Human rights conditions have deteriorated in Crimea since its annexation by Russia last year, with Crimean authorities accused of discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave, according to a new report.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin officially signed Crimea's annexation to the Russian Federation in March 2014, much of the world questioned what made such a brazen move possible, and in such a relatively short time.
Peter Eltsov, professor at the National Defense University, told VOA what made the annexation easy was that a large segment of Crimean population favored it.
"But that support one could argue was largely the result of the propaganda coming from the Russian media, portraying the Ukrainian revolution as a threat, as a serious threat to the Russian speaking population in Crimea," Eltsov said.
Prior to invasion
The report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States said that prior to the invasion, Russian state media launched a concerted anti-Ukrainian propaganda campaign in Crimea, inflaming fear of the so-called "Ukrainian fascists."
Russia then launched a series of events in February of last year, including a covert deployment of its heavily armed troops, and Cossack fighters who made up the so-called local "self-defense" units.
After the invasion, the report said Russia replaced local leaders with others from the Russian Federation. And when the world's focus shifted to fighting in other parts of eastern Ukraine, the new authorities began a campaign of repression against the opposition, notably Crimean Tatar minority.
"Tatars overwhelmingly did not support the annexation because they have a very negative attitude against a very strong Russian imperial state and they constitute a very significant segment of the population. These are 300,000 people. It's a large amount of people for the overall population of Crimea," Eltsov said.
Freedom House said Tatars can no longer mark the anniversary of their 1944 expulsion from Crimea. Their leaders have been banned from public life and their media muzzled.
The report said Russia organized a large-scale campaign of physical harassment and criminal prosecution against anyone who opposed the annexation.
Education in Ukrainian rapidly declined and not a single school out of 600 in Crimea is offering instruction fully in Ukrainian. And Crimean residents with Ukrainian passports are considered aliens as of January 1 of this year.
International criticism and economic sanctions are likely to make President Putin even more radical, Eltsov said.
"He is pushed in a corner, he is pushed against a wall and he is not the type of person who is going to back off. The question of the (Russian) population is of course much more complicated," he said.
Eltsov said Russia as a nation has a history of living in deprivation. Therefore, sanctions may not have an effect on its people. He said while many oppose Putin's authoritarian style, many also support his defiance in the face of international criticism.