Sunday, June 1, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Preparing to Seize Land in Crimea for ‘State Needs’ as It Did in Sochi

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 1 – Russia’s economic development ministry is preparing legislation that would allow Moscow to seize significant amounts of land in Crimea on an accelerated basis in the name of promoting economic development, a measure that is modelled on the one Vladimir Putin used in the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad.

            According to a report in “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” the measure would reduce the amount of time that the authorities would have to give to property owners before their lands or buildings could be seized from the one year standard of existing Russian law to only three months (

            Much of the pressure for this measure comes from within the Russian government itself which wants to promote a gaming industry in the hopes of reducing the costs of the annexation by raising tax money from that sector.  But as the Moscow newspaper notes, “there are a series of problems” with such a project.

            First, many residents of Crimea aren’t especially interested in the development of such an industry.  They see their land as a place for family vacations, not gambling.  Second, they point out that Crimea lacks the infrastructure and airports to support such a program.  And third, they suspect that the government will seize the land and then privatize it into the hands of its friends.

            The second and third of these concerns are especially important. As “Yezhednevny zhurnal” points out, a gaming business requires a lot of infrastructure and a nearby airport.  That is why today’s Moscow gamblers like Tallinn: “there are good hotels, a good casino and the road from the airport takes only 15 minutes.” None of that exists in Crimea

            And the use of the government’s power of eminent domain to seize land and then “quietly” privatize it can be used to change the face of Crimea. It is not difficult to imagine that such new powers will be used for Russians with close ties to Moscow and against groups like the Crimean Tatars which oppose the annexation.

            Moreover, the paper’s reference to Sochi raises another unfortunate spectre: the rapid turnover in control of property not accompanied by the construction of the necessary infrastructure or by any realistic assessment of whether there will be enough demand to support the new arrangements over the longer term.

            Sochi only a few months after the much-ballyhooed Olympiad is suffering from a lack of visitors, and it is not difficult to imagine that this proposed legislation thus represents simply another occasion for the Russian authorities and their allies to use the power of the state to enrich themselves without regard to those whose rights are violated and interests ignored.

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