SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine: Its borders are patrolled by Russian troops and it adopted the ruble on its first day of “independence.” Welcome to theRepublic of Crimea.
Now claimed by Moscow as Russian territory, Crimea is still officially deemed part of Ukraine by the rest of the international community, and its separatist leaders have already been hit with a series of EU and U.S. sanctions.
Following a disputed referendum in which nearly 97 percent cast their ballots in favor of splitting from Ukraine, the Kremlin said Tuesday that it now considers Crimea to be part of Russia, provoking furious reactions from the West.
Here are some key points about Crimea, a strategic Black Sea peninsula that is about the size of Belgium and has a population of around 2 million people.
FLAG: Crimea already has its own flag, a horizontal blue, white and red tricolor that is fast replacing the Ukrainian flag around the peninsula. Adopted by the Crimean Autonomous Republic of Ukraine in 1992, it bears a close resemblance to the Russian flag.
RUSSIAN BASE: Russia’s Black Sea fleet has been based in the port city of Sevastopol for 230 years. It is estimated to have around 11,000 troops and gives Moscow access to the Mediterranean.
CURRENCY: As of Monday, the Republic of Crimea has two official currencies – the Ukrainian hryvnia and the Russian ruble. Paying in rubles in shops in the main city Simferopol is impossible for the moment, though at least one bank has made the switch and is providing bank statements in both currencies.
TOURISM: Crimea’s tourism business is a big part of the local economy and the picturesque city of Yalta – famous for a 1945 agreement that divided Europe after -World War II – takes in around 10,000 cruise passengers a year alone.
After Sunday’s referendum, separatist Prime Minister Sergiy Aksyonov’s first thought was about the future of the tourism sector.
“I invite you all to come to Crimea this summer!” he tweeted Monday. “Let’s focus our efforts on preparing for the high season!”
SELF-SUFFICIENCY: Crimea still depends on Ukraine for 85 percent of its water supplies and 82 percent of its electricity, according to Mikhaylo Gonchar, an energy expert at Kiev’s Nomos Centre.
The Chornomornaftogaz energy company extracts 1.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Black Sea every year, which just about covers Crimea’s heating and cooking needs.
CRIMEAN PRIDE: Despite the referendum and Russia’s move Tuesday, some Crimeans want their peninsula to be neither part of Russia nor Ukraine.
The territory has a varied history, with Huns, Venetians, Byzantine Greeks and Ottoman Turks controlling its coastal cliffs and rich farmland over the centuries.