One would find it difficult to say who exactly reserves the biggest claim to Crimea. According to known history, small clusters of tribes either lived peacefully alongside of the Scythians and one another, or weaker claimants were chased inland from the coast in almost cyclical fashion, as different tribes found their way down to the Black Sea. It wasn’t until around the 8thcentury BC that the settlement of the Crimean coastline
began in earnest, as the Greeks were expanding their fishing grounds further afield in support of an exploding population back home. By most accounts, the Greeks were more inclined to get down to the business of fishing out and packaging their goods for the long sail southward, than they were to brandish swords and ransack their neighbors. The first real bid for long-term ownership of the place came from the Crimean Khanate in the mid to late 1400s, Tatars who moved into the area during the periodic expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Another period of stability ensued, and lasted around three hundred years.
The Russian Empire acquired the area as part of a larger treaty with the Ottomans, and a climate never really better than strained existed between rulers and ruled. The disaffected region was eventually fought over by Tsarists and Bolsheviks during that whole debacle, and when everything was said and done, the Soviets were the proud owners of some prime beachfront real-estate.
What makes the Crimean Peninsula such a present-day puzzle from the Russo-Ukrainian perspective is that, during Khrushchev’s time at the Soviet helm in the early 1950s, Crimea was “gifted” to the people of Ukraine in what was supposed to be a symbolic – but ultimately, meaningless – demonstration of appreciation for Ukraine’s efforts against Hitler in World War II. The reasoning was that it didn’t matter under whose name Crimea was titled… the whole of the Soviet Union was supposed to reduce to this one happy, quivering mass of smiling Communists, so borders would all go away, anyhow.
Not only did that Communist Shangri-La not happen, but the Crimean Peninsula got stuck in what was for many post-Soviet Russians the wrong hands. Understandably, there was more than mild consternation that those much-favored beaches were now in a foreign country. The much more devastating security issue, however, was that the Soviet Navy and all the associated facilities were also now in a foreign country.
Contest over these grounds has been postponed for now… at least until 2042. Russia and Ukraine recently signed a contract extending Russian use of the Black Sea Fleet facilities on Crimea for the next 30 years. It will be very interesting to see whether a new Ukrainian Administration upholds the lease-signing as a valid document, or whether (as some Ukrainian opposition leaders tend to emphasize) the agreement will come to be seen as an illegal infringement on Ukrainian sovereignty.
Well, thanks for reading along. I hope you found the historical angle interesting. I thought I’d share this with you in order to help sort out some of the undercurrents which make one of Ukraine’s prime tourist spots such an interesting place.
Next up – Contested Ground, Pt 4 – Yalta and a coastal drive back to Sevastopol