So the Sabres are rattling in the Crimea again:
Vladimir Putin has decided that it would be good idea to take back Sebastopol and the Crimea from The Ukraine. The Crimea has been a hotbed of contention for centuries, holding a key position on the Black Sea.
The retoric smacks of Adolf Hitler though: " Lets reunite all the German (read Russian in this context) speaking people of this area." - Sounds a little like Rhineland, Austria or Sudetenland, doesn't it?
So I've had a little look at the history of the area:
Crimea is an eastern Ukrainian peninsula (click to map) located on the Black Sea. It’s connected to the rest of the country by a small strip of land. Out of its 2 million residents, about 60 percent identify as Russian. That’s the highest concentration of Russian speakers in Ukraine. Although the territory belongs to Ukraine, Russia stationed part of its Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol as part of a pre-existing agreement between the two countries.
Crimea hasn’t always been part of Ukraine. Here’s a summary of what’s happened in the region since the Ottoman Empire used the peninsula as a hub for slave trade.
1783: Russia annexed Crimea.
1853: The Crimean War began, lasting three years. Russia lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia. Crimea remained part of Russia. Charge of the Light Brigade, ouch:
( Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War. Lord Raglan, overall commander of the British forces, had intended to send the Light Brigade to pursue and harry a retreating Russian artillery battery, a task well suited to light cavalry. Due to mis-communication in the chain of command, the Light Brigade was instead sent on a frontal assault against a different artillery battery, one well-prepared with excellent fields of defensive fire.Although the Light Brigade reached the battery under withering direct fire and scattered some of the gunners, the badly-mauled brigade was forced to retreat immediately. Thus, the assault ended with very high British casualties and no decisive gains.)
1917: Crimea briefly became a sovereign state before becoming a base for the White Army of anti-Bolshevik forces in the Russian War.
1921: The peninsula, now called the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, became part of the Soviet Union.
1942: Nazi Germany took control of Crimea:
The Crimea Campaign was an eight-month long campaign by Axis forces to conquer the Crimea peninsula, and was the scene of some of the bloodiest battles on the Eastern Front during World War II. The German, Romanian, and defending Soviet troops suffered heavy casualties as the Axis forces tried to advance through the Isthmus of Perekop linking the Crimean peninsula to the mainland at Perekop, from summer of 1941 through to the first half of 1942.
From the 26 September 1941 the German 11th Army and troops from the Romanian Third Army and Fourth Army were involved in the fighting, opposed by the Red Army's 51st Army and elements of the Black Sea Fleet. After the campaign, the peninsula was occupied by Army Group A with the 17th Army as its major subordinate formation.
Once the Axis (German and Romanian troops) broke through, they occupied most of Crimea, with the exception of the city of Sevastopol, which was given the title of Hero City for its resistance, and Kerch, which was recaptured by the Soviets during an amphibious operation near the end of 1941 and then taken once again by the Germans during Operation Bustard Hunt on 8 May. The Siege of Sevastopol lasted 250 days from 30 October 1941 until 4 July 1942, when the Axis finally captured the city.
Sevastapol, the main object of the campaign, was surrounded by German forces and assaulted on 30 October 1941. German troops were repulsed by a Soviet counterattack. Later, many troops evacuated from Odessa contributed to the defense of Sevastopol. The Germans then began an encirclement of the city.
Other attacks on 11 November and 30 November, in the eastern and southern sections of the city, failed.German forces were then reinforced by several artillery regiments, one of which included the railway gun Schwerer Gustav. Another attack on 17 December was repulsed at the last moment with the help of reinforcements, and Soviet troops landed on the Kerch peninsula the day after Christmas, to relieve Sevastopol. The Soviet forces remained on the peninsula until a 9 April German counterattack. They held on for another month before being eliminated on 18 May. With the distraction removed, German forces renewed their assault on Sevastopol, penetrating the inner defensive lines on 29 June. Soviet commanders had been flown out or evacuated by submarine towards the end of the siege, and the city surrendered on 4 July 1942, although some Soviet troops held out in caves outside of the city until the 9th.
In 1944, the Crimea was recaptured by troops of the 4th Ukrainian Front during the Crimean Offensive (8 April 1944 – 12 May 1944) and its three sub-operations:
- Kerch–Eltigen Operation (31 October 1943 – 11 December 1943)
- Perekop–Sevastopol Offensive Operation (8 April 1944 – 12 May 1944)
- Kerch–Sevastopol Offensive Operation (11 April 1944 – 12 May 1944)
1944: Joseph Stalin forcibly deported all Muslim Tatars, a group of 300,000 who had lived on the peninsula for centuries, due to members’ alleged cooperation with Germany during World War II. Many returned to Crimea in the 1980s and 1990s.
1945: After World War II, the autonomous Soviet republic was dissolved and Crimea became a province of the Soviet Union called the Crimean Oblast.
1954: Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean Oblast to Ukraine. It’s often reported that it was a gesture of goodwill from Khrushchev, who had Ukrainian roots.
1991: The Soviet Union collapsed. Many expected President Boris Yeltsin, the new president of the Russian Federation, to take Crimea for Russia. But he didn’t bring it up during negotiations with Ukraine.
1997: Ukraine and Russia signed a treaty that allowed Russia to keep its fleet in Sevastopol. The agreement’s since been extended, so the fleet is set to remain there until at least 2042.
Though Khrushchev’s gesture had unclear motives, it didn’t seem like a problem for Russia at the time, only garnering a one-sentence write-up in the official Soviet newspaper. It became a bigger issue in the region once the Soviet Union collapsed decades later.
So the story of the Crimean Peninsula is long and complicated, to say the least.
And there could be more news to come as war threatens Eastern Europe. Today, Crimea’s residents are divided on the issue of Russia’s military intervention. Generally speaking, ethnic Russians support Russia’s involvement in the region, while Tatars and Ukrainians express pro-Ukrainian sentiments.
About 60 percent of people living in Crimea identify themselves as Russian.