"If we give water to the Crimea in order to have some great advantage in the negotiations about the Donbas, my personal opinion is that I would consider it a sufficient compromise," the chairman of the Servant of the People parliamentary faction, David Arakhamia, said on February 11. But after the statement caused a public outcry, he apologized for his words.
Since Russia occupied Crimea in 2014, the issue of supplying water to the peninsula via the North Crimean Canal ceased being an economic one and instead became political. Currently, the Crimean reservoirs are only one-third full. The Russia-controlled Committee on Water Management and Crimean Amelioration is forecasting a state of emergency on the peninsula by mid-summer. Russian authorities are already announcing disruptions to the water supply. Hromadske takes a look at the reactions to Arakhamia’s statement in Ukraine, Russia and the occupied peninsula.
Why is water a problem?
Before 2014, up to 85% of freshwater in the Crimea was supplied through the North Crimean Canal, which connects the Dnipro river bed with the peninsula. However, after the occupation, Ukraine blocked the canal. Last fall and winter had little rainfall, so now Crimean reservoirs are only a third full. This concerns technical water, which is used, for example, in agriculture or at military bases.
The dried out North Crimean Canal in Dzhankoy district, Crimea, Ukraine. April 25, 2014. Photo: Oleksiy Suvirov/UNIAN
What do Russia and the Crimean “authorities” say?
The so-called "State Committee on Water Management of the Republic of Crimea" says that the Crimean reservoirs are 30-40% full.
Since 2014, the Russian authorities have not found a way to provide the peninsula with water. Projects for seawater desalination, sewage treatment, the construction of a water pipeline from Russia along the bottom of the Black Sea, and the supply of water by a bridge across the Kerch Strait remain unimplemented.
The head of the occupation authority of the Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said that Crimea will receive 20 billion rubles ($314.5 million) for the reconstruction of the Mizhhirske reservoir, through which it will be possible to provide water for Simferopol. He also said that finding additional water sources remains one of the main tasks in Crimea.
Some deputies of the Crimean “State Council” do not rule out the possibility of purchasing water in mainland Ukraine. "Russia is helping Ukraine with gas, but why does it not demand from international organizations that water supply continues?" asks Valery Aksyonov, a member of the “State Council of Crimea”.
Сommenting on the possibility of Ukraine regaining control of the border in Donbas in return for the restoration of water supply to Crimea, the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov said that "Crimea cannot be exchanged". But he added that any proposals concerning water supply could be considered. "If there are any proposals for additional water supply, on a commercial or other basis, they may be considered," says Peskov.
The shallow Mizhhirne reservoir, which, before the annexation of Crimea, was a backup source of water supply to Sevastopol and Simferopol. Photo: Krym.Realii
What do Ukrainian MPs, officials, and activists say?
Even before the statement by Arakhamia, Yurii Aristov, an MP from the Servant of the People and chairman of the budget committee, in early February, said that Ukraine was considering selling water to Crimea. “Israelis sell water to a belligerent country, they make money. So we had an idea, for example, to sell water to Russia, that is, to Crimea," commented Aristov. Subsequently, Aristov clarified that this was just an idea with no concrete steps behind it.
Arakhamia and Aristov's colleague from the faction -- Crimean Liza Bogutskaya -- opposes the sale of water to the occupied Crimea. “Who would we sell to? What is the status of Crimea now? Who would we sign the contract with? What is the side that wants to buy this water ready to offer? But this is an occupation! Selling water to our own territory, but to occupiers, is out of the question. When they return Crimea, we will gladly provide water immediately. This is the common position [of the Servant of the People faction],” noted Bogutskaya.
Refat Chubarov, leader of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, calls the possibility of selling water "strengthening the position of the occupation of the peninsula." Chubarov added that there is enough drinking water in the Crimea, it is only the agriculture and military bases of the Russian Federation who are lacking it. "We will only open the first gateways when the troops are withdrawn. No other compromises are possible," says Chubarov.
The same position was expressed by the Head of the Delegation of the President of Ukraine to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Anton Korynevych, and former political prisoner and European Solidarity MP Akhtem Chiygoz, who still has relatives and friends in Crimea. “As for our citizens, they understand that this is a fight against the occupier. That is why all this talk by some representatives of the presidential party that ‘we care about citizens’ is a lie and an attempt to trick society. This proves that part of the presidential team from the Servant of the People is prepared to cooperate with Russia,” Chiygoz believes.
The newly-appointed head of the Presidential Office, Andriy Yermak, noted that Ukraine had never discussed with Russia the possibility of restoring the water supply. He added that Arakhamia's words were his personal thoughts.
The leader of the National Corps party, Andriy Biletskyi, stated that in case agreements on the water supply to Crimea materialize, his party will block this process.
What do the inhabitants of the occupied peninsula say?
A representative of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people in the Krasnoperekopsk district of the Republic of Crimea, Muzaffar Fukala, says that there is no panic among the Crimean Tatars. According to him, it is only in Simferopol that water is provided by the hour, but the word on the street is that it will spread to other cities. He strongly opposes Ukraine selling water to Crimea. “Most Crimean Tatars oppose Ukraine selling water to the peninsula. Because it will be a betrayal of Ukraine. There are also assertions that our prisoners might be released in exchange for water," commented Fukala.
Crimean Tatar activist Elmas Kirimli says that in Simferopol, water is only supplied by the hour in some districts. At the same time, she said, pro-Russian residents of Crimea believe that it is Ukraine who should be responsible for water supply.