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The Crimea may be one of the most colonized, conquered, seized, traded and handed around landmasses of its size in Eurasia. The Crimea is a peninsula, jutting into the Black Sea, which is open to the sea lanes of the World and ice free year round. Greeks colonized the Crimea about 550 BC and the outlook, religion and culture of people there have since followed that influence, which has been successively overlain by many others. Then, the Romans showed up. Any Emperor worth his salt would know he needed the Crimea in order to dominate the critically important Black Sea, linking Europe, Asia and the Middle East. When the Eastern part of the Roman Empire became Byzantine, so did the Crimea.

Then Genghis Khan showed up with his Golden Horde in the 13th Century, resulting in a permanent Tatar ethnic minority whose traditions were decidedly not Greek in outlook. Under the Crimean Khanate, the Crimea became officially Muslim and fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire.

The European powers were never happy about Islamic Ottomans controlling important sea lanes like the Black Sea. Ottoman control of the Bosporus was bad enough. Added to that, control of the Crimean Peninsula amounted to making the Black Sea an Islamic lake. The Christian Empires were unified in their desire to see the Ottoman grip around the Black Sea pushed back. But they had trouble agreeing on who should control what. In the Eighteenth Century, Russia stepped in.

Follow me out into the tall grass for a brief history of Russia's peculiar interest in the Crimean Peninsula since the 18th Century, and a discussion of the significance of that history as context for Putin's internationally condemned military adventure.


Catherine II of Russia a/k/a Catherine the Great.

During Catherine’s reign, the Russian Empire expanded southwards and westwards. The empress fought and won two wars against the Ottoman Empire (1768–74, 1787–91). Russia annexed the Crimea and consolidated its hold on the Black Sea coast, where new towns were founded. Catherine’s armies were led by such brilliant military commanders as Pyotr Rumyantsev and Alexander Suvorov.

Russia enjoyed several naval victories under Catherine II. In 1770, after sailing from the Baltic to the Mediterranean Sea, Count Alexei Orlov blocked and burnt the Turkish fleet in Çesme Bay. The new naval base of Sebastopole was founded in the Crimea in 1783. Under the command of Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, the Russian fleet won several major victories over the Turkish navy, establishing its control over the Black Sea.

Catherine the Great's heirs did what they could to extend Russia's growing bear hug around the Black Sea coasts. But as Ottoman power waned, Queen Victoria's Britain and France eventually allied with the Ottomans to push back against Tsarist Russian expansion, resulting in the Crimean War, from 1853-1856.

The Crimean War cost Russia its Black Sea Fleet, a humiliating and costly setback. But, Russia did not lose control of the Crimean Peninsula nor of Catherine's port city of Sevastopol.

The 20th Century history of Crimea deserves its own diary, which Navy Vet Terp, thankfully, ably provided here. In summary, it is a story of Russian domination, growing Russian Naval power, ethnic cleansing and, in turn, Tsarist, Communist and now plutocratic dictators who arbitrarily traded the peninsula between Russian and Ukrainian administration.

Sevastopol, the home of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, has always been a Russian city and always had Tatar and Ukrainian minorities. The Crimean Peninsula, since Catherine II's time, has almost always been under Russian control. As Navy Vet Terp points out, Russian Communism was very hard on the Tatar minority, expelling them to more Muslim parts of the Soviet empire by the hundreds of thousands. The entire population of the peninsula is only about 2.5 million.

Sevastopol has a population of over 300,000 people and an outspoken Russophile as the recently elected Mayor. Putin is using the demands of these ethnic Russians to justify his military actions. People are marching in the streets declaring their allegiance to Russia.  

Holding the Crimean Peninsula militarily offers little technical difficulty. Only two rail lines and two roads lead on and off of the landmass. By treaty the Russians already had a fleet and airbase at Sevastopol. Putin doesn't look to pay a high price in treasure for this caper. He waited until the Ukrainian government was at its most disordered and weakest point and then struck like lightning, imposing a reportedly bloodless occupation of the peninsula.

I am as ready as the next guy to clutch at my pearls over Putin's blatant disregard for international norms in his handling of this. But I don't favor the Ukraine nuking Russia over it, even if it still could, like some crazies out there are fantasizing about. I tip my hat to pasuburbdem1 who has also noted the importance of Russian history in the Crimea as context to understanding Putin's actions there in Would Putin be a FOOL Not to Invade Crimea. Even if he is breaking some rules, Putin is asserting Russian national interests on behalf of Russian speaking people in a territory that has been Russian going back as long in history as the U.S. itself.

This is undeniably a matter of historical interest and one can't help but wonder what will happen next. I don't think it will be armed conflict and I don't believe Russia will give the territory back. But how exactly that will all get worked out, I don't have a clue. Until then,


Vladimir Putin I of Russia
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Comment Preferences

  •  Is it me, or do they look a little bit alike? nt (16+ / 0-)

    "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." John Kenneth Galbraith

    by LeftOfYou on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 10:15:51 PM PST

  •  We bombed Serbia for 78 days (4+ / 0-)

    so the Albanian population of Kosovo could defeat the "territorial integrity" of Serbia.  Why do the Russians of Crimea, in the analogous situation, end up being on the receiving end of our cuffs?  Because they're Russian?  Is that it?  Advocates for the current US policy, are you aware that the very first act of the new Ukrainian government was to summarily end the use of Russian as an official language, thus reducing Russian speakers to second-class citizens?  

    "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." ~Frederick Douglass

    by ActivistGuy on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 06:32:57 AM PST

  •  This is why the Putin=Hitler analogies (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    are wrong. Russia doesn't seek lebensraum or an empire in Europe, they just want to hold on to their Black Sea port.

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 06:35:26 AM PST

    •  The invasion of Czechoslovakia to reunite (0+ / 0-)

      German speaking peoples wasn't about lebensraum.

      Or for that matter Austria.

      It is a much closer analogy to the present situation than you let on.

      Imagine how much different history would have been in Czechoslovakia hadn't been sold out.  They'd have given a much younger Wehrmacht (than the one that invaded France) a serious fight in the mountain passes.

      The only fighting over Crimea is going to be via words and maybe economics.  The place is that indefensible.  Like Sicily.

      Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
      I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
      —Spike Milligan

      by polecat on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:31:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's not a good analogy at all, (0+ / 0-)

        in fact, it's silly. Russia's occupation of Crimea is about protecting their Black Sea port. No Russian leader, Tsar, Party Chairman or President, will allow foreign powers to split Crimea off from Russia. Hitler analogies just don't hold up.

        The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

        by Azazello on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:46:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  That's not true; Russia had lease to bases (0+ / 0-)

      for decades to come.  

      The dossier on my DKos activities during the Bush administration will be presented on February 3, 2014, with an appendix consisting an adjudication, dated "a long time ago", that I am Wrong.

      by Inland on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:52:07 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Russia cannot allow a hostile government (0+ / 0-)

             in Crimea, leases or no.

        The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

        by Azazello on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:54:48 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  There never was a danger to the bases. Never. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          If you mean a threat to the bases as "hostile", there is and would never be a hostile Ukraine government.


          The dossier on my DKos activities during the Bush administration will be presented on February 3, 2014, with an appendix consisting an adjudication, dated "a long time ago", that I am Wrong.

          by Inland on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 08:07:43 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You don't know that. (0+ / 0-)

            The goal of the neo-liberals is precisely the formation of a Ukrainian government hostile to Russia, perhaps even a member of NATO.

            The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

            by Azazello on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 08:11:46 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  "Hostile" is meaningless the way you use it. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I prefer to move from the abstraction to the concrete: is there a threat to Russian bases in Crimea?  The answer is no.  

              Now, if you are just using the bases as a weak excuse to have a government that is nicey nice to Russia, well, you've got the Russian foreign policy.

              The dossier on my DKos activities during the Bush administration will be presented on February 3, 2014, with an appendix consisting an adjudication, dated "a long time ago", that I am Wrong.

              by Inland on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 08:26:42 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  What? Presupposes facts not in evidence. The (0+ / 0-)

            current revolution is becasue the elected government didn't go along with the demands of the Euromaiden movement to distance itself from Russia and draw closer to the EU. Once the insurgents won, they wasted no time in outlawing the Russian language. The Euromaiden movement, and hence its revolution and revolutionary government are hostile and were from day one.

            That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

            by enhydra lutris on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:03:58 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Nice job (0+ / 0-)

    "When dealing with terrorism, civil and human rights are not applicable." Egyptian military spokesman.

    by Paleo on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 06:51:14 AM PST

  •  An historical anecdote about the Crimea (6+ / 0-)

    When the Crimean War broke out around 1853-4, an enterprising young news service that had just recently been formed in England made use for the first time in history of the recently invented telegraph to relay accounts of the war back home to England, where newspaper readers could be kept aware of the latest developments in nearly real time. This was nearly a decade before the US Civil War, which many of us think of as the first "electronic war".

    The name of the news service was Reuters, which of course is still around and reporting on this latest military crisis (using somewhat updated technology). I found out about this when I worked for Reuters briefly many years ago.

    "Reagan's dead, and he was a lousy president" -- Keith Olbermann 4/22/09

    by kovie on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:03:24 AM PST

  •  Wonder of Catherine was as pretty as the painting (0+ / 0-)


  •  Actually as with most history . . . (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Inland, DavidMS

    there are some interesting connections and footnotes.

    In 1787, Павел де Жовес received a commission in the Russian Navy.

    Catherine the Great expressed her confidence in him, by saying "He will get to Constantinople"

    He participated in the campaign in the Liman region of the Crimea commanding the 24-gunship Vladimir.  He successfully repulsed the Ottomans from the area.  Receiving the Order of Saint Anne in recognition of the success.

    However due to the intrigues of the Potëmkin and Prince Charles of Nassau-Siegen, he was effectively relieved of command and left a little over a year later.  

    Leaving Russian service, he met Kościuszko in Warsaw. The Swedes declined his offer of service. John Paul Jones moved to Paris where he spent the remainder of his life.

  •  Move has air of 19th century geopolitics. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I don't think it makes a lick of sense in 2014.  I suspect Putin is going to regret it sooner rather than later.

    The dossier on my DKos activities during the Bush administration will be presented on February 3, 2014, with an appendix consisting an adjudication, dated "a long time ago", that I am Wrong.

    by Inland on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:50:44 AM PST

  •  Eventually one of these wannabe-dictators (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    is going to come to the conclusion that "crime(a) doesn't pay" and simply leave the long-suffering peninsula alone.


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