The ever-impressive journalist Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times has painstakingly detailed the chaos of daily life in Crimea after an unexpected transition from Ukrainian administration to Russian rule.
Not very shockingly, the unexpected transition, in a peninsula so cut off that it is practically an island — and, from the Russian mainland geography, effectively is one — has not been going very smoothly. Being a newly disputed territory with a reasonably developed economy is basically a profile in how much modern government’s basic functions affect one’s day to day life.
One month after the lightning annexation, residents of this Black Sea peninsula find themselves living not so much in a different state, Russia, as in a state of perpetual confusion. Declaring the change, they are finding, was far easier than actually carrying it out.
In Crimea now, few institutions function normally. Most banks are closed. So are land registration offices. Court cases have been postponed indefinitely. Food imports are haphazard. Some foreign companies, like McDonald’s, have shut down.
Other changes are more sinister. “Self-defense units,” with no obvious official mandate, swoop down at train stations and other entry points for sudden inspections. Drug addicts, political activists, gays and even Ukrainian priests — all censured by either the government or the Russian Orthodox Church — are among the most obvious groups fearing life under a far less tolerant government.
Among the list of more mundane things suddenly being forced to convert to Russian authority are:
- Driver’s licenses & license plates
- Health insurance
- Passports (lists for Russian passports at one office alone are now up to 12,000 people)
- Education plans
- the name of Taurida National University
- Flight authority (all flights suspended except to Russia)
- Time zone
- Cellphones (which are still on Ukrainian networks & thus can’t update their time zone)
Bigger changes include:
- Banking system now under Russian control
- Court system switching over (all cases are temporarily in limbo due to the change in legal system; DNA tests must be sent all the way to Moscow)
- Partial closure of imports from mainland Ukraine, whence most goods have been supplied forever; customs tariffs & import bans imposed
- All goods must come by plane or through the rural Caucuses and then on a ferry (small wonder then that Putin suddenly wants to annex all of southern Ukraine — to connect Crimea overland to Russia)
- Departure of Western businesses to avoid sanctions on Russia
- All tourism regulations have changed
- All lawyers must learn Russian law suddenly
- All traffic cops must go to Russian Traffic Law training
- Methadone is banned — recovering addicts are out of luck
- Ukrainian Orthodox churches are under virtual siege by Russian Orthodox activists
And in the background of all of this: rampant inflation and wildly shifting exchange rate between Ukrainian and Russian money.
All of it adds up to supporting the case that Putin’s seizure of Crimea was a poorly calculated improv act.