The expression «Crimea is ours,» which has become a household name in Russia, has been heard from every «iron» in recent days, from Russian federal television channels to a mass concert in honor of the «Crimean spring» at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Musicians and spectators sang and danced in violation of all sanitary, and thus legal, norms of the coronavirus pandemic time.
The authors of the investigation, Ivan Zhilin and Arden Arkman, sort out what the sacramental «Crimea is ours» really hides. With figures and facts, the journalists demonstrate who and how shared the peninsula. The answer, however, doesn’t surprise — all the familiar faces. All the same friends of Vladimir Putin. And «especially distinguished» local officials in addition. All these «comrades» have seized Crimean assets, put their people in deputy and ministerial chairs and continue to multiply their fortunes, sometimes at war with each other.
As for the «ordinary Crimeans,» reporters found out that the arrival of the new masters of life resulted in restricted access to the sea, turning of their favorite vacation spots into construction area, and the commonplace «squeezing out» of their land. As for the «ordinary Russians» from the mainland they were not so lucky either. In search of happiness they rushed to the «new land» in order to create their own business, develop tourism or otherwise realize their ambitions, and then they encountered the usual corruption, cronyism and the “rule of the strong”. A year or two later, they left places that never became their paradise.
The investigation is aptly complemented by elements of reportage and video.
… Filming from a drone presents a complete picture of the grounds and buildings: impressive size two-story farmstead, helipad, artificial garden with an irrigation system — recall that the Crimea has serious problems with water — a tennis court with annexes. From the ground everything, as is customary with Putin’s oligarchs and top officials, is hidden by a four-meter fence. The authors of the investigation remind us that before 2007 there was a sanatorium called Cape Aya. Its land was bought by the family of Viktor Yanukovych (former Ukrainian president who fled the country in 2014), who started a large-scale construction, cutting down the relict forest and limiting the access to the sea for the locals. Yanukovich could not take the land with him; that is why the Crimean estate got a new owner — Bereg LLC, located in St. Petersburg. The Bereg’s general director Pavel Zaitsev, in turn, is a cofounder of three non-profit structures affiliated with the co-owners of the Rossiya Bank. Putin’s friend Yury Kovalchuk is its main beneficiary.
In general, Yanukovych’s dacha became Kovalchuk’s dacha. Although local workers, whom the journalists talked to, call it “Putin’s dacha” in common parlance. Nearby one can find a resort of Ministry of Defense and settlements Laspi and Batiliman. It is not the land itself that impresses most — investigative reporters have been regularly seeing the dachas and palaces of the Kremlin top brass lately. What amazes me is how the locals live in the neighborhood. Talking to them, the authors of the material found out that unlike the owners of the estate, the locals have almost no infrastructure. In Laspi and Batiliman there are no kindergartens and schools. «We don’t even have a store,» says one of the residents of Batiliman. — We go to the store in Orlinoe (15 km away) by cab. Once a month. It costs a lot — 1000 rubles».
Yury Kovalchuk, one might say, is a pioneer in the «development of the Crimea» by Putin’s oligarchs. On the instructions of the president, he «entered there» with his Rossiya Bank to save the banking system that collapsed after the annexation, because Ukrainian banks were no longer operating in Crimea. Because of this, Kovalchuk even suffered in 2014 — he fell under sanctions and lost, as the authors of the investigation recall, 572 million dollars (about 42 billion rubles). This amount was frozen in the accounts of the Rossiya Bank in the United States. But the oligarch was not left worse off. «Crimean Kovalchuk» today is not only the bank «Russia» — it includes all the famous local wineries, the company Krymmmedstrakh, Simferopol airport. The authors of the investigation show how Kovalchuk became the major winemaker and landowner in Crimea, obtaining highly profitable enterprises at clearly non-market rates, as well as his own estate of 3.8 hectares with a lease at a price that would not buy a square meter in a “Khrushchev building” (small panel apartments built in the end of the 50s of the last century) in Moscow.
Arkady Rotenberg, another Putin’s man, also had to «sweat» to get “his share” of Crimea. He agreed to build the Crimean bridge, knowing that, as he himself put it, he would receive a «black mark» from the West.
Today, Rotenberg is building an estate on Cape Sarych. He has fenced off not only his homestead, but also 27.5 hectares of relict forest around it. Of course, it is forbidden to go there. The drone has a good view of the «structure» of at least 4,000 square meters, two multi-story houses for the staff, elevators to the sea, hectares of beach and forest. «Crimean Rotenberg» today, as summarized by the authors of the investigation, includes the sanatoriums «Ai-Petri», «Miskhor» and «Dulber», cellular operator «Krymtelekom», the company «Krymtechnologies», state orders for 300 billion rubles, cameras on the roads, a yacht marina in Balaklava and the Crimean bridge, of course.
Sergey Aksyonov, the current Crimea head stands out among the local kinglets. The authors of the investigation recall his «glorious» near-criminal past before 2014. Aksyonov’s family and his cronies have also enriched themselves since then. Having worked with databases, the investigators drew up detailed schemes: who, to whom, when, and how much.
Thanks to the fact that Novaya Gazeta has been covering the topic of the «masters of Crimea» since 2018, the journalists were able to analyze the trends. It turned out that the first variant of the list included 12 names, recently the circle of applicants for «ownership of the peninsula» has narrowed — it turned out to be a troublesome business.
In 2016, the speaker of the Crimean parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, called the peninsula «an investment pie» and urged everyone «to have time to share it”. By the way, Konstantinov himself and his structures, judging by the information that the authors of the material dug up, made it in time. Today, they conclude their investigation, there are fewer people willing to «share the pie,» and the «pieces» are larger. The journalists wonder whether Crimea will have new «owners» anytime soon.
Search technologies used by the authors: databases, registries and own sources, drone photography.
Techniques used: elements of the reportage, interviews, data analysis from different sources, making charts and graphs.
The original text of the article is Russian. Translated by artificial intelligence systems.