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Russia's Second Crimean Invasion

  • Brian Whitmore

In Crimea, the honeymoon is over.

In Crimea, the honeymoon is over.

More than a year after the anschluss, Crimea is about to experience what a real Russian invasion feels like.

And this time it won't be "polite people" arriving to lead a virtual liberation of the peninsula from the clutches of mythological Ukrainian fascists.

According to a report in Kommersant, the Kremlin is preparing to dispatch an army of political commissars to de facto run Crimea's affairs and oversee the local authorities.

"Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak has instructed federal departments to draw up a list of candidates from among their high-ranking officials for appointment to posts as first deputy chiefs of the peninsula's executive bodies," the daily reported, citing unidentified Kremlin officials.

You have to wonder whether all those pro-Moscow Crimeans who celebrated last year's annexation had any idea what they were getting themselves into. If they didn't then, they sure do now -- because the honeymoon is definitely over.

"In effect we are talking about a revival of the institution of commissars," a Kremlin official told Kommersant, referring to the Soviet-era institution of Communist Party political officers dispatched to ensure ideological discipline and purity.

"All decisions on key issues relating to the life of Crimea will be made exclusively in coordination with the officials sent from the center," Kommersant quoted one official as saying.

Put another way, the Crimean elite is about to feel the crushing embrace of Vladimir Putin's power vertical. And it is about to learn that being part of Russia means being colonized and cannibalized by Putin's cronies.

Let The Purges Begin

And before Crimea's new commissars arrive, Moscow is already beginning to clean house.

Over the past month, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Investigative Committee have launched criminal corruption cases against three top Crimean officials: Industrial Minister Andrei Skrynnik, chief tax inspector Nikolai Kochanov, and Yalta port chief Dmitry Petrov.

Meanwhile, federal officials have accused Crimea's Construction Ministry of misappropriating approximately two-thirds of the funds provided to rebuild the peninsula's roads.

Russian media has naturally presented the cases as evidence that the Kremlin is determined to combat corruption and suggested there would be more to come.

But corruption investigations in Russia are almost never really about corruption; they're almost always about power struggles and battles over resources.

Political analyst Yekaterina Schulmann told The Moscow Times that the cases signal that Crimea is no longer "sacred" and will now be subject to the same pressure and clan battles as any other region.

"The Crimean elite has little chance in this fight because it was built under a completely different system of government -- the Ukrainian system," she said.

"The question is not whether the Ukrainian government was more or less corrupt than Russia. Its system of corruption was built on different lines, and connections led to different people and structures. Now, these connections are no use to anyone and don't offer protection from anything."

Under Ukrainian rule, Crimea was spectacularly corrupt, enjoyed broad autonomy, and local clans were largely left to run the peninsula's affairs. And now Moscow wants a piece of the action.

'Crimea Has Come Under Attack'

Sergei Aksyonov, the reputed former gangster Moscow installed as Crimea's leader, initially appeared to accept the new order. In a statement posted on the official government website, he said officials "do not have immunity" and "should be held accountable for their actions."

But days later he changed his tune, saying the cases were "fabricated," calling the FSB "provocateurs" and accusing it of trying to discredit the Crimean authorities.

"Some characters from the mainland came here and claim that Crimeans are useless idiots and they are heroes who will change things. I guarantee you, this will not happen," Aksyonov said.

Likewise, the chairman of Crimea's legislature, Vladimir Konstantinov, said "Crimea has come under a serious attack."

And it is not just the Crimean elite that is about to get a hard lesson about what it means to be a subject of the Russian Federation.

The daily Noviye Izvestia reported that the Russian armed forces plan to draft 2,500 Crimean men in the autumn, a fivefold increase over the spring draft.

Leonid Grach, the former head of Crimea's legislature, noted that anti-Moscow sentiments are rising on the peninsula and the Kremlin could face a rebellion if it is not careful.

Perhaps. And if so, it would likely be suppressed as ruthlessly as it would anyplace else.

If Crimeans are experiencing buyer's remorse, it's coming a bit late.

Especially now that the commissars are coming.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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