eskender Bariev suggests.
Earlier, both Ukrainian and Western analysts also noted the likelihood of such an invasion. However, the chairman of the board of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center hopes that the defense potential of Ukraine and its allies is now sufficient to deter possible aggression.
"The state of the army today is not the same as in 2014. However, Russia is taking advantage of the weakening of Ukrainian power and Ukraine's desire for peace. Although politicians clearly say that water will not be supplied to the Crimea. The same position is taken by Ukrainian civil society, realizing that the refusal to supply water is the main tool for the deoccupation of the peninsula. However, a contingent of approximately 87-90 thousand people is currently stationed on the border in the south and east of Ukraine. In this regard, the head of the American think tank Jamestown Foundation Glen Howard spoke about the importance of conducting exercises in Ukraine in the Kherson region, which are working to repel a possible attack. They are really held periodically, "Bariev explains.
According to him, the Russian invasion, carried out without the use of aircraft, is doomed to failure. In addition, on 12 June, Ukraine became a member of NATO's Partnership for Enhanced Opportunities. Such accession gives Ukraine the opportunity to provide operational planning in the early stages of the crisis and to expand the dialogue in the exchange of intelligence.
"First of all, this is a message to Russia that in the event of a new aggression, NATO can provide Ukraine with sectoral (operational) and logistical assistance, possibly with lethal weapons, as well as help it protect its airspace if Moscow uses aircraft. ", - summed up Eskender Bariev.
Russia occupied and annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March 2014. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine officially announced on February 20, 2014 the beginning of the temporary occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia. International organizations have declared the occupation and annexation of Crimea illegal and condemned Russia's actions. Western countries have imposed a number of economic sanctions against Moscow. Russia denies the occupation of the peninsula and calls it "the restoration of historical justice."