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Medvedev visits Crimea in first trip by Russian leader

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev promised to shower economic benefits on the area to make it flourish

IN CRIMEA. Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaks at meeting in the Crimean capital Simferopol, on March 31, 2014. Photo by Alexander Astafyev/AFP

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea – Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday, March 31, became the first Russian leader to visit Crimea since Moscow seized the Black Sea region from Ukraine, promising to shower economic benefits on the area to make it flourish.

Medvedev toured Crimea’s main city Simferopol at the head of a major delegation of cabinet ministers and deputy prime ministers.

He later visited Sevastopol, which hosts Russia’s Black Sea naval base, touring a shipyard that services naval vessels and laying a wreath at a World War II memorial, Russian television reported.

“Congratulations to you on a new stage,” Medvedev told workers at the shipyard that belongs to the Russian defense ministry.

“We will work, we will develop our homelands. You are doing great. Everything will be good now,” he said, quoted by the Krym Inform news agency. (READ: Crimea now part of Russia; treaty signed)

Medvedev vowed to raise the level of salaries for Crimea’s municipal employees and pensions to average Russian levels and to modernise the region’s hospitals, which he said were outdated.

Medvedev also announced that Crimea would become a “special economic zone”, designed to attract investors with lower tax rates.

He appointed Oleg Savelyev, a former deputy economic development minister, as the new minister for Crimean affairs.

“As a result of joining Russia, not one resident of Crimea, not one resident of Sevastopol should lose anything. They can only gain,” Medvedev promised at a special cabinet meeting held in Crimea.

Local officials, including Crimean prime minister Sergei Aksyonov, were also present at the meeting that was aired live on Russian state television.

Medvedev said the officials had come to “assess the situation and the scale of tasks ahead of us, and of course just to talk to the residents of the peninsula and support them.”

“That’s what people want from us: creating conditions for calm dignified life, confidence in tomorrow and a feeling that they are part of a strong country. We must justify those expectations,” Medvedev said, speaking in front of a Russian flag.

“This is our collective responsibility, both collective and personal,” he told officials including powerful First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov and deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the defense sector and is on EU and US sanctions blacklists over Crimea.

Medvedev earlier visited a children’s hospital in Simferopol and promised the doctors it would be modernised with new ambulances.

“There will be new equipment,” Medvedev said, quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency.

“I brought all the Russian government here, we will discuss all the problems including the health service and salaries. I’m very glad to see you. Load me up with ideas,” he said.

He said the hospital’s standards “significantly differed from the average Russian level.”

He also visited a secondary school, where one pupil said that he wanted to join the Russian army training programme and others asked for his autograph, the Interfax news agency reported.

It was the highest-level visit yet by a Russian government official to Crimea after its takeover by Moscow.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, visited Crimea last week to inspect troops and visit military facilities. – Rappler.com

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