Crimea became part of the Russian Empire in 1783, when the Crimean Khanate was annexed, then became part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic until 1954. During the first stages of the Russian Civil War, there were a series of short-lived independent governments (Crimean People’s Republic, Crimean Regional Government, Crimean SSR) but they were followed by White Russian governments (General Command of the Armed Forces of South Russia and later South Russian Government).
In October 1921, the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the Russian SFSR was instituted. After the Second World War and the subsequent deportation of all of the indigenous Crimean Tatars, the Crimean ASSR was stripped of its autonomy in 1946 and were downgraded to the status of an oblast of the Russian SFSR.
In 1954, the Crimean Oblast transferred from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. In 1989, Perestroika, the Supreme Soviet declared that the deportation of the Crimean Tatars under Stalin had been illegal,and the mostly Muslim ethnic group was allowed to return to Crimea.
In 1990, the Soviet of the Crimean Oblast proposed the restoration of the Crimean ASSR.The oblast conducted a referendum in 1991, which asked whether Crimea should be elevated into a signatory of the New Union Treaty (that is, became a union republic on its own). By that time, though, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was well underway. The Crimean ASSR was restored for less than a year as part of Soviet Ukraine before Ukrainian independence. Newly independent Ukraine maintained Crimea’s autonomous status,while the Supreme Council of Crimea affirmed the peninsula’s “sovereignty” as a part of Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities limited Crimean autonomy in 1995.
In September 2008, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko accused Russia of giving out Russian passports to the population in Crimea and described it as a “real problem” given Russia’s declared policy of military intervention abroad to protect Russian citizens.
On 24 August 2009, anti-Ukrainian demonstrations were held in Crimea by ethnic Russian residents. Sergei Tsekov (of the Russian Blocand then deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament) said then that he hoped that Russia would treat Crimea the same way as it had treated South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Crimea is populated by an ethnic Russian majority and a minority of both ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, and thus demographically possessed one of Ukraine’s largest ethnic Russian populations.
Already in 2011, some analysts speculated that the Russian government had irredentist plans:
…Russia wants to annex Crimea and is merely waiting for the right opportunity, most likely under the pretense of defending Russian brethren abroad.
— William Varettoni, 2011
Russia’s interest in Crimea
When Russia signed the Treaty of Paris in 1856, accepting defeat in the Crimean War—which had decimated its military and ruined its economy—it agreed to dismantle its naval base in the port city of Sevastopol. These were the terms demanded by Britain, France and their allies, who sought to eliminate Russia as a military threat in the Black Sea. But the concession didn’t last long.
Russia began to rebuild Sevastopol during the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870. And throughout history, Russian leaders would return to Crimea again and again. After Germany’s bombing of Crimea during World War II, much of Sevastopol was in ruins. But Joseph Stalin declared the port a “hero city” and ordered it restored to its former neoclassical beauty.Indeed, the Crimean peninsula has loomed large for Russian leaders ever since Russian Tsarina Catherine the Great annexed it from the Ottoman Empire in 1783. The strategically located peninsula, which is officially part of Ukraine, has given Russia military leverage not only in the Black Sea, but the greater Mediterranean region. After the fall of the Soviet Union, a 1997 treaty with Ukraine allowed Russia to keep its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, under a lease that has been extended until 2042.
But in 2014, Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in an illegal move that violated the territorial integrity of the former Soviet republic, and sparked a war that has displaced nearly 2 million people and destroyed the country’s infrastructure. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s justifies the aggression, in part, by asserting that Crimea is mostly comprised of ethnic Russians.
For hundreds of years, Crimea has been the home of Tatars, a group of Turkic speakers who lived under the Ottoman Empire until Catherine the Great annexed the region. In 1944, Stalin deported about 200,000 Tatars to Siberia and Central Asia, calling the ethnic Muslims traitors to the USSR and bringing in ethnic Russians to replenish the workforce. And after Stalin’s death, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine in a move hailed as a “noble act on behalf of the Russian people.” The transfer was praised at the 1954 meeting of the Presidium of the USSR Soviet Supreme, the Soviet Union’s highest legislative body.
“Comrades…The transfer of the Crimean Oblast (or region) to the Ukrainian SSR is occurring in remarkable days,” said Soviet politician SharofRashidov. “This is possible only in our country, where there is no ethnic strife and there are no national differences, where the lives of all the Soviet peoples pass in an atmosphere of peaceful constructive work in the name of the peace and happiness of all humanity…”
“Comrades!…Only in our country is it possible that such a great people as the Russian people magnanimously transferred one of the valuable oblasts to another fraternal people without any hesitation,” said Otto Wille Kuusinen, another Communist Party leader.
But for all the talk about unity and cooperation, recent documents suggest Khrushchev’s move was motivated more by political calculation than goodwill. It was designed to appease Ukrainian leadership and solidify his position in the power struggle that emerged after Stalin’s death in 1953.Russian paramilitaries stand guard outside of a Ukrainian military base in the town of Perevevalne near the Crimean city of Simferopol on March 6, 2014, as part of the standoff between the Russian military and Ukrainian forces in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Some argue that Putin’s annexation of Crimea is an attempt to return Russia to the glory of its pre-Soviet days, “as one of the world’s greatest civilizations.” Although Ukrainian nationalism remains strong, particularly in the eastern part of the country, Ukrainian officials and analysts report to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that significant demographic transformation is underway, with a huge influx of ethnic Russians.
“We can say with certainty that we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people,” Ukrainian official Borys Babin, told the news service, including many from Siberia. “An enormous number of bureaucrats are moving in with their families, and those family members are looking for work. In addition, there is a large number of guest workers—people who come to Crimea for major construction projects that are being carried out in the military sphere.”
Meanwhile, thousands of Crimean Tatars have left the peninsula since the annexation in 2014. The Tatars, many of whom had returned to their ancestral homeland in the 1980s and 1990s, are being driven out by an increasingly aggressive Russian presence. Of those who remain, many are subject to harassment, arrest and imprisonment by Russian authorities, particularly on charges of extremism and political activity.
Transition and Aftermath
According to February 2016 official Ukrainian figures, after Russia’s annexation 10% of Security Service of Ukraine personnel left Crimea; accompanied by 6,000 of the pre-annexation 20,300 people strong Ukrainian army.
While initially (right after the annexation), salaries rose, especially those of government workers, this was soon offset by the increase in prices caused by the depreciation of the ruble. Subsequently, after Russian authority became established, wages were cut back again by 30% to 70%. Tourism, previously Crimea’s major industry, suffered in particular; it was down by 50% from 2014 in 2015. Crimean agricultural yields were also significantly affected by the annexation. Ukraine cut off supplies of water through the North Crimean Canal, causing the 2014 rice crop to fail, and damaging the maize and soybean crops.
Because of the Crimea unsettled status, Russian mobile operators never expanded their operations on its territory and it offers all mobile services based on “internal roaming”, which caused significant controversy inside Russia.
Situation of Human Rights in Crimea
In March 2014, Human Rights Watch reported that pro-Ukrainian activists and journalists had been attacked, abducted, and tortured by self-defence groups. Some Crimean were “disappeared” with no explanation. In May 2018, Russian authorities imprisoned Server Mustafayev, the founder and coordinator of the human rights movement Crimean Solidarity and charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation”. Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders demand his immediate release. On 12 June 2018, Ukraine lodged a memorandum weighing about 90 kg, comprising 17,500 pages of text in 29 volumes to the UN’s International Court of Justice about racial discrimination by Russian authorities in occupied Crimea and state financing of terrorism by Russian Federation in Donbass. Between 2015 and 2019 over 134,000 (less than 5% to 2014 consensus) people living in Crimea applied for and were issued Ukrainian passports.
Opinion of Public in Crimea
A joint survey by American government agency Broadcasting Board of Governors and polling firm Gallup was taken during April 2014.It polled 500 residents of Crimea. The survey found that 82.8% of those polled believed that the results of the Crimean status referendum reflected the views of most residents of Crimea, whereas 6.7% said that it did not. 73.9% of those polled said that they thought the annexation would have a positive impact on their lives, whereas 5.5% said that it would not. 13.6% said that they did not know.
A comprehensive poll released on 8 May 2014 by the Pew Research Center surveyed local opinions on the annexation. Despite international criticism of 16 March referendum on Crimean status, 91% of those Crimean polled thought the vote was free and fair, and 88% said that the Ukrainian government should recognise the results.
But today, on the 5th anniversary of the hastily organised “referendum” on the status of Crimea, which hasn’t been recognised as a legitimate vote even by Russia’s ex-Soviet allies, not to mention the rest of the world, the Russian leader’s winning streak seems to be over. His approval ratings are back at where they were before the annexation and continuing to fall, while the opposition, led by a charismatic leader, Alexei Navalny, is slowly maturing and enlarging its support base.Putin’s trouble is, this time around there is no flawed revolution or ripe propaganda opportunity like Crimea that can help him solve his popularity problem. His supporters are still expecting him to pull off another trick, but it appears, at least for now, that there is nothing left up his sleeve.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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