EU to roll over Crimea ban for another year

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By Marina Romanova

The European Union decided last Friday to prolong the ban for a year on business dealings with the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in March, 2014.

The sanctions are prohibit imports and export of certain products from the region, any investment there or cooperation in tourism services.

“The European Council (of member states) has extended until June 23, 2017 the restrictive measures adopted in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia,” the EU official statement said.

After the annexation of Crimea, Russia-backed rebels waged war against Kiev in eastern Ukraine (were so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics were formed)  and where more than 9,000 people, according to Reuters estimations, have been killed in fighting since the spring of 2014.

Ties between Russia and the West deteriorated over the situation in Ukraine when the European Union along with the United States and some other nations imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia for aiding pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine, which were imposed in the wake of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014, a claim which Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

Peninsula’s head Sergey Aksyonov had said Tuesday that Crimea is prepared for extension of sanctions by the European Union as they expire in June, Russian news agency TASS reports.

“We were preparing… as we understood that sanctions will not be canceled in the nearest time, for the next 10 years at least. At least not sanctions against Crimea,” he told TASS.

Observers, Russians or international, did not comment on Aksenov’s statement about 10 years long sanctions against Crimea yet. However, his bosses in Kremlin seem to hope for much earlier lift of the ban.

On Friday, Putin, while addressing the St. Petersburg economic forum, spoke of the “need to regain trust in Russian-European relations and to restore the level of interaction”, Associated Press reports.

“Regarding the sanctions, all Russia’s actions are reciprocal, we do not hold a grudge, but it is “not a one way road,” he said.

Currently, there are three packages of the EU sanctions: individual sanctions which will remain in force till September 15, 2016, sector sanctions which will expire on July 31, 2016 and rolled for one year sanctions against Crimea.

The EU has also imposed a separate set of visa ban and asset freeze sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian politicians and close to Kremlin entrepreneurs for backing the separatist cause in early 2014.

It is expected that this week EU may extend  its broader economic sanctions on Russia not for year but for 6 months until the end of 2016.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President paid an official visit to Russia last Thursday to participate in St.Petersburg economic forum. Some observers regard this visit as a “sign of tentative thaw” of deeply frozen relations between Russia and Europe.

Russia says the sanctions regime is pointless if damaging, and President Putin regularly insists Crimea will never be given back.

Peninsula of Crimea 

Peninsula of Crimea with an area of around 10,000 square miles is slightly smaller than Belgium. It is Ukraine’s only formally autonomous region, with Simferopol as its capital.

It accounts for three percent of Ukraine’s gross domestic product, with 60 percent of its own output made up by services. The land is intensely farmed, with wheat, corn and sunflowers the main crops. Extra water supplies are brought by canal from Ukraine’s Dnieper River. There are chemical processing plants and iron ore is mined in Kerch. Ukraine has two grain terminals in Crimea – in Kerch and in Sevastopol, which are responsible for about 6.6 percent of Ukraine’s total exports, according to UkrAgroConsult.

The Crimean economy has worsened under sanctions and a blockade by Ukrainians. There is a chronic shortage of goods, domestic and international media reports. Ukrainian banks no longer operate on the peninsula, and international payment systems do not work.

Despite of its own sanctions-wracked economy, Moscow  is trying to revive the region with a little success so far. It funds 75 percent of the local government’s expenditures and has earmarked US$18 billion worth of aid for economic development and infrastructure over the next five years.

Tourism, on which so many Crimeans depend, is struggling despite the Kremlin’s great efforts to promote the region as a holiday destination to replace recently prohibited Turkey resorts, ones the most popular among Russians. Around 4 million people have visited the peninsula so far this year, which is about a third less than before the annexation.

To the modern western world Crimea is best known as the site of the Yalta Conference, where Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill divided the postwar Europe in 1945. However, it has a rich and rather long history and was well known way back by ancient Greeks and Romans.

Being under Greek and Roman influence for centuries, in 1443 Crimea became the centre of a Tatar Khanate (whose descendants were remain in there until Stalin brutally deported them en masse in 1944) which later fell under Ottoman control.

Around half a million people were killed in the Crimean War of 1853-56 between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, which was backed by Britain and France, Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire during the reign of Catherine The Great in 1783. In 1921, the peninsula, then populated mainly by Muslim Tatars, became part of the Soviet Union and remained part of Russia until 1954, when it was transferred to Ukraine under then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

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