What is going to be the future of the Crimean peninsula in light of Putin’s successful, yet illegal, military intervention in Ukraine?
The future promises to be grim, to say the least. It is worth taking one brief look at the living conditions found in Transnistria, another breakaway republic engineered and sustained by Soviet-Russian dictatorship. Transnistria is a time machine. Stepping behind the border buffer zone guarded by Russian ‘peacekeeping’ army vehicles at the Moldovan-Transnistrian border is comparable to taking a trip back in time. Or forward, offering a case study that demonstrates what will be the likely future of Crimea.
Transnistria is a haven for corruption and crime, and has other significant economic problems. Just like Russia, its ‘parent country’, Transnistrian economy is primarily extractive and the vast majority of its exports are generated primarily by four Soviet-era plants, two of which are owned by Russian companies. Transnistria receives no foreign direct investment other than from Russia because formally it is not a recognized member of the international community. Everything is painfully characteristic of the Soviet industrial style. People are scraping by and try to escape in search of a better future for their families. Consequently, aside from the heavy industry plants, the second most important source of foreign currency to Transnistria comes from remittances. In good old Soviet style of economy, political corruption in Transnistria is pervasive. The 2013 Freedom House Report states that “the authorities are entrenched in the territory’s economic activities, which rely in large part on smuggling schemes.”
As of 2004 Moldovans comprise 31.9 percent (177,000), Russians 30.4 percent (168,000), Ukrainians 28.8 percent (160,000) of the Transnistrian population. It has three ‘official’ state languages, including Russian, Moldovan, and Ukrainian, but the only real language there is Russian.
Transnistria is a scary Russian theater, where everything is fictitious: money, law, rights and freedom. Freedom House ranks this separatist region as “unfree” with a mark of 6.0 (7.0 being the lowest) for freedom, civil liberties and political rights. A 2012 report by the Freedom House makes some telling observations: “residents of Transnistria cannot choose their leaders democratically,” “native Moldovan speakers are not represented in government,” “corruption and organized crime are serious problems in Transnistria”, “the media environment is restrictive,” “religious freedom is limited,” “the judiciary is subservient to the executive and generally implements the will of the authorities.” Igor Smirnov, a former president of this unrecognized entity, held office for 20 years. What was his secret one might ask? Igor Smirnov monopolized a large steel plant that counts for over half of all legal exports and tax revenues of Transnistria.
This is the kind of future that Putin has in store for Crimea and its residents.
Despite the ongoing show of supposed military might in Crimea, Russia is a weak country with inflated personal ambitions. But Putin’s ambitions cannot provide a decent living to those he occupies. Russia’s extractive economy, unrealistic military spending, corruption, oligarchy, swelling offshore accounts of key officials in tax havens around the world, and internal separatist threats make it a soon-to-fail dystopia.