06 Mar 2017
Expert Opinions National security Analytics ​Igar Tyshkevich

How Russia fills the Crimea with the “anti-ukrainian constituents”

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How Russia fills the Crimea with the “anti-ukrainian constituents”
Three years has past since the annexation of the Crimea

How Russia fills the Crimea with the “anti-ukrainian constituents”

Author: ​Igar Tyshkevich
06 Mar 2017 13:57

Expert of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future Igar Tyshkevich for “Hvylya”

Three years have passed since the annexation of the Crimea. It is quite a sufficient time period to reflect on what has happened and to develop a policy for the future. But, alas, the country has problems with both these issues. Neither the government, nor society has a clear strategy for de-occupation of the Crimea. The most holistic “vision” comes down to a fairy-tale about Kremlin anguishing because of the sanctions and returning the peninsula to Ukraine on its own initiative. In other words, “all the work” is to be done by someone else, and we just need to wait. In terms of understanding and analyzing of what has happened, the situation is not much better: the processes were narrowed to periodic, connected with specific dates “recollection of how things were before”, as well as a series of publications of the chronology of events. Pickings are slim in terms of awareness about what is currently happening on the peninsula. I found this out first-hand while I was giving a comment on the demographic situation. It is a paradox, but in the Ukrainian data sources there is not even a uniform data about the number of people who left the peninsula. Particularly, there is no conceptualization about the demographic processes in the Crimea. And the knowledge of “who lives there” is fundamental for the development of policies after the return of the territory.

Who lives in the Crimea? Or do we even care?

Last week, while participating in the radio program “Crimea Realities” dedicated to demographic processes on the peninsula, I faced the surprising fact: Ukraine, which talks about the annexation of the Crimea and the disaster for thousands of citizens who were forced to leave their homes, has no unified data on migration on the peninsula. There are estimations of various organizations, and that is all. Herein, even the people far from being stupid name a figure of 120 thousand of Russian citizens settled in the Crimea an incredible one. In fact, the situation is much worse.

Speaking about the migration processes, it is quite natural to operate the statistical data. Primarily, it is provided by a State Statistics Service of Ukraine and the Russian Federal State Statistics Service. The most recent Ukrainian adjusted data provide information on the population of the Crimea and Sevastopol as of 01.01.2014. Russian data was adjusted in June 2014 and the estimates were published in July 2014. In October 2014, a census took place in the Crimea, which added to the reference data. Dynamics of the population is shown in the table below:As the table shows, in July 2014 the Russian authorities recorded a significant drop in the population. In order not to associate this with migration processes, the statistics service officially stated that the “shortage” of almost 80 thousand people (including Sevastopol) was a result of the usual correction. That meant that Ukraine was not even capable to normally collect statistical data.


Since October 2014, an increase in the population has been observed. And the city of Sevastopol is filled with new residents with truly Stakhanov methods. Theoretically, this could be attributed to the result of a demographic explosion - during rotating blackouts the reproduction of one’s own kind is the simplest answer to the question “what to do during playtime”. But statistics is a stubborn science. Both in the Crimea and in Sevastopol, there is a natural decline in population: more people die than are born.

On average, the death rate for the Crimea is about 28,500 people per year, for Sevastopol this figure is about 5,700 people. The birth rate is around 23,000 and 5,400 people respectively. That means that the Crimea and Sevastopol “die out” with a minimum speed of about 5,500 people annually (if the year 2015 is taken as basis). The Federal State Statistics Service’s forecast for natural population growth is negative both for Sevastopol and for the Crimea as a whole: the rate of deaths will only increase. For example, by 2018 the deaths will outnumber the births by 7100 people.

On the other hand, the process of leaving the Crimea is not stopping. It is difficult to assess the scale of migration, as Ukraine has not developed a monitoring system for the phenomenon during these three years. On the one hand, the officials, relying on the data of the migration service, say that there are about 35,000 migrants. On the other hand, there is data of the state border service for the period from 01.01.2015 to May 2016 in the public access: in accordance with it, for the indicated period 73100 citizens of Ukraine left the Crimea. Apart from that, there are assessments of the Crimean Tatars, who are trying to track “their” immigrants. Thus, there is no unified system; after all, given the absence of an effective policy of providing migrators with assistance it makes no sense to address the state. Many of the former Crimeans generally travel far away from Ukraine: in 2014 up to 15 thousand Ukrainians tried to legalize their status only as refugees in Europe. Many choose the way of “Pole’s card”, “work visa and so on”. Even I with my meager contacts among the Crimeans know three families who settled in Poland.

Below is an infographics on which I tried to estimate the minimum (!!!) quantitative indicators of the decrease in the number of citizens of Ukraine (as of 01.01.2014) in the Crime


The first wave which is easy to assess is the difference in population data for 01.01.2014 and for 01.07.2014. During these six months the population of the peninsula (here and further the data includes the city of Sevastopol) decreased by 79,785 people. This group can be easily divided into categories:

6010 Ukrainian military were withdrawn from the Crimea. But, the officers and contract soldiers moved with their families, and often even together with their parents. The average size of households in the country is 2.6 people (according to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine). If one takes to consideration the fact that there are more children in the military families than the national average, and also the fact that the children and parents of servicemen were moving as well, I use a coefficient of 3. As a result, we get a little more than 18 000 people.

The first wave of Crimean Tatars, who left the peninsula immediately after the annexation. This is about 10 thousand people. But in the infographics, I take approximate data for 3 years (taking into account those who left the country). This is about 30 thousand people.

The rest are the Ukrainian citizens who did not want to become “Russians”. But, given the specifics of the attitude of the Ukrainian state towards its citizens, and of the citizens towards the Ukrainian state, some part of these people immediately left to more stable and calm countries.

The second category for which the data is available is the registrations of the state border service. 73,100 people left the Crimea in the period from 01.01.2015 to 01.05.2016. I took these figures to estimate the extent of migration for the other periods for which the authorities did not publish (or do not have) any data.

For the period from 01.07.2014 to 01.01.2015, according to my estimations, the average monthly level of migration in 2015 can serve as a minimum acceptable estimate. The estimated number was about 23 000 people. Given that the migration flows are on a decline, I applied a coefficient of 0.6 to the estimates of the number of people who left from 2016 to January 2017. The figure of 22 000 people is also not a small one.

There goes the neighborhood, or “the new Crimeans”

Thus, taking into account mortality and migration, the population of the Crimea, without taking into account those who arrived from Russia, should not exceed 2 million 134 thousand people as of 01.01.2017.

Russian Federal State Statistics Service gives a figure of 2 million 340 thousand people. This is 206 thousand people more. Here is the minimum size of what can be called the Crimea colonization policy. 206 thousand people is about 10% of the population. The group, which only recently became “Crimeans” and which after the return of the peninsula to Ukraine, will take a strongly pro-Russian position. They have something to fear, they have something to lose.

In order to understand who these people are, it is enough to look at the data on the state programs of the Russian Federation:

A significant part of the settlers are military pensioners. In Russia, there is a so-called “military mortgage”, which allows the officer or contractor to build (buy) housing in any region of Russia upon retirement (or in the region of service until retirement). In 2014-16, the only region where the program was financed without problems was, of course, the Crimea.

Active military. Already in 2014, Russian authorities announced their intention to build 20,000 apartments for officers on the peninsula, and not less than 40 000 by 2018. The program is running. In August 2015, “Vesti” reported on “a record number of houses sold”, that was including 2010 apartments only in one new micro district. The hostels are also being built. And the financing comes from several sources. For example, the Black Sea Fleet itself pays for the construction of housing, and estimates its own plans for 7.5 thousand apartments, of which 3.5 thousand are in Sevastopol only.

Siloviki from the FSB, border guard service, customs officers and others. Naturally, the remnants of the regional offices of the SBU and the Ministry of Internal Affairs have little credibility in the Russian Federation, same as the Ukrainian border guards who broke the oath. In 2014, they were few. But in 2016 there was information about the delivery of the first house for the families of Russian border guards. In 2017, another one was handed over, the one of 97 apartments. By the end of the year, another 910 apartments were ready. This is neither more nor less, but 3000 people of the border guard service. Based on the specifics of the work, it can be predicted that about the same amount will be built for customs officers and FSB officers (without taking into account border guards). That is, another 3,000 people.

Yet another, less numerous but much more influential group is the managers. Russia is systematically pursuing a policy of replacement of cadres in the authorities and structures of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. If in 2014, the officials and security officials were sent “on business trips”; today they are moving into the peninsula. It is difficult to estimate their number, but according to my estimates, it is not less than 1000 families. That is 3000 inhabitants.

Another group of programs is the one of lending to pensioners who worked in the areas of the Far North. There is a Federal program for the resettlement of pensioners into the territories which are more favorable. There are programs for the mining companies too. The essence is in granting concessional loans or subsidies for the purchase or construction of housing. The Crimea since 2015 is a full-fledged participant of these programs, a region where pensioners can relocate. It is difficult to estimate the numbers of this group, since there is no unified statistics on state and corporate programs. But, judging by the reports of the local press, the group is not small and already amounts to not less than 10,000 people.

There are also migrants whom it is difficult to classify. Those are the proud “children of the Caucasus”, who are trying to start their own business, and the ordinary hard workers. They comprise up to a half of the registered migrants.

The number of “registered” migrants has already exceeded 200 thousand people. But there are still at least 60 thousand people of those are those “who are not there”. This primarily concerns the siloviki, who are “temporarily detached” to the territory of the Crimea. It’s not just about the army: the group includes the FSB officers, internal troops (now it is the National Guard of Russia), and the above mentioned border guards.

For such people service housing is being build: whole micro districts, the addresses for which (like in the case of military space forces) are not Crimean - people formally live, for example, in the Moscow region.

The same group includes Russian citizens who purchased real estate in the Crimea, but, for example, for the freedom of movement abroad, they are not registered as residents of the peninsula.

Below is the infographics on the structure of migration flows from Russia to the Crimea.


It can be stated that during three years of occupation Russia was able to substantially change the demographic picture of the Crimea in a direction favorable for itself. 206 thousand of “official” immigrants and about 60 thousand “who are not there” - these numbers already make 11% of the total number of residents. This group, unlike the “civilian population”, in its mass:

1.Has experience in handling weapons (in more than 50% of families there are former or acting siloviki);

2.Knows what discipline and self-organization are, is accustomed to follow orders;

3.Is generously diluted by officers and veterans of special services.

For them, the return of the Crimea to Ukraine can mean the collapse of all their future life. Therefore, not for the sake of the Kremlin, Putin or Russia, but for the sake of themselves and their children they will fight for “the Crimea is ours”.

The second aspect is the influence of the Crimean Tatar minority. Taking into account the emigration of the part of the Crimean Tatars, today the migrants from the Russian Federation is almost outnumber the Crimean Tatar nationalities on the peninsula. But if the “old” Crimeans in one way or another learned how to co-exist with the Tatars, then for this group any talk about the historical justice, the indigenous population of the Crimea, and its rights are outlying. For them the Crimean Tatars are potential enemies.

What comes next?

Obviously, Russia will continue to change the demographic picture of the Crimea: potentially disloyal groups will be forced to move out from the peninsula, and they will be replaced by the “grateful citizens.”

10% of the arrived is already a formidable force. Let me remind you that no more than 3-4% of the population took an active part in the Maidan (all over the country). Those who were feeling sympathy silently in this case are not taken into account. If even a half of the arrivals come forward in an orderly manner, it will be enough for any political combination on the peninsula. Local fans of the “Russian world” are generally speaking not important for Putin as everything can be solved by the forces of “new Crimeans”. In this case, unlike the participants of the “Revolution of dignity”, there is an armed and organized group. It is a huge force.

Thus, without developing algorithms for dealing with “the interlopers” any talk about the return of the Crimea is a wish-wash. Putin can always organize the mass actions and appeal to the topic of “human rights”, of the “offended” Crimeans.

If the region returns to Ukraine following the desire of the Kremlin, then we will get a ticking bomb in politics: starting from a solidary vote at the elections and ending with the same mass actions and “friendship trains” - the real ones traveling from the Crimea.

There are quite limited options for action of the authorities, in fact. All of them correspond little to the liberal rhetoric of the “European friends of Ukraine”. The country will be forced to choose out of the several basic scenarios:

- Restrictions of the rights of a huge number of residents;

- Forced deportation of a part of the population (with families, infants and the relevant media);

- Not saturation, but the over-saturation of the peninsula by special services employees for conducting “works” with disloyal groups of “interlopers”;

- Establishment of a strict political regime in the returned territories.

Any of these options would cause a wave of outrage among the enlightened European democracy, which will be carefully stoked by the Kremlin media. In the state in which Ukraine finds itself today such a development of the situation would cause tremendous problems.

On the other hand, there is a wonderful European experience. In the short term (up to 5-10 years), one can try using the Czech experience of 1991-1995, when, upon the return of the Sudeten Germans in an attempt to obtain property there was required a proof that the owner of the property (at the time of deportation in 1945) was not a member of the Sudeten German party. The archives of the Czech Republic and Germany are perfect. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of applicants for the return dropped out themselves. In the Crimea, this can be attempted to be done on the principle of “non-participation in the security forces of the invader country”. This would provide an opportunity to weed out military and military pensioners.

If the occupation continues longer, the most likely path may be that of Latvia or Estonia. But this would mean another several decades of instability.

Another option that is under consideration is to grant the Crimean Tatars a national autonomy. For many it will be painful and unpleasant to accept the fact of the “tatarian” Crimea. But the Tatars, remaining themselves, remain the Ukrainian loyalists. However, this option also has its own inherent risks, since there is Turkey looming behind the Crimean Tatars, and which conducts an independent policy in the region. As the recent events shown, Ankara can proceed to a situational rapprochement with Russia, which carries risks to Ukraine. In addition, Turkey can play its own game in the Crimea, and Ukraine should not be mistaken about the fact that the loyalty of the Crimean Tatars is not unlimited.

It is also clear that if the Crimea returns to Ukraine, then Ukraine will have to pursue an active policy of “demographic equalization”, encouraging the resettlement of several hundred thousand of Ukrainian loyalists to the peninsula.

The options outlined above are only the draft projections. The purpose of this text was to draw attention to the problem of the Crimea, which will be impossible to return and retain if we do not elaborate this agenda already today. If we keep hoping that sanctions, “good allies” or “the will of heaven” will do all work for Ukraine, - alas, there will be no result.

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