Why Russia is changing ethnic composition of Crimea
A 2.4 million-strong population is too much economy-wise for a military base Russia has been turning the annexed Crimea into. Besides, the invaders surely take into account the fact that the locals for almost a quarter century have enjoyed Ukrainian democracy and freedom of speech. The "aggravating circumstance" for the occupation authorities is the presence on the peninsula of the Crimean Tatar people in all aspects of its multifaceted history, problems, and strategic national goals and objectives.
Therefore, Russia perceives the demographic situation in Crimea only in the context of creating loyal population in the region of "military development", which would be cheap to maintain, as well as unable to civil protests and any other uncontrolled forms of political activity.
Throughout the period of occupation, "excess" population has been displaced through demonstrative repression
During the three years of occupation, the hypothesis has been repeatedly confirmed that Russia has chosen to displace from Crimea all "excessive" population and provide for its partial replacement through controlled migration from mainland Russia. This policy has been launched as early as in the spring of 2014.
Throughout the period of occupation, "excess" population has been displaced by demonstrative repression: in 2016 this affected not only the Crimean Tatars, it was extended to "Ukrainian terrorists and saboteurs," while repression against journalists continued as well.
Meanwhile, the occupier state in 2014-2017 actively stimulated movement of population from Crimea to various regions of the Russian Federation, for example, through the Federal program called "The Far East Hectare" providing for some free land for housing, business or farming in the territories that are part of the Far Eastern Federal district of Russia. In addition, the occupation authorities encourage young people to leave Crimea by providing incentives to study across Russian regions. In parallel lines, resettlement to Crimea by Russian citizens from various Russian regions has been supported.
First of all, in this process, militarization of Crimea is being used, that is an increase on the peninsula of the number of mainly contracted troops (not conscripts) as well as their families. To this end, the "Military Mortgage" program has been extended to include the territory of Crimea.
From the first day and throughout the years of occupation, Russia has been methodically forming in Crimea and Sevastopol its repressive administrative apparatus by deploying more staff from Moscow and other regions
Secondly, staff reshuffles are also being employed: despite their vocal loyalty to the annexation, Crimean state and municipal employees are being systemically and massively replaced by officials from different regions of Russia, mostly from depressed areas, including the north as well as the remote Siberian cities. From the first day and throughout the years of occupation, Russia has been methodically forming in Crimea and Sevastopol its repressive administrative apparatus by deploying more staff from Moscow and other regions, including law enforcement, regulatory authorities, and "supervisors" in local governments in the occupied territory.
According to estimates based on the analysis of both public and insider information, the share of officials deployed from Russia, in departments of Russian state agencies in Crimea subordinated directly to Moscow is 70%, while in the local bodies subordinate to Simferopol it’s 50%. One of the trends which surfaced in 2016 is that the replacement of local personnel with newcomers began in areas such as education and healthcare.
Thirdly, during the three years of occupation, we have been witnessing a process of resettlement to Crimea with the purchase of real estate by pensioners from remote northern regions of Russia, Siberia and the Far East. And this trend is being reinforced today. When these people are asked why they choose to resettle, they answer something along the lines of "everything is bad where we live and in Crimea as well but at least, it’s warm here."
The fourth thing is we can predict that in a significant number of Russian workers involved in the construction of the Kerch-mainland bridge and other major infrastructure could remain in Crimea for permanent residence.
According to official data of Russian statistics, as of October 1, 2016, the absolute increase in population in Crimea due to migration from regions of the Russian Federation in 2014-2016 was 151,651 people: that is, 96,226 people for Crimea and 55,425 people for Sevastopol, the stronghold of the Russian Black Fleet.
As far as how the situation is developing in Crimea, where the level of freedom of speech, quality of life, and general freedoms is becoming increasingly unbearable for normal people, the number of Crimean locals seeking to leave the peninsula is increasing.
Sevastopol population growth rate due to migration from Russian regions for the period of occupation to the figures of January 1, 2014 (amounted to 385,900 people) amounts to the unprecedented 14.36%, while that of the population beyond Sevastopol - at 4.9%.
However, the way the residents of the occupied Crimea assess the migration situation is radically different from the high rates of official statistics. Residents of Sevastopol, including city council members, healthcare officials and health insurance experts noted that, according to their perception, the population of Sevastopol increased by 2-2.5 times.
Residents of Simferopol believe that the actual population of the Crimean capital now stands at about 600,000 against 380,000 in 2014. A large increase in the number of children is being observed, with an acute shortage of places in schools and especially in kindergartens.
It is after the replacement of the population in Crimea to a satisfactory level of loyalty that the Kremlin authorities may, in their view, get the opportunity to join the international negotiations on the fate of Crimea on the "democratic" basis. In 2016, there have been plenty of media spins by famous "liberal" leaders in Russia and some Western states of the ideas of "another referendum" on the status of Crimea.
It should also be noted that as far as how the situation is developing in Crimea, where the level of freedom of speech, quality of life, and general freedoms is becoming increasingly unbearable for normal people, the number of Crimean locals seeking to leave the peninsula is increasing.
Also, the fact that Ukraine obtained a visa-free travel across the EU for its citizens has also played its role. Crimean residents are now considering whether that could receive biometric passports and travel to Europe without visas. Besides, the discussion is now ongoing in Ukraine on introducing a visa regime with Russia. This situation for the part of the population, which has long considered leaving but for whatever reasons failed to do so, will become the stimulus to finally leave the peninsula. And the fact that the FSB has started tracking and "contacting" those Crimeans who travel to mainland Ukraine to get their biometric passports will encourage more Crimeans to flee.
Andriy Klymenko is a director of the Crimean department at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation and an editor-in-chief at BlackSeaNews