On April 21, Russian Agriculture Minister Nikolai Fyodorov said Russia was prepared to pay up front for water services that Ukraine provides to the Crimean peninsula, but was being hampered by political factors.
“We are ready to pay up front … but we can’t do this due to political reasons,” Fyodorov said.
The new Russian authorities on the recently annexed peninsula have announced that they are preparing a large-scale project to encourage new agriculture in the area. This will require much more water to be supplied through the North Crimean Canal, which brings freshwater from the Ukrainian mainland.
The addition of irrigation infrastructure will make a large part of northern Crimea capable of utilizing its climate, much milder than almost any other part of Russia, to produce a range of food items that up to now have had to be imported at great expense to Russian consumers.
“We are preparing a very intensive program of melioration in Crimea, seeking different scenarios to solve the problem [of irrigation water supply],” Fyodorov said.
“I can guarantee that Crimean villagers will receive a lot [of money] from the national budget,” he added.
Fyodorov’s remarks reflect the continuing role played by freshwater provision in the ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine. While the main focus of division has now moved to the eastern part of the Ukrainian mainland, there is still a great deal of friction around Crimea.
The Crimean economy, which Russia has promised to revitalize, will still need Ukrainian cooperation to provide larger amounts of water to enable agricultural expansion.
Russian authorities stress that any payment arrangement with Ukraine for water services will be short term, as they assess a variety of options for joining Crimea to the Russian water networks or making it self-sufficient by building desalination plants.
On April 18, Crimean authorities said Kyiv had completely stopped water supply to the peninsula via the North Crimean Canal; Ukrainian authorities said that the proper agreements that would allow supply to continue had not been signed. Officials in Crimea claim they have in fact handed over a few draft agreements to Ukraine.
Also on April 18, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev claimed he had initiated discussions with Israeli companies on installing desalination plants on the peninsula.
This week, Evgeniy Dod, head of Russian hydropower company RusHydro, said his firm would also work on preparing projects to support water supply in Crimea.
“We are planning to prepare some offers for the government to improve the quality and reliability of water supply to the Crimean population and industries … They will be studied by a working group, already created and containing representatives from several ministries and agencies. Our offers will be ready in late April to early May,” Dod said.
He said other ways to provide water to the peninsula include bringing adding water from two small local rivers to the North Crimean Canal, using groundwater reserves and working to decrease water losses in the canal system.
Currently, Crimean authorities are using water from reservoirs filled by artesian wells and mountain rivers.
Dmitry Belik, one of the acting chairs of the municipal administration in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, said the city had freshwater reserves that could last another five months. He said Sevastopol would be supplied by the Chernorechensky Water Reservoir, which is currently holding 33 million cubic meters of water outof a total capacity of 64 million cubic meters.