The macro-geopolitical battle over Ukraine between the EU and Russia is obvious to anybody. The AA and DCFTA against the Russian led Customs Union is but one example. Cooperation with the CSTO verses NATO is yet another. Ukrainian ability to transport Caspian Sea oil and gas to the EU without Russian involvement is yet another. Almost every part of business and civil society is subjected to an on-going macro-geopolitical tug of war. A tug of war that the EU desperately wants to win for numerous reasons both present and future.
Nowhere is this more concentrated and prima facie than Crimea, the Autonomous Republic gifted to Ukraine back in 1954 by the then USSR leadership.
It is of course home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, for now at least, and possibly until 2042. There is a very large percentage of the population with Russian heritage. A large number of Crimean citizens hold both Ukrainian and Russian passports despite this being illegal due to Ukrainian laws.
Crimea is incredibly popular with Russians as a holiday location and the city of Moscow, when Yuri Luzhkov was Mayor signed a development program with the Crimean authorities. Alexander Lebedev, owner of the UK’s Independent newspaper (amongst others) has spent $ billions on developments in Crimea.
Only 6 weeks ago I turned down a job to manage the construction of a $250 million complex in Yalta fronted by a very well known and legitimate Austrian company for a development being paid for by an unnamed Russian billionaire.
Russians and Russia have spent literally $ billions and billions over the past 10 years in Crimea and will continue to do so.
This has implications with Ukraine heading towards the EU slowly but surely as Crimea has a historical identity of its own long before being arbitrarily gifted to Ukraine less than 60 years ago. Not only is it already an acknowledged Autonomous Republic with its own constitution, but is has a historical claim that would stand quite firmly against any scrutiny should it seek independence from Ukraine and seek a right to self-determination.
There is also the Tartar issue and links with Turkey.
It could become very messy if the Government of Ukraine and the EU do not keep a watchful eye and try to match the Russian FDI in Crimea with the associated work and rise in living standards this generally produces one way or another.
This, it seems, has dawned on some prominent members of the EU. Stefan Fule, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy was in Yalta only a few days ago and obviously has recognised the macro-geopolitical battle exists in a very condensed micro-geopolitical circumstance in Crimea. Quite possibly somebody in the EU is now realising that speaking only to those in Kyiv does not necessarily bring the entire country along with those they speak to. Ukraine is in many ways a system of quasi-federalist fiefdoms and what is said in Kyiv does not always trickle down into the fiefdoms. Something made even more difficult when Crimea has its own constitution and parliament.
Thus Crimea more than any other region of Ukraine must be a cause for on-going concern both in Kyiv and Brussels given the undoubted Russian influence in the numerous forms it takes. That said, as Ukrainian law allows anybody from any nation to by land and property within the nation (less agricultural land) it is quite impossible and also illegal to deny such rights only to Russians.
The only way to stamp any EU message within the Autonomous Republic is to match the Russians by way of FDI.
The EU is now therefore trying to engage with the leadership of Crimea. Whilst in Crimea, Mr Fule addressed the Crimean leadership and stated “The EU is ready to assist the reform launched in the republic and its development. We are interested in the economic and social development of the autonomy, the implementation of infrastructure projects and cooperation with the public. Crimea has a chance to become a priority region in cooperation with the EU.
We are ready to introduce Crimea as an investment platform to the European Union, and assist gradual development of the autonomy’s districts.”
In response the Crimean leadership, who were well courted in a recent visit to Brussels in May, stated “We propose to open a EU visa center in Simferopol in the near future, and we are also ready to find premises for it.
All initiatives are working and realistic. Our interest towards Europe is systematic in many directions: tourism, economy, investments, experience exchange, culture and humanitarian sphere.”
Battle has eventually be joined between the EU and Russia in Crimea, and to be fair it is a more than appropriate microcosm from which to view the eddies and flows of the macro.
Once again, at least publicly, the EU in its glacial and cumbersome movement has been slow to counter the swift and nimble Russian foreign policy. That though is the problem with 27 navigators on only one bus.