Russian PM Medvedev makes surprise visit to Crimea

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Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, second left, speaks to school-children while visiting Crimea in Simferopol, Crimea, Monday, March 31, 2014. Russia’s prime minister is visiting Crimea to consider priorities for its economic development following the Russian takeover. Dmitry Medvedev is leading a delegation of Cabinet ministers and is chairing a meeting Monday to discuss priorities for federal assistance to the region, which Russia annexed from Ukraine earlier this month. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexander Astafyev, Government Press Service)

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, second left, speaks to school-children while visiting Crimea in Simferopol, Crimea, Monday, March 31, 2014. Russia’s prime minister is visiting Crimea to consider priorities for its economic development following the Russian takeover. Dmitry Medvedev is leading a delegation of Cabinet ministers and is chairing a meeting Monday to discuss priorities for federal assistance to the region, which Russia annexed from Ukraine earlier this month. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexander Astafyev, Government Press Service)

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, third right, smiles while visiting a city children’s hospital in Simferopol, Crimea, Monday, March 31, 2014. Russia’s prime minister is visiting Crimea to consider priorities for its economic development following the Russian takeover. Dmitry Medvedev is leading a delegation of Cabinet ministers and is chairing a meeting Monday to discuss priorities for federal assistance to the region, which Russia annexed from Ukraine earlier this month. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexander Astafyev, Government Press Service)

In this photo taken on Saturday, March 29, 2014, Russian flags flutter in the wind near a clock tower at a railway station during celebrations to mark the switch to Moscow time in Simferopol, Crimea. Sevastopol and Crimea switched to Moscow time at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 30, advancing the clocks by two hours. (AP Photo/Max Vetrov)

A Russian sailor salutes on the bow of Missile Cruiser Moskva, in Sevastopol, Crimea, Sunday, March 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, speaks at a meeting for the economic development of Crimea in Simferopol, Crimea, Monday, March 31, 2014. Russia’s prime minister is visiting Crimea to consider priorities for its economic development following the Russian takeover. Dmitry Medvedev is leading a delegation of Cabinet ministers and is chairing a meeting Monday to discuss priorities for federal assistance to the region, which Russia annexed from Ukraine earlier this month. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexander Astafyev, Government Press Service)

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SIMFEROPOL, Crimea (AP) — 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 percent 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 defense minister, meanwhile, announced Monday that all Crimean men of conscription age will get a deferral from the draft for one year.

But making no mistake about Russia’s view of the strategic peninsula, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted a photo of himself upon arrival in Crimea with the words “Crimea is ours, and that’s that.”

In Moscow, the lower house of parliament voted unanimously Monday to annul agreements with Ukraine on Russia’s navy base in Crimea. In 2010, Ukraine allowed Russia to extend the lease of the fleet’s base until 2042 on an annual rent of $98 million and price discounts for Russian natural gas supplies.

Medvedev has said that Russia had given Ukraine $11 billion in gas discounts in advance and should claim the money back once the lease deal is repealed. If Moscow makes the move, it would further raise pressure on the cash-strapped Ukrainian government that now depends on Western loans to avoid bankruptcy.

The United States and the European Union have slapped travel bans and asset freezes on members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle for the annexation and warned that Russia will face even more painful sanctions if it tries to invade eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine and the West have also voiced concerns that the buildup of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine raises the threat of an invasion.

U.S. Secretary

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