Borys Babin

Association of Reintegration of Crimea informed officially the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Mr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo [1] on Crimean water crisis’ issues. Such submission will be used by the Rapporteur in his forthcoming report for the UN Human Rights Council and in his report on commodification of water at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. “ARC” submission was devoted to the situation in ongoing water crisis and related commodification of water in the Crimea, namely on the issue of non-effective migrational, industial, environmental and social policy of the Russia’s de-facto “authorities” in the Crimea, that directly caused the water crisis which aggravates from 2020 in this Ukraine’s region.

“ARC” pointed in submission that the key challenge for the Crimea since 2015 is the water crisis that appeared exactly due to the policies of the Russia’s de-facto “authorities” in conditions of the climate change. Such Russia’s policies brutally violated the Crimean residents’ right to development perspective. Russia has established its effective control over the Crimea with its 2,5 million inhabitants in spring 2014. In the following 6 years, Russia has relocated over 500 thousand of its own residents to the Crimea, thus grossly violating the IV Geneva Convention, which prohibits relocation of civilian population on the occupied territory. Further, Russia initiated large military infrastructure projects in the Crimea, requiring massive water supply. The Russian business structures, controlled by its Government, commenced a programme of massive residential housing construction for the abovementioned Russia’s settlers and military personnel in the Crimean peninsula.

Experts stressed that the de-facto “regional and municipal authorities” paid no attention to plumbing and sanitation systems, as well as sewage treatment plants in the Crimea. As long as the Crimea is an arid zone, local water resources were sufficient for the population before 2014, but are insufficient for the present enlarged demands. The ill-considered Russian military, economic and demographic policy in the Crimea created a water crisis that negatively affected the rights of Crimean residents, including the indigenous people of the Crimea. Climate change exaggerated the problem, as the region is becoming increasingly arid. Arid climate of the Crimea was not taken into account by Russian policy there. Crimean on-land and underground water resources depend on rain and snow precipitation in the Crimean Mountains; however, the Russian policies in the Crimea do not take this factor into account [2].

“ARC” pointed that now, in 2021, Russia condemns Ukraine in its statements to the UN OHCHR institutions and in its state propaganda that Ukraine allegedly commits “water blockade” and thus allegedly violates the demands of UN International Covenants, 1966 (rights to life, to food and to health) also as UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (right to life) and UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984 [3]. Some representatives of Russia’s de-facto “authorities” in the Crimea, like “Deputy of the State Council of the Republic of Crimea” Serhiy Trofimov, with a broad corruption background, even stated in 2021 about the allegedly preparation of a “statement on the crime of international terrorism” due to the termination of water supply to the peninsula by the North Crimean Canal in 2014 [4].

But any one person did not die from 2014 due to the water crisis in the Crimea and more, it is too hard to explain – how exactly the Ukraine’s activities out of peninsula may be the “tortures” for the Crimea’s residents, that in common have a relative freedom of movement. More, now there is no food crisis in the Crimea and the current medical aid crisis in the Crimea is not connected with water issues, but just with a bad-grounded “health protection system’s reform” started by the Russia’s de-facto “authorities” in the Crimean peninsula since 2014.

Experts pointed that the biggest challenge for Ukrainian authorities and Ukrainian people is the possible escalation of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including the possible attempt by the Russian military and paramilitary units forcibly take effective control over the part of the North Crimean Canal in the Ukrainian-controlled part of Ukraine’s mainland in Kherson Region. At the same time, the biggest challenge for the Ukrainian citizens in the Crimea are Russian military, economic and demographic policies leading to water crisis in the Crimea [5]. Such Russia’s military escalation started in February-March 2021 [6] when Russia transferred to the Crimea and to the adjacent spaces of Black Sea and Sea of Azov [7] additional military [8] and naval forces [9], concentrated the own army groups near Ukraine’ mainland.

The only way to prevent further Russian violations and to re-establish the supply of fresh water and sanitation is the pressure on the side of the international organizations, including UN bodies, aimed at cessation of the Russian policy of resettlement, and stopping of militarization of the Crimea. The rights of environmentalists and human rights defenders working on water issues are not protected in the Crimea, since Russia uses this question in its own propaganda, punishing those who are telling the truth about the situation in Crimea.

Russia, as an occupying power, must revise its own industrial, construction and agricultural policy in the Crimea; it must support the normal quality of plumbing, canalisation systems and sewage treatment plants, as well as natural reservoirs and water resources in the Crimea. The Russian de-facto “authorities” and Russia-controlled “enterprises” must stop the practice of uncontrolled excavation of artesian water in the Crimea, which may lead to tragic consequences for the environment [10].

In such conditions the commodification of industrial water exploitation in the Crimea caused the illegal participation of the transnational corporations also. As we researched from the open sources, including the “official” web-cite of Russian de-facto “regional authorities” in Crimea, co-called “Council of Ministers of Republic of Crimea” [11]; [12], also as from the Russian media, including state-owned ones, on 18th March, 2021 the pump station was opened in Bilohirsky District of the Crimea for the so-called Beshterek-Zuya water intake and water supply to Simferopol city. As it may be clearly established from the photos of this station’s equipment, placed on the abovementioned sources, the “Siemens” and “Grundfos” pumps and other engines were used as basic equipment of this station.

“ARC” stressed in the submission that the installation of this Beshterek-Zuya water intake’s pump station with declared capacity of 20 thousands cubic meters per day was done by Russia’s de-facto “authorities” in the Crimea regarding to the Russian Government’s prescripts, 2020 № 2668-р [13] and 2021 № 596-p [14]. The purpose of this pump station is to provide the additional water supply to Russian military bases in the Crimea, which function illegally in Simferopol District and for more than 100 thousands of Russian citizens, resettled by the Russian Government illegally to Simferopol. So this pump station is a direct tool of the international crimes, committed by the Russian de-facto “authorities” in the Crimea that are now the subject of consideration by the International Criminal Court.

More, this pump station is the tool of ecocide the unique Crimean Zuya River valley’s hydrologic ecosystem as this station’s functioning will cause the further dehydration of these areas, will destroy its unique landscapes. More, dehydration the Zuya valley will cause the social disaster for this valley’s residents including the indigenous Crimean Tatar People.  And more, the supply of engineering equipment to the Crimea is banned by the European Union’s sanctions, which are in force. So the deliveries, maintenance and insurance of the relevant “Grundfos” and “Siemens” equipment to the Beshterek-Zuya water intake’s pump station was the brutal violation of the European Union’s sanctions policy.

Our Association, and Ukrainian journalists asked officially, in writing on 3rd April 2021 the Dutch concern “Grundfos” and Germen concern “Siemens” to inform us urgently what company of those holding’s network is directly responsible for the deliveries, maintenance and insurance of the relevant “Grundfos” and “Siemens” high-level technology equipment to the Beshterek-Zuya water intake’s pump station [15]. Till now we have no any answer from both those European Union registered companies [16], Association’s submission points.

The other form of commodification of industrial water exploitation in the Crimea is connected with expenses of Russia’s federal funds on “additional geologic researches the water sources”. Above-pointed Russian Government’s prescripts, 2020 № 2668-р and 2021 № 596-p established the expenses in those issues, more than 970 millions of roubles. But such funding has real aims too far from solving the water crisis in the Crimea. In particular, since 2020, Russia has claimed on the allegedly discovery the “underground rivers” which allegedly flow on the Crimean peninsula into the Sea of Azov. It was stated that such discovery was done by the Crimean scientists [17], through the usage of a “modern magnetic resonance technology” [18]. In 2021, the Russia’s highest leadership announced the alleged beginning of the research for appropriate “water deposits” in the Sea of Azov, without specifying in its own propaganda the relevant research area [19].

In particular, the Russian government’s prescript № 596-р on March 13, 2021 allocated 270 million roubles to “solve the problems of water supply” of the Crimea in the part of “geological exploration with the search for new deposits”. Although the area of the relevant “exploration” was not publicly defined by the Russia in its normative regulations, the Association’s experts have found a number of publications by scientists of the so-called “Sevastopol State University” and the “Research Institute of Agriculture of Crimea”, which apparently became the basis for these Russia’ statements and decisions.

Association pointed, that these researchers believe that the relevant “underwater rivers” have “unloading into the Sea of Azov” allegedly in the area of the village of Prostorne, Dzhankoysky District of the Crimea. Thus, their work implies the need for an alleged “search for groundwater” in the areas of the Sea of Azov, namely close to the Arabat Spit, in particular near the administrative line with Ukraine’s mainland and, accordingly, near the Henichesky District of the Ukraine’s Kherson Region. At the same time, it is worth to point out the abstractness and unproven arguments of these authors, the superficiality of their research on the “underground rivers”, which directly follows from their published works [20].

It is very likely, added “ARC” to the Rapporteur, that such works are more propagandistic than scientific, and that they can be used by Russia to “justify” the intensification of its own destructive actions in the waters of the Sea of Azov. In particular, at least it is not clear why the “extraction” of water from “underground rivers” (if, of course, they exist in reality) should be done exactly in the Sea of Azov, and not on the Crimean land, under which these “rivers” allegedly flow [21]. Our Association will continue to closely monitor relevant Russia’s attempts to interfere negatively in the Crimean ecosystems and regional security and we will inform international organizations on those issues.

Association also gave responses on the Special Rapporteur’s questionnaire on actual issues and pointed thatRussia’s de-facto “authorities” adopted the Government’s prescripts, 2020 № 2668-р and 2021 № 596-p and the relevant Action Plan regarding the water crisis in the Crimea, but the goals of those acts are not in compliance of the Crimean residents’ needs to have access to adequate and sufficient water, sanitation, and hygiene services and facilities. Russia’s activities in water management policy are committed by the “state” but not by the private entities. Such “state’s” structures like “Voda Kryma” enterprise have the communication with Crimean population on water and sanitation services.

“ARC” stated that as Russia destroyed the local self-governing systems in the Crimea in 2014 and since that time the “heads” of towns and settlements were changed permanently by the administrative decisions of the invader’s administration. So in Yevpatoria town “mayors” was changed three times since 2014, in Simferopol city and Yalta city – four times since 2014 etc. Such dynamic made all the Russia’s local management in the peninsula, responsible for water and sanitation systems not only corrupted and militarised, but totally non-effective also. “ARC” stressed that Russia’s de-facto “authorities” banned all civil activities in the Crimea since 2014 so the protests and advocacy on water disconnections, access and quality are banned and punished by the Russia’s “authorities”. Crimean residents tried to collect signatures against “Voda Kryma’s” ill management in 2020 in Simferopol [22] and against the water desalination station’s construction in Yalta [23]. The organisers of those signatures’ collection were fined.

Association also pointed in submission that the internal displaced persons, runaway from the conflict zone in the East of Ukraine (Russia names them as “refugees from Ukraine”) reside in urban areas of the Crimea and they have the same water challenges as the local inhabitants. The internal displaced persons from the Crimea as itself, more than 30 thousands, reside in the Ukraine’s mainland where there is no problem with access to water. 

“ARC” stressed that Russia’s de-facto “authorities” in the Crimea did nothing since 2015 to ensure that the most vulnerable and/or disenfranchised segments of the Crimean residents, such as ethnic Ukrainians, Crimean Tatar Indigenous People’s representatives, older persons and youth to be included to the processes if the decision-making and conception of projects affecting climate change. Russia’s de-facto “authorities” established and realised the ambitious plans on building in Crimea two gas thermal electric power plants, working on natural gas, extracting from the Black Sea shelf, constructing the ecologic-risky desalination plants and other relevant objects, but without any consultation with the Crimean residents [24]. More, Russia’s de-facto “authorities” did not make any steps in the Crimea to carry out projects and policy that take into account the intersectionality among above-pointed groups in vulnerable situations.

“ARC” stated that Russia’s de-facto “authorities” did not start any initiatives, projects at regional or local level in the Crimea to take into account the voice and knowledge of groups in vulnerable situations in designing solutions to address the impacts of climate change, such as desertification and soils’ salinisation of the Northern and Central Crimea. All Russia’s actions “to solve” the water crisis have voluntaristic and corrupted character and real military purposes also. Russia’s de-facto “authorities” did not evaluate the water quality, due to the concentration of contaminants to ensure that the population has access to safe drinking water and sanitation. All Russia’s sanitary data regarding the Crimea on those issues are unreliable and unverified.

Russia’s de-facto “authorities” did not create the prevention strategy with a hydrographic planning for the Crimea. The funding of the above-pointed Action Plan, adopted by the Russian Government’s prescript, 2020 № 2668-р are too vulnerable for corruption risks, and major part of its steps like “additional geologic researches”, Beshterek-Zuya pump station, water intakes from Belbek River and from lakes and ponds near Sevastopol have any ecologic, social of scientific background. So the measures established by the Russia’s de-facto “authorities” for “solving” the water crisis are not sufficient and adequate to guarantee the priority of water supply in households and for personal and domestic usages, especially in the case of groups in vulnerable situations. Termination the militarization of the Crimea and ban on the resettlement of Russia’s population to the peninsula, as the effective tools to minimize the water crisis in the Crimea, are not even discussed by Russia.

“ARC” stressed in statement that Russian highest authorities and Russia’s de-facto “authorities” of the “Republic of Crimea” and “Sevastopol Federal City” carry all the responsibility for water crisis in the Crimea. Local structures are totally controlled by them and have no any own sources and possibilities to carry effective water management policy. Association infirmed the Rapporteur also that in common there are no high-level flood risks in the Crimea. But in 2019-2020 Russia de-facto “authorities”  tried to use special aviation to start rains in the Crimea. Those attempts were not successful as the rains were not too strong but at the same times they started in other districts, not planned by the organisers [25]. More, as there was no any repair of the Crimean towns’ sewerage systems since 2014, any strong rain makes local floods in those settlements [26-28].

Association pointed that Russia’s de-facto “authorities” intensified the excavation the artesian waters in Crimea and enlarged the water consumption in the main city of Crimea, Simferopol. It caused the depletion of aquifers in the Northern and Central Crimea, including deforestation and destruction the local ecosystems. In situation of the increase the temperatures and rainfall variability, it caused the desertification of those areas. Such Russia’s de-facto “authorities” do not give any adequate information on desertification problem. Absence of banned civil society structures in the Crimea exclude the possibility of the citizen’s participation policies that integrate human rights in the fight against this problem.      

“ARC” stressed in statement that Russia’s de-facto “authorities”  malversate the natural monolopy on the water and sanitation services in the Crimea, for purposes of militarisation the peninsula and of corruption for milliards of “federal funding”, “granted to solve the water crisis”. Such “authorities” in common do not use the private operators in area of water, sanitation and hygiene sector in the Crimea. The only exemption is the “Alfater-Crimea” as a private company responsible for cleaning the rubbish on the Southern Coast of Crimea that started its work before the attempted annexation of the Crimea, and was founded by the German company “Veolia Umwelt-Service Gmbh”, but this structure does not work now in the Crimea’s water sector [29]. As we mentioned already, some European private structures like “Grundfos” and “Siemens”, also as with Russian commercial companies, take part in contracts for the Russia’s projects on “solving the water crisis in the Crimea”

Association pointed that there is no privatisation the water sources in the Crimea. But Russia’s de-facto “authorities” in 2014 “nationalised” illegally the property of the Ukraine’s state key water management enterprise, the North Crimean Canal located in the Crimea, as others Ukraine’s state and municipal water managements structures and enterprises in the region. Some of those objects later were transferred to the duties of the Russian Army and Navy. Russia’s de-facto “authorities” banned all independent civil activities in the Crimea since 2014 so any public-public partnerships in area of the water management are impossible in the region. And as the Crimea is the occupied territory and a “grey zone” regarding the international commercial law, any transparent investments are impossible in this region.

“ARC” stated that there are no direct problems related just with the commodification of water through bottled water in the Crimea. Major enterprises that produce bottled water in the Crimea are commercial and water crisis did not make any negative impact on such activities [30]. When water crisis aggravated, the plastic cisterns were placed by the Russia’s de-facto “authorities” in Simferopol and other Crimea’s settlements. But such water supply had complex sanitary challenges and those objects were ill-managed [31] and later become the object of vandalism. It was noted that investors and private companies, financial actors including banks, international financial institutions, hedge funds, pension funds, and increasingly insurance services will not grant funding to the Crimea as the occupied territory and a “grey zone” regarding the international commercial law.

So the Association stressed its believe to Special Rapporteur that a special research on the right to water and sanitation in situations of armed conflicts and related “grey zones” like Crimea, done by Rapporteur, that may be a starting point for improvement of the situation. “ARC” pointed that theRapporteur’s visit to Ukraine, including Crimea would contribute to collection of information, and would enable the Rapporteur to make a first-hand impression of the situation with realization the right to safe drinking water and sanitation in the region.