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Russia’s Crimea annexation looks a lot like ethnic cleansing

Basking in his wholly expected re-election victory, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed a large crowd in Moscow’s Red Square on March 18 to mark the 10th anniversary of his country’s annexation of Crimea.

The familiar themes of rectifying a historical injustice, the unbreakable unity of the Russian people and the importance of Crimea to Russian identity were trotted out once again. The crowd duly applauded.

Yet, compared with ten years ago when the whole country appeared to be in the grip of collective ecstasy, the celebrations seemed muted. Much has changed in the intervening ten years, not least that Putin’s miscalculations have put the status of Crimea in doubt again.

On the peninsula itself, life has changed profoundly. The “land of milk and honey” promised to the population of Crimea at the time of annexation has not materialized. International sanctions, high prices and increasing uncertainty have left the mainstay of the economy, tourism, in the doldrums. And the democratic freedoms that existed under Ukraine have disappeared, not only for the Ukrainian and Tatar populations but for the Russians, too.

The security of Crimea is also under threat as at no time since 2014. Ukrainian rockets and drones have destroyed about 20% of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, including the flagship Moskva. And the Kerch Bridge – the symbol of Putin’s triumph – has been subject to repeated attacks.

The Russian navy has been driven ignominiously from its bases in Crimea to the safer haven of Novorossisk in Russia itself. Ships carrying Ukrainian grain can now exit the Black Sea due to defeats inflicted on the Russian fleet.

In one area, however, the Russians have enjoyed success. The Russification of the peninsula is