How do you solve a drought

Russia | Ukraine Drought in Crimea: is Russia solving the problem militarily?

In Ukraine, concerns are growing about the major maneuver by the Russian army "Caucasus 2020", which began in July and will enter the hot phase at the end of September. The maneuver is taking place in southern Russia, four years ago "Kaukaus-2016" was held in part on the Crimea annexed by Russia. That should be the case again this time. Both US officials such as former Ambassador Taylor and Ukrainian officials indicate the possibility of a military attack in this context.

Water problem in Crimea is worsening

"Any maneuver at the border can quickly turn into an attack," said the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. Deputy Foreign Minister Bondar included the possible reasons for instability in Russia's domestic policy and the unresolved issue of water supplies to Crimea. "I do not rule it out," said the commander of the Ukrainian naval forces, Olexij Nejischpapa, when asked whether an attack by Russia on the southern Ukrainian district of Kherson would be possible because of the massive water problem that the Black Sea peninsula has.

Later these statements were slightly revised by the government. But in Odessa, where the Ukrainian fleet is stationed after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the possibility of the worsening situation is taken very seriously. This vigilance actually has to do with the water problem, which has worsened again in the last two years due to the extreme drought. Before the annexation, up to 85 percent of the peninsula was supplied with water from the North Crimean Canal, which was built in Soviet times. After the annexation of the Crimea, Kiev stopped delivering water to the Crimea.

No solution to the problem in sight

In other areas, Russia found solutions relatively quickly to minimize the peninsula's dependence on Ukraine. The problems with the power supply could be solved by an undersea cable, the so-called "energy bridge", from the Russian region of Kuban. The logistical difficulties were solved by the construction of the Kerch Bridge and the expansion of the airport of the Crimean capital Simferopol. But there is no solution in sight for an adequate water supply in the Crimea.

Great drought in the Crimea

The Crimea is one of the regions with the smallest of its own water reserves in Europe, which once made the construction of the North Crimean Canal necessary in the first place. 2020 is one of the driest years in the history of the peninsula, the last time water reserves were so scarce 25 years ago. There is still enough drinking water, but the local government has already called on the population to save. In contrast, the agricultural areas in the north-east of Crimea, which used to be almost exclusively supplied with water from the North Crimean Canal, have major problems.

Only local solutions available

In order to defuse the situation, after the annexation of Crimea, three water inlets were built at the sites still found in Soviet times, which then divert the water into the North Crimean Canal. At the same time, local agriculture is adapting and switching to so-called drip irrigation, which is used in dry countries to save water. So far, however, these attempts have not been particularly successful. Attempts are also being made in other problem areas to replenish the water reserves from natural runoff reservoirs and underground springs.

In any case, it is about local and not about fundamental solutions. Globally, a water pipe from the Kuban region in southern Russia or from the Rostov administrative region could have changed the initial situation. However, the project is not only expensive, there is simply not enough water in both of the regions mentioned. "Money is not the problem. We would take this water away from people who do not already have enough," says Vladimir Pashtezky, director of the Crimean Agricultural Research Institute. Another idea would be the very expensive construction of a desalination plant in Kerch in eastern Crimea.

Russia must negotiate with Kiev

In plain language, that would mean that Russia will have to start negotiations with Ukraine on the resumption of water supplies in the medium and long term. The fact that Russia has recently tightened its choice of words again in the negotiations regarding the Eastern Ukraine war and is demanding concrete proposals from Kiev regarding special status for the embattled Donbass region is also seen as an increase in the weather in view of the water problem around the Crimea. But the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj does not want to compromise. "I'm against it," said Bohdan Jaremenko, a member of the presidential party in parliament, quoting his boss's position.

Does this all mean that a military conflict is indeed inevitable? Building a desalination plant in Kerch for around 600 million euros is still cheaper than going to war, they say laconically in the Crimea. But if it remains as dry as this year in the next few years, Moscow will be forced to find a permanent solution to the problem. And Kiev would like to prepare for this now.