Country Risk

Crimea water crisis resolution unlikely, risk of further Russian incursion into Ukraine rises in three-year outlook

05 July 2018

A picture taken in the Crimea's Kirovsky region on 27 April 2014, showing a man pumping out water from the nearly empty Dnieper-Crimea Canal, which supplies the peninsula's water. Source: Yuriy Lashov/AFP/Getty Images #487146717

Key Points

  • The water crisis in Crimea, already severe, is likely to deteriorate further, following Ukraine’s decision to cut fresh water supply to the annexed peninsula in 2014, which had previously accounted for 86% of the total.
  • Although there are potential non-military solutions to the Crimea water crisis, they would require large investments and time to be implemented successfully, thus potentially pressing the Russian leadership to choose a quicker military solution.
  • A military operation to secure water supply for Crimea, currently a low-probability but high-impact scenario, would require Russian invasion into the Kherson region of Ukraine, potentially under a hybrid scenario under the pretence of assisting the oppressed Russian speakers in the region, reminiscent of the Donbass conflict’s scenario in 2014.


On 3 July 2018, the head of the Russian administration of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov requested urgent financial assistance from the Russian government amid drought-induced state of emergency in several agricultural districts.

In June 2018 six districts in Crimea, mostly located in the north of peninsula and occupying about 20% of its total land area, announced emergency due to acute water shortage. Prior to Russian annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, the peninsula relied on supply of freshwater from mainland Ukraine via the Dnieper-Crimea canal. The canal was built in 1961–1971 and provided fresh water to much of Crimea.

As of 2013, the Dnieper-Crimea canal provided 86% of total freshwater water supply to Crimea, allowing for irrigated agriculture in much of the north and east of the peninsula, as well as reliable supply to industry, the developed tourism sector, and over 2 million residents in Crimea. In May 2014, shortly after the Russian annexation, Ukraine built a dyke across the canal in the south of Kherson region, cutting off the supply of fresh water to Crimea.

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