Shortly after the swift proclamation of Crimea’s short-lived independence, Ramzan Kadyrov announced that Chechnya would invest in Crimea and build close ties with it. However, Kadyrov’s notorious reputation is more likely to repel the residents of Crimea than win them over. On March 16, as the hasty referendum in Crimea was taking place, Kadyrov boasted about having spoken to the head of the Crimean administration, Sergei Aksyonov, on the telephone. Using his beloved method of public communication, Instagram, Kadyrov wrote that he invited Aksyonov to visit Chechnya and promised that Chechen businessmen would invest in Crimea’s tourism sector. According to the head of Chechnya, the well-known Chechen businessman, Ruslan Baisarov “has made the decision to start rejuvenating several resorts, modernizing them to the level of world standards. This will increase the flow of tourists into Crimea and will help to grow the budget revenues of Crimea” (https://instagram.com/p/lnEQwjiRtO/).
Chechen businessmen “helping” the freshly annexed peninsula may not be particularly welcome in Crimea or Moscow. Local leaders had earlier denied that Kadyrov traveled to the region. Instead, Moscow emphasized the ties between the Tatars of Russian Tatarstan and the Crimean Tatars. Tatarstan’s President Rustam Minnikhanov reportedly visited the peninsula and held talks with the Crimean Tatar representatives days before the controversial referendum (https://www.unn.com.ua/ru/news/1315200-r-chubarov-sprostuvav-vizit-ramzana-kadirova-do-krimu).
In touting Ruslan Baisarov’s investment potential, Kadyrov cited his plans to build Chechnya’s Veduchi ski resort. However, observers reminded Kadyrov that Baisarov was only investing about $100 million into Veduchi, while over $200 million was coming from the government-controlled Vneshtorgbank as credits. The project is supposed to start only at the end of 2014 and, given the investment constraints and worsening economic situation in Russia, it may never even materialize. Some Russian journalists pointed out the activities of the Chechen “businessmen” in Crimea often took on “criminal forms.” Thus, in 2010, North Caucasian developers allegedly killed the mayor of Novofyodorovka, Oleg Kolodyazhny, because he controlled a large strip of the coast. After the killing, “Chechen gangs” reportedly took control of all the resorts in Crimea’s Saksky district, Russian media reported (https://www.bigcaucasus.com/events/topday/17-03-2014/89593-krim-0/).
Russia only just annexed the Crimean peninsula, but the information war against the North Caucasian presence in Crimea started immediately. Even Kadyrov’s closeness to President Vladimir Putin did not help him much. The Crimean resorts are apparently reserved for ethnic-Russian businessmen only and the peninsula is thought of as an ethnic-Russian enclave rather than a territory open to all citizens of the Russian Federation. In fact, Russians started grumbling about Chechens on the peninsula prior to the annexation. In the fall of 2013, unnamed “citizens of Yevpatoria,” a resort city of about 100,000 people, complained about the influx of Chechens. The classic Soviet-style anonymous complaint stated: “Enjoying the protection of the local authorities, and because of their national mentality, Chechen youth, showing a dismissive attitude toward representatives of other nationalities, and especially to females, provoke conflicts and clashes at the city’s discotheques and restaurants practically on a daily basis, and dozens or even hundreds of people participate in them. Chechen children often openly threaten teachers right in the middle of class.” The complaint further alleged that former militants from Chechnya had bought up all the best land in the area. The report discerned an overly warm relationship between the Crimean Tatars and the Chechens, noting that a Crimean Tatar organization had regularly organized recreational trips for Chechen children to the peninsula (https://www.nr2.ru/policy/459396.html).
Assessing the economic implications of Russia’s annexation of Crimea for the North Caucasus, some experts say that the peninsula will divert some of the Russian holidaymakers from the coastal areas of Krasnodar region and resorts of Stavropol region. Billions of US dollars will be spent on infrastructure upgrades, including the construction of alternate supply and transportation routes to bypass the Ukrainian mainland (https://stavropol.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/239694/).
This will put a final nail in the coffin of the North Caucasian Resorts Company. The world class ski resorts planned for the North Caucasus, which were supposed to attract millions of Russian tourists, will soon be only a memory. Even some optimists who thought Russian tourists would not pay attention to the precarious security situation and steep prices in the North Caucasus will now have to concede that diverting of billions of dollars of Russian government money to Crimea, and the tourist opportunities there, will leave North Caucasian tourism with nothing.
Crimea has speedily been accepted into the Russian Federation against the wishes of Ukraine, with strong protests from the West and a muted reaction from Russia’s own allies in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Meanwhile, the peninsula is bracing for the same kind of simmering inter-communal strife that Russia has experienced. Ethnic Russians in Crimea were suspicious of Chechens and Crimean Tatars in the past. Now their suspicions will be manifested even more openly, taking on the xenophobic forms seen inside Russia proper. Moscow, in turn, will try to exclude the North Caucasians from enjoying the spoils that come from having snatched Crimea from Ukraine.