“Hey, guys, who are you for?” ask drivers of cars entering the Crimea by the Odesa highway.
“We’re for friendship between Ukraine and Russia,” reply the picketers.
“Then count us in; give us one of those ribbons,” and the drivers attach ribbons bearing the Crimean national colors to their vehicles.
“Against the background of the mounting Ukrainian-Russian conflict about gas and lighthouses, the situation in the Crimea is starting to resemble martial law,” says the deputy rector of Tauria National University, Vladimir Kazarin, who heads the peninsula’s “shadow government” and is the initiator of the picket. “That’s why some 40 activists of the autonomy’s Alternative Government have set up a post with a sign saying “Entrance Barred to Provocateurs and Russophobes” and slogans reading “Crimea: Territory of Ukrainian-Russian Fraternity” on a highway into the Crimea, not far from Piatykhatka, a village in Krasnoperekopsk raion. Everyday it will be manned by 15 persons,” says Kazarin, adding: “This outpost is permanent and will be deployed until the leadership of Ukraine stops provocateurs from leading them around by the nose, until we can join the negotiating table with Russia and solve these make-believe problems,” explains Aleksandr Liyev, head of the picket and minister of the Crimea’s “shadow cabinet.”
Other Crimean organizations are displaying even more radical moods. A few days ago the Crimean youth organization Proryv [Russian for “breakthrough”] which first appeared on Khreshchatyk during the recent commemorations of the anniversary of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) issued a demand that President Vladimir Putin of Russia initiate the return of the Crimea and Sevastopol to Russia, since Ukraine, in their opinion, has violated the Black Sea Fleet deployment accords. Representatives of another nine civic organizations, the names of which clearly indicate their pro-Russian stance, have signed an agreement on a political project called the “Sevastopol-Crimea-Russia Popular Front,” aimed at bringing the Crimea back under Russia’s jurisdiction.
In view of this, a number of analysts predict that the political situation will deteriorate. Thus, on Jan. 17, Viche Party leader Inna Bohoslovska told a press conference in Kyiv that “a new Chechnya is slowly but surely taking shape in the Crimea; the lighthouses are trifle problems from which serious conflicts will arise.”
Yalta’s Mayor Serhiy Braiko believes that the situation with the Yalta lighthouse is an economic rather than political dispute: “We shouldn’t overdramatize the situation. Already in 2002 the Economic Court ruled to break the contract with the Black Sea Fleet for failing to pay the land tax. We are only now taking advantage of our right. I think that both sides will come to terms in the nearest future. This is an exclusively economic dispute, not a political one.”
Yuri Formus, head of the port of Yalta, also offered his view on the situation. “In late 2005 we took stock of all portside facilities,” he told Crimean journalists, adding, “The lighthouse is not on the port’s balance sheet and the port of Yalta regularly pays the lighthouse electricity bills and land tax. In early December I summoned the commanding officer of the Russian hydrography unit and told him that a contract has to be drawn up with the port to service the lighthouse. However, the matter was still unresolved at the start of this year. In keeping with an Aug. 17, 1998, directive of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and cabinet resolutions dating from 1998 and 2000, the authorized body that is responsible for the lighthouse is an institution known as the State Hydrography of Ukraine. This lighthouse cannot be leased or privatized; it is a strategic facility. The Russian side does not object to this lighthouse being Ukrainian state property. I haven’t seen the lease agreement mentioned by the mayor of Yalta, which was abrogated in 2002. An ad hoc commission secured access to the lighthouse for State Hydrography officials and denied access to all those without any connection to the lighthouse. The Russian side asked for access to the lighthouse, but we said that they had to produce documents indicating that they had some property there; then they would be granted access. After all, I can’t let allow just anyone entry into a strategic facility, even people who represent a very friendly country. I believe that we will be able to settle the matter amicably in the nearest future.”
However, there are signs that the issue of dividing property between Ukraine and Russia may take longer. According to Volodymyr Semenov, special envoy of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine intends to obtain control over other naval surveying facilities, those which the Ukrainian side regards as being unlawfully utilized by the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Ukraine already controls 65 out of 100 such facilities. The rest are on military premises controlled by the Russian Black Sea Fleet, says Semenov. According to the special envoy, the lighthouses located on Cape Sarych and in Yalta’s commercial port belong to Ukraine. Andriy Krylov, head of the Black Sea Fleet’s press service, issued a contradictory statement: the Sarych lighthouse and five other Crimean lighthouses are under Russia’s control. The Russian side insists that the lighthouses, listed as property leased out to Russia by the Ukrainian government until 2017, as well as additional lease agreements relating to such facilities, are not necessary.
The news that Ukraine seized, or tried to seize, another Sarych lighthouse, which was spread by Russian media and “picked up” by some Ukrainian media outlets, is nonsense or a special propaganda stunt aimed at discrediting the Ukrainian state, says Yuriy Leshchenko, the manager of the Sarych lighthouse. He said that “to those who remember the information war and distorted facts that accompanied the division of the former Soviet Black Sea fleet in the mid-1990s, there is nothing surprising about recent cynical statements made by representatives of the Russian naval command.” Leshchenko says that “there have been no attempts to penetrate the lighthouse premises. This can be proved by video tapes, including those made discreetly by interior ministry officers in Sevastopol.” He is convinced that the question of the lighthouses, “which are all Ukrainian in the Crimea, without a doubt,” will be resolved in a positive manner for Ukraine. “The Russian Black Sea Fleet has no lease agreements pertaining to any of these lighthouses, not to mention that lighthouses and hydrographic navigation sites were not included in the Russian-Ukrainian Black Sea accords since 1997, or in any supplements.”
Political forces in the Crimea have differing views on the situation. According to parliamentarian Volodymyr Shkliar, leader of the Crimean organization of the Popular Union “Our Ukraine,” the fact that the Russian Black Sea fleet is unlawfully operating Ukrainian hydrographic navigation sites, lighthouses, and radio stations is a serious threat to safe navigation in the Black Sea region. “According to the International Law of the Sea, responsibility for possible sea accidents is assumed by the country in whose territorial waters such accidents take place. Possession of or encroachments on the hydrographic navigation infrastructure of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea makes it impossible for the Ukrainian side to maintain safe navigation, because it is deprived of this possibility,” says Shkliar.
Meanwhile, MP Lev Mirimsky, leader of the Soyuz Party, declared that the lighthouse dispute is the latest example of pre-election nonsense: “In my opinion, the claims filed by the Ukrainian side have neither tangible grounds nor prospects. All of a sudden someone remembered that back in 1998 cabinet handed over all the lighthouses to a special agency, so now this subject is making headlines... It’s a deliberately inflated conflict that has only one aim: to demonstrate enmity and Russia’s allegedly “imperial” ambitions with regard to Ukraine. The impression is that there are spin doctors operating in Kiev, who are consciously building Russia’s image as that of an enemy. At the same time, no one seems to be wondering whether Ukraine is capable of maintaining the hydrographic facilities in working order. By handing the lighthouses over to Russia, we are in a position not only to keep them in working order but also to obtain rent. Once the pre- election battles are over, we will end up next to a broken sty.” The Soyuz leader further noted that this conflict will soon be forgotten as yet another clumsy campaign stunt.
Be that as it may, the noisy lighthouse scandal serves as additional proof that the situation with the hydrographic facilities in the Crimea must be straightened out.