Water supply to the occupied Crimea: ready to jump
Before the annexation, Crimea was provided with fresh water from the territory of mainland Ukraine. Delivery was through the North Crimean Canal, which connected body of the Dnipro with the peninsula. The Dnipro water covered up to 85% of the Crimea’s fresh water needs.
The canal was closed after the Russian occupation, and currently, only water from local rivers, underground sources and reservoirs is being used on the peninsula.
Of course, this water is sorely lacking, especially for agricultural purposes and industry, so the topic of water supply is being periodically raised: one day in Kyiv or Moscow, another day by the local occupation authorities.
If this seemed impossible under President Petro Poroshenko (the statements of his team were clearly against at that time), then under Volodymyr Zelensky, this issue was updated with renewed vigor. Not without a reason. Firstly, individual deputies of the Servant of the People presidential party openly support the resumption of such supplies, and secondly, Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal does not exclude this possibility. After all, the head of state himself comments on this issue quite cautiously.
“The issue of water is not being discussed”, – the maximum that Zelensky says.
However, according to OstroV, the issue of supplying water to the occupied Crimea was actively discussed by the president even during his election campaign. This is not to mention the fact that since the end of summer, it has become more acute in the President’s Office than ever. Currently, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, this topic is not so relevant, but this issue is still not closed in the Presiden’s Office. They definitely are not in a hurry to drop such a big trump card in negotiations with Russia.
The idea of water supply from Ukraine
The first statements from the newly elected government that water supplies are possible in the Crimea were made in October 2019 by head of the parliamentary budget committee, MP from Servant of the People Yuriy Aristov. He offered to sell water to the peninsula.
“There was an idea – to sell water. The Israelites sell water practically to a belligerent country. They earn. That is, in fact, they solve their social problems this way. We had an idea, for example, to sell water to Russia”, – he said, having added that this refers to deliveries to “our Crimea”.
This statement caused public anger in Ukraine, after which the people’s deputy had to make excuses that it was just an idea for discussion.
President Volodymyr Zelensky reacted rather sluggishly. He intentionally did not use harsh arguments about the impossibility of supplying water to the Crimea while it was in Russian occupation.
“In order for negotiations to take place, someone should raise this topic. That party did not raise the topic, and we are defending Ukraine in this matter. You know what is happening in the Crimea. What we are ready for – we are doing normal comfortable checkpoints in the Kherson region, we want to invest money in the Kherson region to show the Crimea, to develop infrastructure there, especially near the temporary border with the Crimea. Water issues are not being discussed”, -he said.
After that, the topic of water supply to the Crimea was not raised for six months. But on February 11, 2020, head of the Servant of the People faction Davyd Arakhamia stated that Ukraine could end the water blockade of Crimea in exchange for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Donbass.
“My personal attitude is that I will consider this a sufficient compromise. I would go for it because the citizens of Ukraine will use water in the Crimea. If it is such an exchange that they leave with all the armed formations for Rostov and we establish control over the border, I will go for that”, – he stated.
The very next day, head of the Presidential Office and chief negotiator with the Russian Federation Andriy Yermak noted that this was Davyd Arakhamia’s personal opinion. Yermak answered in the negative to the question of a journalist, whether he spoke with deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitry Kozak about the water supply to the Crimea.
Ater all, Arakhamia was forced to apologize for his words.
On the other hand, some Ukrainian politicians welcomed the idea of supplying water. For example, godfather of Vladimir Putin’s children and people’s deputy from Opposition Platform – For Life Viktor Medvedchuk stated that this would be a profitable solution for Ukraine.
Russia did not reject such an idea as well, and Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the proposals for water supply on a commercial or other basis could be considered.
In general, the topic got a wide response and as soon as it calmed down a little, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced on the air of one of the TV channels Ukraine’s readiness to supply water to the Crimea, so that there would not be a humanitarian disaster.
“The issue of supplying water to the occupied Crimea is not a matter of trade with the occupier, this is not a matter of some business, this is a matter of humanitarian responsibility to people living in the Crimea. Failure to supply water there will lead to a humanitarian disaster… Ukrainians live there, we will not turn the water off for Ukrainians. The Crimea is Ukraine”, – he said.
However, right after the broadcast, he posted a message on Facebook, where he noted that the Ukrainian government cannot supply water to the Crimea occupied by Russia until the de-occupation of the peninsula and its return to Ukraine.
It would seem that the question is closed! But no. The next day, Prime Minister Shmyhal talks about the readiness to supply water to the occupied Crimea during his speech in the Verkhovna Rada again. Clarifying that this refers only to housekeeping needs.
“We will not supply water for industrial and military facilities. Full stop. We will supply water to Ukrainians for housekeeping needs and drinking in case of need or humanitarian threat. This is our commitment to our Ukrainians, this is important”, – he stated.
While the majority of pro-government and opposition (the Batkivshchyna, Voice and ES parties opposed) politicians harshly condemned the words of the prime minister and stated the impossibility of supplying water to the Crimea before its de-occupation, there were those who liked the idea. For example, this is MP from Servant of the People Oleksandr Kachura, who believes that this will improve the process of reintegration of the peninsula.
“We need to supply water for the citizens. In what form – it will be developed by the Cabinet of Ministers. To prevent this from getting into industry, the defense sphere, to the military of the occupation forces”, – he said.
Another MP from Servant of the People Yuriy Kamelchuk also supported the resumption of water supply to the Crimea occupied by Russia. According to him, Ukrainians live there, whom we must help.
“I do not understand: is that the Crimea that we want to return, where, among others, Ukrainians live, the Crimea, where there are fertile lands that we want to dry out? If we think so, we will not want this desert in 5-10 years… Why do not we conclude a contract for water supply? Maybe we will sell water at the same price as Russia sells gas to us”, – he said.
The final point in this matter was set by the Permanent Mission of the President in the Crimea (with reference to the President’s Office), where it was stated that “no one is going to open any water in the Crimea before de-occupation. However, there was no Volodymyr Zelensky’s personal statement on this issue.
As for the attitude of Ukrainians towards the possible supply of water to the Crimea, according to a sociological survey conducted by the New Image Group at the request of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future (from February 13 to 23, 2020), 52% of the population of Ukraine support the given initiative.
So, 35% of Ukrainians support the idea of resuming water supplies to the occupied Crimea, another 17% of Ukrainians support the resumption of water supply on a commercial basis.
Thus, the Ukrainian authorities can justify their decision on the supply of water to the Crimea by the desire of the Ukrainians themselves.
What the reaction of the Crimea was
The occupied Crimea ambiguously reacted to the possibility of supplying water from mainland Ukraine. On the one hand, so-called head of the Crimean parliament Vladimir Konstantinov, says that they are not ready to take water from the “Nazi regime”, and even call it dirty and unsafe for health.
“First of all, he (Denys Shmyhal, – ed.) made quite a provocative statement: they have nothing to do with a real desire to supply water. The phrase “Ukrainian Crimea” was said. Definitely, they are not ready to supply water, and we are not ready to take it from such people at a time when the Nazi regime is in power, not all participants in the coup d’etat were punished, they caused the Crimea multi-billion damage by all kinds of blockades”, – Konstantinov state.
On the other hand, “head” of the Crimea Sergey Aksyonov, who is generally emotional and unrestrained in his statements and assessments, comments on this topic quite carefully.
“It is hard for me to say something. I do not dare to comment. If their brains start working, then, of course, there is a longstanding need to supply water, because the Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts have swamp formation there. The North Crimean Canal was not only for water supplies to the Republic of Crimea, but also for protection of part of the territory of Ukraine from swamping”, – he stated.
According to him, the water reserve in the three main sources of water supply in Simferopol – Ayan, Simferopol and Partizan reservoirs – is sufficient for uninterrupted water supply of the city during 3.5 months, even if there is a complete absence of precipitation, the Russian head of the Crimea Sergey Aksyonov claims.
“As of April 3, the total water supply in the Crimean reservoirs of natural runoff is 113.7 million cubic meters, which is 96.8 million cubic meters less than last year at this date”, – he states.
Along with that, a water outage for a day or two because of the “scheduled repair work” is being periodically reported in the Crimean cities the last few months. This is what the locals tell our agency.
“Since the beginning of the year, water supply in Yevpatoria has been cut off for one day two times due to the scheduled work, but at the same time they constantly say that we should use water reasonably. I know that there are similar messages in Simferopol, as well as in small Crimean cities. Of course, the authorities do not openly admit that we have problems and we need water from Ukraine, they talk about reserves and stuff like that, but people see everything: the rivers dry up, the reservoirs are not filled up, and this is clearly visible in the steppe part of the Crimea”, – resident of Yevpatoria Marina says.
“At the beginning of the year, we were told in Simferopol about a phased blackout, but they either canceled or postponed it then. They said that the plan was developed and would be implemented, if necessary. So we are steeping on a volcano in this regard”, – resident of the Crimean capital Mikhail told.
Crimean businessman Oleg Zubkov believes that there is an acute shortage of water supplies on the peninsula due to drought and calls on the “authorities” to introduce an emergency situation regime on the peninsula.
“We cannot hesitate to introduce a state of emergency due tothe lack of water in order to reduce the effects of drought. For example, there are 8 million cubic meters of water left in the Belogorsk reservoir as of today and 2.5 cubic meters of water are discharged into the North Crimean Canal every second. This means that the water in the Belogorsk reservoir can end already in late May – early June. And what will happen to the water supply of Kerch, Sudak, Feodosia, as well as of the villages of eastern Crimea in July-August?!… Today we are not talking about saving agriculture any more, it will just be given to please a force of nature. It is important today to supply at least a population of the Crimea with water”, – he wrote in his blog on April 13, 2020.
In general, judging by the public statements of the “local” and Russian authorities, they are not opposed to the resumption of water supplies from mainland Ukraine to the Crimea. However, they are in no hurry to go cap in hand and ask for it. At least officially.
What comes next?
According to OstroV, Volodymyr Zelensky actively discussed the question of how to drive the Minsk process from the dead-lock even during the election campaign. In this context, he considered the possibility of letting water into the Crimea. Everything was planned to be presented as a goodwill gesture for the Ukrainians who remained there and should not suffer.
“Yes, this topic was raised at informal meetings when we discussed the Donbass and the Crimea. We listened to experts, who spoke the pros and cons of such an idea. In general, Zelensky was inclined to start this process, if he became president, but he was unlikely to understood the full scale of such an operation at that time”, – one of the president’s associates told our agency.
After the victory of Volodymyr Zelensky in the presidential election, this topic died down, but suddenly emerged with the activation of the Minsk process and the Normandy format negotiations.
“They decided not to go in directly, but to get feet wet with rare statements. As far as I know, this was an initiative of the president‘s entourage, and not his personally. According to the response of various activists and the media, the President‘s Office realized that it is not worth putting a focus on. By the way, it is rumored that Zelensky was greatly surprised why this question caused so much negativity“, – interlocutor at the Bankova Street told OstroV.
Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Volodymyr Zelensky resume water supply to the Crimea as a condition for further resolving the situation in the Donbass, so this issue surfaced in a public plane.
“That is why at first, head of the Servant of the People faction Davyd Arakhamia, and then Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced their intention to supply water to the Crimea (Shmyhal then denied his words). And that is why the authorities sent requests to engineering organizations about the preparation of a project to resume water supply to the Crimea. This is a test of the public opinion, the President‘s Office is studying whether Ukrainian society is ready to make such concessions to Putin, and whether the supply of water to the Crimea can become a topic for agreements with the Russian Federation”, – he wrote on Facebook.
At present, the President’s Office has not yet decided whether to promote the idea of launching water to the occupied Crimea. According to our sources, they will be ready to take such a step only if they are sure that the Russian concessions will be worth it. Of course, they are not counting on the complete withdrawal of Russian occupiers from the Donbass, but joint control over the border or large-scale exchange of prisoners can become just the bargaining chip.
“I do not know whether Putin personally told Zelensky to let water into the Crimea, I did not hear that. But that these signals exist through informal channels – 100%. Volodymyr Zelensky is ready to supply water to the Crimea, but it should be well performed and presented as much as possible. Most likely, this will be done after the next sociological survey, where the majority of Ukrainians will speak out for the supply of water. In addition, the emphasis will be put on the fact that the water will not go to the military needs of the occupiers, but to ordinary Ukrainians who are on the verge of humanitarian disaster. This news will be anchored by a large-scale exchange of prisoners or other concessions from Russia in respect of the Donbass. This may concern even some format of control over the Ukrainian-Russian border”, – source in the Presidential Office told OstroV.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV