Russian Prime Minister Angers Ukraine by Visiting Crimea

Image: Russian Prime Minister Angers Ukraine by Visiting Crimea

Tuesday, 01 Apr 2014 11:27 AM

 

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SIMFEROPOL, Crimea — Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev flaunted Russia's grip on Crimea by flying to the region and holding a government meeting there on Monday, angering Ukraine and defying Western demands to hand the peninsula back to Kiev.

Medvedev's visit taunted Western leaders by underlining their inability to force Putin to relinquish Crimea, seized after the overthrow of Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and formally annexed on March 21.

Accompanying Medvedev, outspoken Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who has been targeted by Western sanctions, left no doubt about the symbolism of the trip, saying on Twitter: "Crimea is ours. Basta!"

The Ukrainian government denounced the visit as a "crude violation" of the rules of diplomacy, a few hours after the latest round of crisis talks between Russia and the United States ended inconclusively.

Soon after Medvedev landed with Cabinet members in Crimea's main city of Simferopol, he held a government meeting on moves to revive the region's struggling economy, including by creating a special economic zone to ease tax and customs duties.

"Our aim is to make the peninsula as attractive as possible to investors, so that it can generate sufficient income for its own development," he said, in a meeting that included Crimean leaders and was broadcast live on Russian state television.

In comments that made clear Russia had no plans to relinquish the region, he set out moves to increase wages for 140,000 state workers in Crimea, boost pensions, turn the region into a tourism hub, protect energy links, end reliance on Ukraine for water and improve its roads, railways and airports.

Chants of "Russia!" and "Thank you!" from a Russian-flag-waving crowd greeted Medvedev on his visit to Sevastopol, home of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. Some welcomed him with a hug and kiss.

"We will take care of Sevastopol. Everything will be fine," he told the crowd on a visit to cement and celebrate Moscow's acquisition of Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority and had been transferred from Russia to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.

Underscoring Crimea's reintegration into Russia, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday warning that foreigners would now require a Russian visa to travel to Crimea.

Ukraine sent a protest note to Moscow over Medvedev's trip, declaring that an official visit to its territory without its consent "is a crude violation of the rules of the international community."

Medvedev said he hoped Crimea's "colossal prospects" for tourism income would help it become self-sufficient.

A senior local economic official said the impoverished Black Sea peninsula hoped for an economic leap forward with large-scale investments, state subsidies and tax breaks from Moscow.

"We have underdeveloped infrastructure and poor people. Now all this has just come to an end and we will finally start dynamic development," Rustam Temirgaliyev, Crimea's first deputy prime minister, told Reuters.

Crimea has a large budget deficit, and relies on Ukraine for 85 percent of its electricity, 90 percent of its drinking water and much of its food.

Boosting the local economy and tourism faces big obstacles, not least a decision by the EU this month to impose heavy tariffs on goods from the annexed region.

Of the 6 million to 8 million tourists a year who visited Crimea before Moscow intervened, more than 60 percent were from Ukraine, and only a quarter from Russia.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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