Coming to Some Reality on Crimea

Coming to Some Reality on Crimea, by Michael Finch.

The Crimea is in red

Crimea. It’s non negotiable for Russia. …

In the mid 15th Century, Crimea became a northern outpost of the Muslim Ottoman Empire and would remain in Ottoman control for over 400 years. The Ottomans used the Crimean Peninsula as a launch pad for raids far into Ukraine and Russia.

It is estimated that well over 2 million Slavs (Ukrainians and Russians) were taken as slaves between 1500 and 1700 and sent to modern day Turkey. In fact the word “slave” traces back to the Greek word for Slav. To put some perspective on this, it is estimated that just under 400,000 black slaves were shipped from Africa to the Colonies in North America and later the independent United States. The Islamic Caliphate’s hold at the southern reaches of the Russian Empire was an existential threat, literally so for millions of Slavs. …

In 1783, under Catherine the Great, Russia routed the Ottomans and secured the Crimean Peninsula. Russia had its warm water port on the Black Sea …

For the next 171 years, Crimea was part of the Russian Empire and later, the Soviet Union. It was in 1954 that the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, “gifted” Crimea to Ukraine on the 300th Anniversary of the Ukrainian inclusion in the Russian Empire. At the time, of course, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, the “gift” of Crimea went almost completely unnoted in the West. After all, there was a massive Soviet naval fleet at Sevastopol before 1954 and so it remained after the “gifting.”

When the Soviet Union collapsed, chaos reigned. Boris Yeltsin, as best he could, tried to keep the pieces together. If he had been smarter, or shrewder, he most certainly would have demanded that in recognition and acceptance of Ukraine’s independence, Crimea should be returned to Russia. Alas, he was not and he did not.

In steps Vladimir Putin, a Russian nationalist who sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as a great “catastrophe.” He lamented it not because of the fall of Communism, but because with that came the dissolution of over 30 percent of the land that had it taken the Russian Empire centuries of wars and conflict to acquire. One thing Putin does not lack is shrewdness. In 2014, seeing a weakness and passivity in the West, particularly in the person of President Barack Obama, he pounced and took Crimea in a militarily incursion into Ukraine.

Why all of this background? Because, whatever our feelings or opinions about the justice of what’s happening in Crimea, it is critical that we understand it, also, through a Russian lens. From an historical prescriptive, they see Crimea as Russian; it has never been part of Ukraine, with the possible exception of a few years of the Kievan Rus period in 900 AD. Ukraine’s sole hold on Crimea was the post Soviet years, from 1991 to 2014, after the “gifting.”

hat-tip Stephen Neil