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On April 26, 2014, the Ukrainian State Water Resources Agency cut off Crimea from approximately 85 percent of its freshwater needs by blocking the North Crimean Canal, but a recent statement reveals that Ukraine may be willing to end this blockade. A statement released by the Ukrainian government on May 8 stated that the North Crimean Canal was operating at a reduced capacity due to the lack of any agreement between the Ukraine and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea regarding water intended for domestic supply and irrigation. In addition to this blockade, the Ukraine has warned cross border commuters to expect significant delays, saying that the State Border Service of Ukraine would increase their security checks on trains entering and exiting the Ukraine. These checks are carried out by Ukrainian governmental agents at stations including Vadym, Kherson, and Melitopol, and are paralleled by security inspections on the part of the Crimean ‘self-defence’ forces at the Dzhankoi station. These security checks mean that commuters can expect to be delayed by about an hour.
The Ukrainian blockade of the North Crimean Canal has affected more than just the agricultural and domestic sectors of Crimean life, as it stands to seriously reduce the capacity of certain industrial enterprises as well. Edip Gafarov, a member of the Crimean National Council’s general committee, has stated that two chemical plants situated in Northern Crimea may be forced to cease operations if the water shortages continue for any significant length of time. The Krimsky Titan and Krimsky Sodoviy factories, the two chemical plants in question, are estimated to have approximately 30 days worth of freshwater reserves, but will need to be resupplied in order to continue operations beyond that point.
Both of these plants, owned by the Group DF company, represent significant contributions to the Crimean economy, as the Krimsky Sodoviy plant was the only producer of soda carbonate in the Ukraine prior to the separation of Crimea. The Krimsky Titan plant, meanwhile, was one of the foremost producers of titanium dioxide in the region, with significant exports to multiple Eastern European countries. Therefore, the water blockade implemented by the Ukraine stands to cause a serious disruption to the Crimean economy, and to the economy of Eastern Europe as a whole, making the possibility of Ukraine ending its freshwater blockade of Crimea even more important.
Igor Vail, the Chairman of Crimea’s Committee for Water Resources Development and Irrigated Farming, has told reporters that the Ukraine is willing to end the blockade so long as a few conditions are met. The most important condition, according to Mr.Vail, is the repayment of approximately $146 500, which the Ukrainian government sees as the cost of the vehicles used in the water development system of Crimea. There has not yet been any response from the Crimean government as to whether or not it intends to repay this ‘debt’, although it is likely being considered given the severity of the situation.
Rustam Temirgaliyev, Crimea’s First Deputy Prime Minister, said that Crimea has been entirely independent of Ukrainian freshwater as of May 6, and he has also said that numerous efforts are being made to ensure that there are no severe freshwater shortages. These efforts appear to be mainly in the form of diverting rivers and freshwater reservoirs into the North Crimea Canal, although the effectiveness of these measures at resolving the freshwater shortages remains to be seen. Regardless, the possibility of the Ukraine ending its freshwater blockade of the Crimean peninsula may be the last chance certain chemical plants have at maintaining their operations.
By Nicholas Grabe
Follow @Nicholas Grabe