Crimean politics are still haunted by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s 1954 decision to transfer Crimea from the Russian Republic to Ukraine, and by the subsequent return to the peninsula of the "punished peoples" — the Crimean Tatars, Armenians, and other ethnic groups deported by Stalin in 1944. The collapse of the USSR reopened old wounds and increased the desire of Crimea’s predominantly Russian population for reunification with Russia.
[Editor’s note: Although Crimeans voted narrowly in support of Ukrainian independence in Ukraine’s December 1991 referendum, ethnic Russian politicians launched a campaign in 1992 to have the peninsula transferred back to Russia. Because of Ukraine’s economic problems, many members of the population of the peninsula favored such a transfer, seeing Russia as economically more successful than Ukraine. Separatist aspirations waned only in 1995, following the rise to power in Simferopol of politicians who favored compromise with Kyiv.]
Today’s stability is the result of a delicate balance between three key members of Crimea’s 97-member Supreme Soviet — Vladimir Shevev, Vladimir Klychnikov, and Refat Chubarov. Shevev and Klychnikov are the leaders, respectively, of the Party of Economic Revival (PER) and the Soyuz Party; each controls some 40 deputies. Chubarov leads the 14-member Tatar faction in the Crimean parliament. During the last constitutional crisis, Shevev struck a bargain with the Tatar faction. Together, they divided up the Supreme Soviet’s 16-member presidium, with four of the seats going to the Tatars and all the rest to Shevev’s supporters. Meanwhile, Shevev did a deal with Klychnikov over the composition of the government. The willingness of Prime Minister Anatoly Franchuk to take account of the wishes of the parliamentary factions made this possible and contributed to the stability of the present situation. Another factor for stability was the fact that Shevev won Klychnikov’s support for a bill stipulating that the Speaker could not be removed for six months after his election, or six months prior to the expiration of the Supreme Soviet’s term. The fact that Prime Minister Franchuk’s son is married to the daughter of the President of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, turned out to be a third stabilizing factor.
As a result, Simferopol’s relations with Kyiv have grown noticeably warmer, and Shevev has become part of Kuchma’s team. Shevev’s PER has assumed the role of coordinating the efforts of the dozen all-Ukrainian parties and movements in the Ukrainian parliamentary elections in March 1998, and has promised to support Kuchma in the 1999 presidential elections.
But, while Shevev may have struck a bargain with Klychnikov, the two men remain rivals. The balance of political power in the peninsula four months prior to the parliamentary elections is determined by the confrontation of the two parties headquartered in Simferopol — Shevev’s PER and Klychnikov’s Soyuz. This confrontation permeates all spheres of life, including the criminal underworld. The characters of these two parties are determined by those of their creators.
Vladimir Shevev is 44 years old. He is an ethnic Armenian, born in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai. He went to night school and trained as a barber. In 1980, he was convicted by a district court in Krasnodar to three and a half years’ imprisonment for forgery. After serving his time, he moved to Crimea, where he has made a career as a businessman and politician. The party he created is a symbiosis of former party apparatchiks who support the government and businessmen under the protection of criminal groups. The PER is very well-placed financially. Its main goals are power, money, property, and the immunity from prosecution that goes with election to parliament. Shevev does not care whether Crimea belongs to Ukraine or Russia, and his party has no political ties to Moscow.
Vladimir Klychnikov, leader of the Soyuz party, is 33 years old. He is an ethnic Russian from Crimea. He is a history graduate and is presently studying law. He chairs the Union of Veterans of the Afghanistan War and has twice held the post of deputy speaker of Supreme Soviet. Soyuz is in favor of Ukraine’s joining the Union of Belarus and Russia; it wants Russian to be given the status of a second state language in Ukraine, and it would like Russians to be recognized, alongside Ukrainians, as Ukraine’s second "state-building nation." Soyuz’s main Ukrainian ally is the Ukrainian Civic Congress, whose headquarters is in Donetsk. Soyuz plans to support ex-premier Yevhen Marchuk in the 1999 presidential elections. Of the possible candidates for the Russian presidency, it is most impressed by Aleksandr Lebed and Yury Luzhkov. The party’s financial situation is average, and hinges on the fact that Soyuz is supported by Lev Mirimsky, member of the Ukrainian parliament, head of the "Imperia" corporation and one of the most powerful people in Crimea. He controls two television corporations, two radio companies and four or five newspapers with a total circulation of about 300,000. The members of the criminal group "Bashmaki" treat him with respect and the businessmen under his protection look to him as their leader.
Of Crimea’s other political organizations, the Communists are the most significant. They have a well-known leader — 50-year-old Leonid Grach — who has led the party since May 1990. Its electorate, made up of pensioners and the unemployed, is constantly growing as the population gets poorer. Grach is a secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine. Like Klychnikov, he supports Marchuk for president, and he is friendly with Russia’s Gennady Zyuganov. He refuses to have anything to do with the PER, but maintains contact with Soyuz.
The largest and most influential of Crimea’s pro-Russian organizations is the Russian Community of Crimea. It is led by 60-year-old writer and member of the Russian State Duma’s Council of Fellow-Countrymen Vladimir Terekhov, and by the ex-speaker and current deputy of the Crimean Supreme Soviet, chairman of the Republican Party of Crimea, Sergei Tsekov. The Community cooperates with Soyuz, the Civic Congress of Ukraine and, in Moscow, the State Duma.
Tatars make up approximately 10 percent of the population of Crimea. They are disciplined voters and could expect, under a system of proportional representation, to win as many as 20 percent of the seats. In single-mandate, "first past the post" voting, however, they would win virtually no seats. On a pan-Ukrainian level, they cooperate with Rukh, which has promised to include a couple of Tatars on its party list in the elections to the Ukrainian parliament. A regional branch of the Muslim Party of Ukraine (which has its headquarters in Donetsk) has been created in Crimea, but it has only just been formed and its prospects are not yet clear.
What do the Elections Promise?
Since Kyiv has not yet adopted a law on elections to the Crimean parliament, and the constitution of the peninsula has not been ratified by the Ukrainian parliament, firm predictions are impossible. However, the general trend is reasonably clear. The Communist vote is likely to increase from its former 12 percent to 20-30 percent or even more. The heirs of the former "Rossiya" bloc, which split up into Soyuz and the Russian Community of Crimea, will see their present 60 percent representation cut in half. PER’s position will also weaken. The result of the voting in single-mandate districts will depend on the participants’ ability to establish control over the election commissions which have, since 1994, often been "bought." The re-appearance on the political scene of former speaker Nikolai Bagrov or one-time Crimean president Yuri Meshkov, now in Moscow, could also influence the elections.
The election results are likely to be as follows. The Crimean parliament and government will move sharply to the left. Shevev will lose his present control of both parliament and government, and this will provoke turf battles and a redistribution of spheres of influence between criminal gangs. The Communists will do well and the possibility of Leonid Grach’s being elected speaker cannot be ruled out. The Communists will not, however, be able to appoint one of their people as prime minister, since that candidacy has to be cleared with the president of Ukraine. Nor will the Communists win an absolute majority in the Supreme Soviet. They will therefore have to form a bloc with Soyuz and other pro-Russian organizations.
The composition of the new Supreme Soviet will correspond more closely to the that of the peninsula’s ethnic Russian-dominated population, and parliament will enjoy strong popular support. It will strive to elevate Crimea’s status within Ukraine, taking as its model the status of Tatarstan within the Russian Federation. Since an improvement in the state of Crimea’s economy is hardly possible, Crimea will vote against Kuchma in the presidential election, and he knows it.
Crimea’s economic situation is absolutely hopeless. The decline in production is ten times steeper than in Ukraine as a whole; payment arrears for pensions and salaries are almost twice as high; food prices are at least 20-30 percent higher than in other parts of Ukraine. Social-welfare payments are lower, especially when compared with those in western Ukraine. Ukraine’s new fiber-optic link, which was supposed to go through Crimea, has instead been routed through Odessa. The railroad-ferry connection between Crimea and the Caucasus through the four-km Kerch straits has been suspended by Kyiv, though going all the way around takes hundreds of kilometers. More than a hundred of Crimea’s sanitariums are either tax-exempt or enjoy significant tax privileges, which means a significant loss of revenue for the Crimean government.
No economic reforms have been undertaken in Crimea since March-September 1994, when the well-known Russian economist Yevgeny Saburov was head of government. Ukraine’s draft 1998 budget calls for Crimea to bring in about $240 million in tax revenue, 3 percent less than in 1997 and one-third as much as the minimum the republic needs. The two main taxes collected in the republic, which together make up half of all revenue — VAT and excise tax — go directly to Kyiv. As a result, Crimea’s financial prospects are desperate. Investment is purely symbolic.
Postscript: the Situation in Sevastopol
As for Sevastopol, it has been removed from the jurisdiction of the autonomous republic and is now directly subordinated to Kyiv, with the rights of an oblast. The city, which is the base of two fleets — the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the Ukrainian Navy — remains dependent on state subsidies, just as it was in the Soviet period. Following the agreement on dividing the Black Sea Fleet signed by the defense ministers of Russia and Ukraine on October 31, 1997, and the first Russian-Ukrainian naval maneuvers on October 29-November 1, 1997, tensions in Sevastopol have lightened somewhat. They can still be felt, however, especially in the social sphere, as a result of the higher salaries and better housing enjoyed by the Russian officers.
There is a strong pro-Russian movement in Sevastopol with a popular leader — 75-year-old retired officer Aleksandr Kruglov. Kruglov is a deputy of the Crimean Supreme Soviet despite Sevastopol’s supposed subordination to Kyiv. The city prosecutor’s office has repeatedly tried to prosecute him for holding unsanctioned meetings, but the Supreme Soviet has refused to lift his immunity. Kruglov heads the regional branch of the Russian All-Peoples’ Union, led by Russian State Duma deputy speaker Sergei Baburin. The Communist Party is especially influential in Sevastopol, where the city soviet has passed numerous resolutions stating that Sevastopol belongs to Russia. It is hard to win an election there without pro-Russian slogans. In Sevastopol, too, where almost all the enterprises work for the military-industrial complex and now, for the most part, stand idle, economic reform has hardly begun.
Translated by Mark Eckert
Vyacheslav Lebedev is Nezavisimaya gazeta’s correspondent in Crimea.
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