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Europe

Crimea annexation may weigh heavily on Russia: experts

media Crimea, Simferopol: A young woman at the one-year anniversary celebration of the referendum on March 16, 2015 Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Crimea to mark the two-year anniversary since Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine. The visit comes as some experts are warning that Russia could pay a heavy financial price for the annexation in the long run.

Report on Crimea 18/03/2016 Listen

On Friday, President Putin was due to check up on the progress of a 2.66 billion euro bridge connecting Russia to Crimea. The project is forecast for completion in December 2018 and Moscow hopes that it will lead to closer binds with the region.

During his visit, Putin was also expected to hold talks with Crimea's leadership over the economic development of an area that has been largely cut off by international sanctions and Moscow's feud with Kiev.

David White, a politics lecturer at Britain's Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies at Birmingham University told RFI that over the coming years, "the Russian state would have to invest heavily in Crimea to build up the infrastructure, to make Crimea less reliant on Ukraine for various resources.

"That's going to cost a lot of money at a time when the Russian economy is shrinking," White told RFI. "I think there may come a time when the domestic support for the annexation of Crimea, which certainly exists at the moment, might begin to dissipate when the cost of Crimea becomes more apparent to the bulk of the Russian people. At the moment, I don't see any adverse response from within Crimea or the Russian Federation, but I think in the long term there are more losses than there are gains."

Russian media has been upbeat about the two-year anniversary. Sputnik International, a publication owned by the Russian government, ran with the headline: "Reunited and it feels so good - Crimeans reflect on two years with Russia".

The International Renaissance Foundation based in Kiev aims to promote democratic values in Ukraine.

"I think the majority of the population in Crimea is still just misled," Roman Romanov, the foundation's director of human rights and justice, told RFI. "We never had ethnic conflict in Ukraine. Actually, Russia wanted to demonstrate that this annexation was a way to avoid a genocide or mass persecution of the Russian population, but there is no evidence of this happening. Now, the Russian authorities are using their law enforcement to prosecute the ethnic minority of Crimean Tatars."

Human Rights Watch released a statement on Friday, claiming that the Russian authorities have created a "pervasive climate of fear and repression in Crimea" in the two years since it occupied the peninsula.

The NGO says the space for free speech, freedom of association and media has shrunk dramatically. It is calling on international actors to keep Crimea’s deteriorating human rights situation high on their agendas.

"Crimea is de facto Russian territory, that's not going to be reversed," White added. "The Ukrainian authorities might not openly accept that but I'm sure, informally, they are accepting that."

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