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Clara Ferreira Marques

Crimea’s Water Crisis Is an Impossible Problem for Putin

The Russian-occupied peninsula is thirsty, with reservoirs running low. It’s an unwelcome predicament at a time when pressures on the Kremlin are rising.

Crimean Cossacks have less to celebrate this year.

Crimean Cossacks have less to celebrate this year.

Photographer: STR/AFP via Getty Images

A water emergency in Crimea is absorbing billions of taxpayer rubles as Russia tries to patch up an impossible problem stemming from the peninsula’s annexation in 2014. President Vladimir Putin’s Black Sea gem looks increasingly like a millstone.

Ukraine dammed the North Crimean Canal seven years ago, cutting off the source of nearly 90% of the region’s fresh water and setting it back to the pre-1960s, when much was arid steppe. Add a severe drought and sizzling temperatures last year, plus years of underinvestment in pipes and drilling, and fields are dry. In the capital Simferopol and elsewhere, water has been rationed.