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HindustanTimes Sat,25 Oct 2014

World

Welcome to Republic of Crimea, the world's newest statelet
AFP
Ukraine, March 18, 2014
First Published: 18:46 IST(18/3/2014)
Last Updated: 20:17 IST(18/3/2014)

Its borders are patrolled by Russian troops and it adopted the ruble on its first day of independence -- welcome to the world's latest pariah statelet, "Republic of Crimea".

Recognised as a sovereign country only by Moscow, Crimea is still officially part of Ukraine for the rest of the international community and its separatist leaders have already been hit with a series of EU and US sanctions.

But following a disputed referendum on Sunday in which nearly 97% cast their ballots for splitting from Ukraine, the strategic Black Sea peninsula has taken on the trappings of sovereignty -- at least on paper.

The plan of Crimea's pro-Moscow authorities is to eventually become a part of the Russian Federation but how and when that will happen are still open questions.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (2nd R), Crimea's PM Sergei Aksyonov (L), parliamentary speaker Vladimir Konstantinov (2nd L) and Sevastopol Mayor Alexei Chaliy attend a signing ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow. (Reuters photo)

In the meantime, here are some key points about Crimea -- an entity about the size of Belgium with a population of around two million people -- and its independence claim:

FLAG: Like any want-to-be independent state, Crimea already has its own flag -- a horizontal blue-white-and-red tricolour that is fast replacing the Ukrainian colours around the peninsula. Adopted by the Crimean autonomous republic of Ukraine in 1992, it bears a close resemblance to the Russian flag.

RUSSIAN BASE: The naval port city of Sevastopol distinguishes the Republic of Crimea from many other statelets with limited recognition around the world. Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which has been based there for 230 years, is estimated to number around 11,000 troops and gives Moscow access to the Mediterranean.

Read: Putin signs treaty on Crimea, Russia suspended from G8

Read: Putin has chosen path to Russia's isolation: Britain

CURRENCY: As of Monday, 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. 

A woman holds a Russian flag with the word reading Crimea as about 1,000 demonstrators gathered to support Russians in Crimea in Moscow. (AP photo)

TOURISM: Crimea's tourism business is a big part of the local economy and the picturesque city of Yalta -- famous also for a 1945 agreement that divided Europe post-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 -- a major part of the local economy.

"I invite you all to come to Crimea this summer!" he tweeted early on Monday morning, adding: "Let's focus our efforts on preparing for the high season!"

SELF-SUFFICIENCY: Crimea may claim independence but it is hardly self-sufficient, depending on the mainland for 85% of its water supplies and 82% of its electricity, according to Mikhaylo Gonchar, an energy expert at Kiev's Nomos Centre.

Read: Crimea's 6 steps towards joining Russia after Soviet-style vote

The company Chornmornaftogaz extracts 1.6 billion cubic metres 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 the authorities' stated wish to join Russia, some Crimeans would like their peninsula to be neither with Russia nor Ukraine.

The territory has a varied history, with Huns, Venetians, Byzantine Greeks and Ottoman Turks controlling its seaside cliffs and rich farmland over the centuries.

A Ukrainian border guard patrols the road on the administrative border of Crimea and Ukraine not far the village of Strilkove in the Kherson region. (AFP photo)

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