Immediately after the attempted annexation of the Crimea, the Kremlin began actively announcing numerous infrastructure projects, the scale of which was to impress the whole world. This was accompanied by mass accusations that Ukraine allegedly “brought the peninsula into decline, did not care about the welfare of the Crimean residents”. Russia’s mission was to “liberate and revive” Crimea, at least – in Russian propaganda. Years of occupation have passed, but it has become clear that any “Crimean” promise of the Kremlin has been fully fulfilled.

As a rule, infrastructure projects were made by the aggressor “everywhere and little by little”, mostly in order to create a good picture for Russian propaganda. Such a story happened in the occupied Crimea and with the construction of roads, because this area immediately “interested” the Russian government not only in its military significance, but also in its corruption potential. Today we want to focus on the construction of the “Tavrida” highway, which has become one of the Kremlin’s most ambitious projects. Expert of the Association of Reintegration of Crimea Viktor Filatov will highlight the situation.

The so-called “Ministry of Transport of the Republic of Crimea” posted a chronology of the construction of the “Tavrida” highway on its “official” website, which shows that 250 kilometers of roads were built for almost three years. But the “VAD” contractor “liked to cooperate” with the Crimean “authorities” so much, that it began construction of the “eighth stage of the route” in Sevastopol. In addition, work is underway on the construction of the “Tavrida” highway’ “Simferopol-Yevpatoria section”. There are also several roads that are a continuation of the “Tavrida” highway, and which are planned to be built in the coming years [1].

All works on “Tavrida” highway, from “design to commissioning” are carried out by the already mentioned company “VAD”, which we will highlight separately. Moreover, the local media, controlled by the aggressor, wrote that the Crimean residents allegedly “remember with horror” the times before 2014 because, allegedly, “roads were not built here at all”. However, no name of the expert or local who “mentions” is, of course, was not given, and this is very typical for the aggressor: to accuse not only without any arguments and evidence [2], but also contrary to objective facts. After all, until 2014, the general condition of the road surface of the peninsula and its branching were among the best, compared to all regions of Ukraine. In addition, before the occupation, the Ukrainian authorities at least successfully completed the construction of the Sevastopol bypass in complex relief and carried out the construction of the Simferopol bypass road.

It should be noted that during the construction of the “Tavrida” highway, workers came across an old cave, which is of great historical value. Instead, they did not stop work, did not reschedule construction, and simply continued to build a route over the found cave, which over the years could lead to its destruction [2]. But what about prehistoric caves, if the “construction of the century” left thousands of Crimeans without the basic benefits of civilization. The fact is that the route does not include exits to local villages, and the Crimean residents are forced to cover the extra tens of kilometers. This also applies to pedestrians, as temporary underground pedestrian crossings are almost always flooded, and people are forced to walk 10 kilometers through rural bypass roads [3].

Some facts do not fit into head at all, for example, residents of the village of Yerofeyevo, Leninsky district, are forced to almost crawl the “Tavrida” highway. In the absence of overpasses, they simply crawl under the bumpers to get to the district center, where all the “social and financial services”, pharmacies and shops are concentrated [4]. Given the traffic on the highways, they are not risking their own lives. And drivers who drive on the road also risk their lives.

According to even objectively limited Crimean activists, the death rate from road accidents on the “Tavrida” highway is four times higher than on the federal highways of Russia itself. The reasons for this are: incomplete construction, lack of signs and markings, lack of curbs, lack of overground pedestrian crossings [5]. All the above problems can be combined into one – gross violations during construction and hastily putting the unfinished route into “operation”. And there are several factors here as well. Firstly, Russian troops need highways between Rostov, Novorossiysk and Sevastopol, secondly, Russian propaganda needs to report and continue to create the myth of a “paradise for tourists”, and thirdly, the aggressor needs to “absorb budget funds” rapidly, as in the future they may simply be gone.

And here we come to the most interesting thing, because it was the “problem” of the corruption that made Russian invaders to be so active. We will remind that at the beginning of construction the “Head of the Crimea” Sergey Aksyonov spoke about “the budget of construction of 85 billion rubles”. Six months later, the former “deputy prime minister” of the invaders’ “administration”, Oleg Kazurin, called the figure at 139 billion, but later the occupiers detained him for bribery. In early 2017, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov announced almost the same amount of 140 billion rubles, and finally, at the end of 2017, the occupiers “stopped” in the amount of 168 billion rubles.

In this case CJSC “VAD” was appointed as the “contractor” of construction, without any “competitive procedures”, which we have already mentioned [6]. Not surprisingly, the results of the “state examination” to assess the construction of the route, the occupying “authorities” carefully conceals, and it is difficult to obtain this information even for the Russian media, loyal to the regime. Crimean “officials” note in advance that the “construction budget is not the main thing”, because “the main thing is the social effect and the flow of goods” [7].

The simple question is whether crawling across the “federal highway” can be called a proper social effect. Most likely, it is just a mockery of the Crimean residents from the occupiers’ “administration”. It is also not clear what kind of “traffic flow” we can talk about when there are road accidents involving trucks on the “Tavrida” highway almost every month. The last case occurred in mid-January 2022, when three trucks and ten cars were involved in an accident [8]. The Crimean nature also suffers, as green plantings were destroyed along tens of kilometers of the route in the Belogorsky District. It is noteworthy that this was also part of the corruption scheme. The fact is that in the “construction budget” of the “Tavrida” highway was laid 240 million rubles for “landscaping along the route”. Subsequently, the “contractor” stated that he would not do it, because there are “certain technical difficulties”, and the allocated funds will be carried out “compensatory planting of trees”. However, these works, of course, were not carried out [9].

Of course, no one reported to anyone about the money allocated, but the main problem is that perennial coniferous plantations were destroyed in order to launder “budget funds”. And this is a very significant loss for the ecosystem of the occupied peninsula, because such plants grow for many decades. Such a barbaric attitude has already paid off. Thus, the Crimean residents began to notice landslides in some parts of the new, but unfinished route, which were formed as a result of its improper design and destruction of plants on the roadsides. There are even calls for Crimeans to travel by train and bypass the ill-fated “Tavrida” route.

It is not just about the road itself, because as a result of violation of the technology of its construction, cracks began to appear in the houses and fences of Crimean residents in the private sector near the highway. In addition, the subsidence of the “Tavrida” by more than three meters led to the destruction of roads in nearby villages. Crimean inhabitants even took selfies in the pits and sent them to the occupation “administration”, but, of course, no reaction was obtained [11]. Probably this is not news for Crimean “officials”, as they are well aware that it will not be possible to build well with such corruption by definition.

The construction of the “Tavrida” highway caused another problem. The fact is that the occupying “authorities” began to take away houses and land plots from the Crimean residents, referring to the fact that “a new highway of federal significance will pass on the site of these objects”. This is a section of the route “Simferopol – Yevpatoria”. Also in Sevastopol, a scandal broke out between the occupiers and citizens living on 119 Chernorechenska Street. In 2019, they were informed without warning that their house was “subject to seizure” and the residents would be relocated to another house. And this is just the beginning of the problems for the local population, through whose houses a new section of the route will pass. The occupying “authorities” decided to build a route through several Crimean villages, where, according to its “official data”, 177 plots of land will have to be confiscated and 58 residential buildings demolished. The requests and appeals of the locals to build a route away from their homes were, of course, ignored by the Russian occupiers [13].

It should be noted that the construction of the “Tavrida” highway is beneficial to oligarchs who are close to Putin. Since the beginning of the occupation, they have been illegally appropriating land, sanatoriums, hotels and other infrastructure facilities on the peninsula. In this way, Putin is trying to make money for sanctioned businessmen who support the Kremlin and suffer from Russia’s international economic isolation personally. But let’s go back to CJSC “VAD” registered in Vologda, which is building the “Tavrida” highway without any “competitive procedures” and “tenders”. The company is owned by businessmen Valery Abramov and Viktor Perevalov, whom the Russian media call the “Rothenberg’s people”. These are the brothers Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, who are “childhood friends” of Putin and once controlled the construction of the “Kerch Bridge”. For four years in a row, these brothers have been ranked second in Russia’s “Forbes” richest people.

Such closeness to the Kremlin explains the obedience of the occupation “administration”, which is ready to evict the Crimean residents to satisfy own curators from Moscow. It should be noted that in addition to roads and bridges in the occupied Crimea, the Rothenberg brothers received “contracts” totaling about 40 billion rubles since the beginning of the occupation. It is expected Aksonov “allowed” only CJSC “VAD” the construction of a new section of the “Tavrida” highway “Simferopol – Yevpatoria – Mirny”.

Such “head of the Crimea”, acting under full aggressor’s control, even “issued a prescript” dated October 5, 2021 № 1507-rg “On the definition of a single contractor”. According to this “document” the “contractor” was transferred “in advance” 30 % of the “contract amount”, a total of about one billion rubles from the “republican budget” of the occupied Crimea. However, this “document” does not even formally state on its two pages the “contractor’s obligations” or the “grounds for his liability” [16]. In other words, the occupying “authorities” are ready to blindly transfer money to the “contractor”, who has already knowingly committed many technological violations during the construction of the main section of the “Tavrida” highway.

It should be noted that “VAD” also receives road repair contracts in Crimean cities without any tender. During 2021, “VAD” CJSC became essentially a monopolist in the field of Crimean road repairs, and no other company can even come close to “competitive procedures”. For its work in the occupied territories, the United States and the European Union have included the “VAD” company in the sanctions list, but this does not prevent it from receiving billions of “orders” from the self-proclaimed Crimean “government”. The owners of the company Perevalov and Abramov are also the founders of two other companies engaged in the extraction of minerals and decorative building materials, namely “CBI-Kaliningrad” and “Karelprirodresurs” [17]. Most likely, these companies will still prove themselves on the occupied peninsula.

However, experts note that the owners of CJSC “VAD” are in no hurry, unlike other friends of Putin, to seize in their favor the Crimean real estate, land and beaches [18]. They are simply making a lot of money in the occupied territories, and they probably understand very well that in the future the peninsula will have to be brought back under the control of Ukraine. And they are building low-quality roads that do not correspond to technology, and on which Crimeans die every year.

But so far they are able to do so, as almost all the conditions Crimean “officials” are consciously adapting to them. They even adopted a “special order of public procurement” for the beneficiaries of “VAD”, according to which a “single contractor or supplier” can be “appointed” by a separate “order of the head of Crimea”, which, as we see, is happening [19].

The company does not even need to go through “tender procedures”, to prove its solvency and its compliance with the material and technical base for “conditions and nature of work”; it is just enough to be in the Putin’s “circle of friends” from the “Ozero” group. To explain this, the occupying “authorities” of Crimea note that it is possible to make “exceptions” for the sake of such a company, which is “the best in the market of road construction” [19]. It comes to quite funny cases. For example, after the “inspection” of the “Tavrida” highway’s construction, the Russia’s Minister of Transport Yevgeny Dietrich acknowledged the poor quality of work and even initiated the dismissal of Dmitry Krivenko, the so-called “director” of occupiers-controlled “Krymavtodor”.

It is very significant, but this decision was made after the Russian Ministry of Finance decided to reduce funding for the “administration” of the occupied peninsula. But there is some information, that the reason for such dismissal is not really low-quality work, but the reluctance of the pointed “official” to take a “leading role” in corruption schemes on the construction of the “Tavrida” highway. Of course, the Russia’s Minister of Transport did not have any questions about “VAD” as a “contractor”, and the only problem was that someone did not take the opportunity to sit behind bars in the future instead of top Kremlin officials. After all, after the Crimea-located facilities, built with “federal funds”, fall apart, the occupiers’ punitive structures have a habit of forcing the “switchmen” behind bars.

Sergey Aksyonov, the “head of Crimea” appointed by the aggressor, understands well what the Kremlin curators want from him. In 2018, Russian punitive forces detained his “deputy” Vitaly Nakhlupin, who was “responsible for coordinating the construction” of the “Tavrida” highway. Nakhlupin was accused of corruption, and Mr. Aksyonov was not very active in trying to help his “deputy”. Experts note that this is very similar to preparing the ground for further large-scale corruption schemes in road construction, when only loyal people who are willing to do anything for money should be “in office” [20]. Most likely, we will soon witness the intensification of corruption in this area.

The example of the “Tavrida” highway is a superfluous confirmation of the fact that the fundamental principle of the Russian occupation “administration” is not some abstract “ideals of the Russian world”, but only personal enrichment at the expense of the population. It’s hard to imagine, but in the middle of Europe in the 21st century, everything can be neglected: driver safety, a competitive environment, locals’ lifes, a unique peninsula ecosystem, world-class archeological finds; all was done to pave the way for an unscrupulous “contractor” account of the occupied territories.

Hundreds of kilometers of roads that meet modern European standards are currently being built in mainland Ukraine. They are built by Ukrainian companies that win tenders, create new jobs and implement contracts on time. These companies are not afraid to fall under sanctions, because they are building legally, not in the occupied territory of another country. And all project documents and contracts for these roads of mainland Ukraine are publicly available, and every citizen can see them. Probably all this distinguishes the average European state from the modern autocracy, in which the main thing is to be among the “friends of the president” in time.

Sources:

1. https://mtrans.rk.gov.ru/ru/structure/2020_09_03_15_27_khronologiia_stroitelstva_trassy_tavrida

2. https://lenta.ru/articles/2020/08/14/tavrida/

3. https://ukraine.segodnya.ua/ukraine/skandalnaya-stroyka-veka-v-krymu-otrezala-ot-civilizacii-tysyachi-lyudey-1489408.html

4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aX5I2EiKPsY

5. https://echo.msk.ru/blog/amountain/2453323-echo/

6. https://www.rbc.ru/economics/29/09/2017/59ce37a59a79470aefde756f

7. https://www.gazeta.ru/auto/2017/09/18_a_10894286.shtml

8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pn69ZFoOeg

9. https://ru.krymr.com/a/kak-unichtojayutsya-zelenie-nasajdeniya-vdol-trass y-tavrida/30968363.html

10. https://glavred.info/ukraine/10120868-ne-mozhet-vyderzhat-dur-okkupantov-na-stroyke-veka-v-krymu-voznikli-problemy.html

11. https://ru.krymr.com/a/trassa-tavrida-simferopol-krym-dorogi-kachestvo-razrusheniya/31594814.html

12. https://flot2017.com/v-krymu-u-ljudej-otbirajut-doma-iz-za-stroitelstva-trassy-tavrida/

13. https://www.svoboda.org/a/doroga-vmesto-sela-krym-vyselyayut-iz-domov-radi-novoy-avtotrassy/31636483.html

14. https://meridian.in.ua/news/46958.html

15. https://www.proekt.media/guide/arkadiy-rotenberg-krym/

16. https://rk.gov.ru/ru/document/show/30795

17. https://ru.krymr.com/a/krym-yediniy-deriban-krupniye-podryady-kompa niya-vad-goskontrakty/31515051.html

18. https://novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/03/20/krym-ikh

19. https://www.vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2016/06/30/647359-krimskuyu-trassu-tavrida-postroyat-bez-konkursa

20. https://rusrep.com/ekonomika/item/88036-trassa-tavrida-i-korruptsionnye-skhemy