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.

Expert Analy­sis and Assessment
Galina Sidorova
Gali­na Sidorova
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Pub­lic Value
100 /100
Entire­ty of the Investigation
90 /100
100 /100
90 /100
Reli­a­bil­i­ty of Sources
95 /100
100 /100
Strengths & Weaknesses
inter­est­ing report­ing; mul­ti­me­dia; exclu­siv­i­ty; easy-to-read text; lots of fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion; high-qual­i­ty video info­graph­ics; good pre­sen­ta­tion; con­nec­tion with oth­er inves­tiga­tive sto­ries in the news­pa­per which devel­op the subject 
Lack of expert com­ments, no data on whether inquiries were sent to local author­i­ties and accord­ing­ly, on received (unre­ceived) answers

The orig­i­nal text of the arti­cle is Russ­ian. Trans­lat­ed by arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence systems.