In light of the ongoing situation regarding Ukraine and Russia, the shadow of a much deeper story looms over it. As armed riots of Kazakhstan clear from the horizon and the potential for confrontation with NATO materialises, we must take a closer look at something. The largely controversial but misunderstood action of the Russian Federation that set a precedent for present strategic moves; the Crimean Annexation.
The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a culmination of the Ukrainian conflict. The incident showed a diversion of the Eastern European nation towards Western political influences. In a bid to form a profile for itself independent of its neighbour, Russia, Ukraine ousted its President Yanukovych. This placed tension between the two countries who had before been in a stable friendship as neighbouring allies of the Eastern Bloc.
President Putin’s decision to reincorporate Crimea in 2014 as part of Russian territory sparked outrage online and in news sources. However its historical relevance was buried under claims of aggression. Most see it merely as a reaction to Ukraine’s deviance from Russian influence, rather than a calculated and reasonable move.
The Crimean peninsula on the coast of the Black Sea was under the sovereignty of Russia since its retrieval from the Ottoman Empire in 1783. The area was taken back a century before the Crimean War, during which the Russian Empire built and seasoned its Black Sea Fleet. This was for the territorial defence of the Black Sea region, Russia’s most valuable strategic location for millennia.
Formerly part of the Bosporan Kingdom and later the Byzantine Empire, Crimea has been captured by the Golden Horde. It was then integrated into the Ottoman Empire, though Russia had inherited the land from the Byzantines. To retrieve Russia’s rightful territory, Empress Catherine the Great annexed Crimea in 1783.
In 1784, following the Russo-Turkish war (1768-1774) this action was legitimised. It was reinforced by the signing of the treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca between the Russian and Ottoman Empires. The agreement ensured the Russian Empire’s access to the Black Sea and brought Orthodox Christian subjects, the custodians of the region, under its protection.
Unfortunately, Russian entitlement to the Black Sea region and Crimea was not to be recognised in the following years. It was instead to be buried under generations of denial by the actions of the British, French and Ottoman Empires. A collaborative seizure of the territory took place during the Crimean War (1853-1856) after Britain and France had decided to assist the deteriorating Ottoman Empire.
Breaking the centuries old treaty, the Ottoman Empire played into the hands of its allies who felt threatened by Russia’s growing influence in the 19th Century. Their promise of restoring the weakening nation to its former glory was not ultimately fulfilled. The empire was left to follow an inevitable path to collapse.
The war ended with Russian territory in foreign hands once again and a dying empire.
However, President Putin’s retrieval of Crimea and the Black Sea region in 2014 has again restored Russia’s sovereignty over its very own land both historically and culturally. It also closed an unhappy chapter in the nation’s history.
It should be noted, that the necessary response to an ongoing conflict was taken. The annexation is justified by the historical roots of Crimea, not merely by strategic purposes.