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Russia: 'Crimea is ours'

On a surprise visit Monday to Crimea, Russia's prime minister promised to quickly pour funds into the newly annexed peninsula so residents see positive changes after the Russian takeover.

Dmitry Medvedev, who led a delegation of Cabinet ministers to Crimea, pledged that Russia will quickly boost salaries and pensions there and pour in resources to improve education, health care and local infrastructure. A special government ministry has been created to oversee Crimea's development.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March after a hastily called referendum held just two weeks after Russian forces had overtaken the Black Sea region. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote.

"People in Crimea mustn't lose anything after joining Russia, they must only make gains," Medvedev said in televised remarks. "People expect us to create conditions for calm and respectable life, confidence in tomorrow, the feeling of being part of a strong country. We must meet these expectations."

He said the government will create a special economic zone in Crimea — a peninsula of 2 million people — that will create incentives for business with lower taxes and simpler rules. He pledged that Russia will seek to develop the region as a top tourist destination and will try to ensure that air tickets are cheap enough to encourage more Russians to visit.

"We must create a new investment history for Crimea, which will be more successful than what it has been," Medvedev said.

Medvedev particularly emphasized the need to ensure a stable power supply. Crimea currently gets about 80 per cent of its electricity and a similar share of its water from Ukraine, and power cutoffs last week raised fears that the Ukrainian government could use energy as a weapon to bargain with Russia.

Medvedev said Russia already has made sure that Crimea has enough backup power capacity to ensure an uninterrupted electricity supply. He added that Russia will work on long-term solutions to Crimea's energy problem that could involve linking the region to Russia's power grid or developing local power generation.

He said efforts will also be made to quickly repair water supply infrastructure to reduce loss of water. In the future, Crimea could get water supplies from Russia or create its own water reservoirs.

Russia's defence minister, meanwhile, announced Monday that all Crimean men of conscription age will get a deferral from the draft for one year.

The Canadian Press

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