KYIV, Ukraine – The Crimean peninsula lies off the southern coast of Ukraine like a diamond, blessed with a mild climate, sandy beaches, lush wheat fields and orchards. eat fruit full of cherries and peaches.
It is also an important background for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Connected by bridge to Russia and serving as the base for Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, Crimea provides an important link in the Russian military’s supply chain, supporting the tens of thousands of troops currently serving the country. occupied a large area in southern Ukraine.
For President Vladimir Putin, this is sacred land, declared part of Russia by Catherine the Great in 1783, helping pave the way for her empire to become a naval power. Soviet ruler Nikita S. Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. And since Ukraine was then a Soviet republic, not much has changed.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed nearly four decades later, Russia lost its jewel. Therefore, Putin claims to have made a historic mistake by illegally annexing Crimea in 2014.
Mr. Putin promised at the time that he did not intend to further divide Ukraine. However, eight years later, in February, tens of thousands of Russian troops stormed the northern part of the peninsula, kicking off the current war.
In recent days, military targets in Crimea have been attacked, and the peninsula has once again become the fulcrum of a great power struggle.
At the beginning of the war, Russian troops pouring in from Crimea captured the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions that were still central to Russia’s occupation of southern Ukraine.
In contrast, Crimea provides vital logistical support for Russia to maintain its occupying troops, including two major railway lines on which Russia relies to move heavy military equipment. Air bases in Crimea have been used to conduct sorties against Ukrainian positions, and the peninsula is a launch site for Russian long-range missiles.
The peninsula is also home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which helps Russia maintain its maritime dominance, including a naval blockade that has crippled Ukraine’s economy.
A place in the sun
Cold Russia – 1/5 of the country is located on the Arctic Circle. But it can be actively soothed in the sunny Crimean city of Yalta.
“Russia needs its paradise,” wrote Prince Grigory Potemkin, general and lover of Catherine the Great, as he urged her to reclaim the land.
Crimea is where the presidents of the Politburo and the resorts of the Spanish states keep their vacation homes. Before the West imposed sanctions on Russia for its illegal annexation of the peninsula, this was where wealthy Eastern Europeans came to relax and party.
“Casinos humming and pinging are everywhere among the city’s pine-lined alleys,” a New York Times Travel article statement about Yalta in 2006, adding: “Much – if not everything – comes in this booming seaside neighborhood.”
Tourism fell sharply after 2014. But when Explosions rang out at an airbase Last week, near Crimea’s west coast, tourists at nearby resorts took photos and videos due to the black smoke blocking the sun.
Binding to Russia
“Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of its people,” Putin declared in his speech marking the 2014 annexation. But he is a selective reader of history.
Over the centuries, Greeks and Romans, Goths and Huns, Mongols and Tatars have all claimed the land.
And perhaps no group in Crimea, who witnessed the war going on, trembled as much as the Tatars, Turkic-Muslims who migrated from the Eurasian steppes in the 13th century.
They did Stalin’s brutal goal, who – in a foreshadowing of the Kremlin’s justification for the current war – accused them of being Nazi collaborators and expelled them immediately. Thousands of people died in the process.
In 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, allowed the Tatars to return to Crimea. And before the 2014 annexation, they made up about 12% of Crimea’s population, there were about 260,000 people.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch accused Moscow of intensifying repression of the Tatar minority in Crimea, “with the express objective of completely silencing dissent on the peninsula.”