Even the time changes as Crimeans digest first day under Russian rule

'It doesn’t make any difference what time you get up, there’ll be no jobs to go to soon'

Crimea

Crimea’s first day of independence from Ukraine saw a bewildering variety of measures introduced in preparation for the embracing of rule by the Kremlin. Many of those who had been celebrating the referendum result woke up nursing a hangover to be presented with changes ranging from nationalisation to a switch to Moscow’s time zone.

Just hours after claiming victory by 97 per cent of the vote, the Crimean parliament, which, critics have charged, had declared independence and appealed for recognition by the United Nations. The next motion passed by the deputies, however, was to apply to be part of the Russian Federation. This was followed by an announcement that a delegation would be sent to Moscow to press for this to happen as soon as possible.

There was no debate, no discussions in the first session of the legislature, the "Supreme Council", which the separatists claimed had been suffocated by Kiev and was now breathing deep the oxygen of democracy.

A prescribed script was followed. In rapid succession it voted to sequester the properties and funds of the Ukrainian state; demanded the removal of Ukrainian forces; repealed laws of Ukraine; introduced the use of the rouble as an official currency, replacing the hryvna by 1 January 2016. Then came the most unexpected move - to the Moscow time zone two hours ahead by the end of the month. It was not entirely clear whether the Supreme Council had actually voted for this; the announcement was made by Prime Minister of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, on Twitter.

 

At the same time the City Council of Sevastopol, which had replaced its chief by "popular appeal" through a demonstration two weeks ago, passed a unanimous resolution to request becoming a "City of Federal Significance" in Russia, a status currently held by Moscow and St Petersburg.

Achieving it would mean that Sevastopol would have significant budgetary and administrative privileges. Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based there and pays around $1bn in dues which had hitherto been going to the Ukrainian government.

The arrival of the rouble had the most immediate effect on the streets, with even longer queues at banks. Many cash dispensing machines had run out of money and credit cards have begun to be refused for payments by many outlets. With the hryvna tumbling, dollars and euros were in high demand.

The most perplexing was the switch to Moscow time, which had not been a strong demand from even the most fervent of Crimea's Russian nationalists. In the state capital, Simferopol, the state capital, Nicolai Borodkin and Aleksei Mavrowski were digesting the changes with a late breakfast in a café.

Read more: Russia 'could turn the US into dust' says TV presenter Crimea's Russian Union: What happens next?

Both men were wearing Russian flags draped across their shoulders and pained expressions brought on by drinking until 4.30am. "I am not sure why they have done that, the reason Moscow has a different time zone is because it is much further to the east," said Mr Mavrowski, an electronics engineer. "It doesn't make any difference what time you get up, there'll be no jobs to go to soon," was the gloomy conclusion of Mr Borodkin, who works in construction. But did he not vote for unification with Russia? "Did I?" He stared into the middle distance before recalling that he had, indeed, done so.

Higher salaries and pensions on offer in Russia had been a powerful motivating factor in many people voting for secession. But some in business see the structural changes they have to make as causing problems and possibly crippling losses.

Anton Korulenko, who facilitates students going to educational institutions abroad, said: "I don't even know whether I'll be able to get visas for Western countries. If America and the EU want to counter Russian influence they should offer visas to young people, but we can't be certain of that. Then there are all the added problems of adapting to a different legal system, changing languages... We are a small concern, with seven people working, I am not sure how we are going to survive."

Dilyara Yakubova, whose company runs a restaurant and hotel business in Evpatoria, beside the sea, shook her head: "There are so many things which are taking place one after the other, politically and economically, it's difficult to know where to start. I can't see tourists coming to a place where the military are parading around with guns.

"What worries us is that Crimea will turn from trying to be a Riviera resort to a military base. Even if we do get tourists in the future, they will be very different from the type we want and invested in getting. It'll be mass tourism with big, ugly hotels."

However, Denis Mamatovich saw no reason for pessimism for his IT company. "It was a mistake for Ukraine to look to the EU; taxes would have gone up, health care would have been cut and we would have lost our exports to Russia. The Russians want us and they'll look after us. This is a natural fit; look around you, this place does not belong in Western Europe."

Crimea independence: what happens next

Sunday's referendum was followed with a declaration of independence from Crimea's parliament on Monday. All property in Crimea owned by the Ukrainian state will be seized and nationalised, MPs said, a central bank will be set up with Russian funding, and a request has been made for the UN to recognise Crimea as an independent state. This is unlikely given the controversy over the referendum.

The next step is for the Crimean parliament to make a formal request to join Russia, and a delegation of MPs has travelled to Moscow for negotiations on how to proceed. Russian MPs have suggested annexation could happen within days, although the practicalities of changing the currency and transferring public companies and state institutions to Russia will be costly and time consuming.

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