From the address of Vladimir Putin to the Federal Assembly, March 18, 2014. “…We were making advances to Ukraine, not only concerning Crimea. We proceeded from the premise that a good relationship is important for us, and they shouldn’t be held hostage to deadlock territorial disputes. But, at the same time, we expected Ukraine will be our good neighbor, that Russian and Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine – especially in the southeast and Crimea – will live in a friendly, democratic, civilized state, that their legitimate interests will be provided in accordance with international law. However, the situation began to evolve in a different way. Again and again, they made efforts to deprive the Russians of their historical memory and sometimes deprive them of their native tongue, making them the object of forced assimilation.”.

Crimea

The Russian General Prosecutor’s Office acknowledged that the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 was illegal and that the decision of the Supreme Soviets of the USSR and the RSFSR didn’t comply with the Constitution of the USSR and the RSFSR. If you’re looking for insights into why Russia parted company with Crimea, it seems that you need look no further than the history textbooks that are distributed in Ukrainian schools. According to these publications, Moscow was forced to transfer Crimea to the impoverished peninsula, and Ukraine was forced to accept it, for three reasons:

  1. The transfer of Crimea represented an attempt to shift the moral responsibility for the deportation of the Tatar people onto Ukrainian shoulders.

  2. It represented an effort to avoid the repayment of loans to Americans.

  3. It forced Ukraine to attempt to restore the economic and cultural life of the peninsula.

Perhaps it is only a handful of parents of the current school students who remember not only the beautiful poetry of Paul Tychyna, but the speech he delivered on February 19, 1954, at the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, which ultimately ruled on the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine. Let me remind you of some of his powerful words: “It is impossible in any capitalist country to make such a generous act as the transfer one of the best domains of a great nation to other nation. Moreover, it is an unselfish, sincerely, voluntary transfer.” However, today, Ukraine reject all notion that Russia behaved unselfishly, with sincerity and goodwill. Until recently, they sold their own version of history to the Crimean people and forced them to adopt an ideological trident: one nation, one language, one religion. But it’s very difficult to adhere to such an ideology when, today, 125 different nationalities live on the peninsula. As the Pearl of the Black Sea, Crimea has always been a nation that many men have wanted to own.

“For ourselves and our successors to the throne”

In 1783, due to the victories of Russian arms and brilliant diplomacy, Crimea became a part of the Russian Empire. Russia also acquired Novorossiya, a vast territory on the northern coast of the Black Sea. At this point, the Russian progress to the southern seas was over. Ivan the Terrible had initiated the expansion to the southern seas, Peter the Great had continued his efforts, and Catherine the Great had finished it. But, the February decision of the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee (1954) to transfer Crimea to Ukraine began the retreat of Russia from the southern seas and the loss of key strategic areas.

One can turn to the Encyclopedic Dictionary for a definition of indigenous people: “Indigenous people — an ethnic group, who digested a territory before anybody else populated it.” The discovery of 25 Paleolithic early man sites revealed that the first people on the peninsula appeared 200 thousand years ago. One era replaced another, and one people replaced another, people who had no name. The first inhabitants with a clear nationality were Cimmerians, Taurus, who left a memory: Tavria, Taurida, Tauris. Then there were Greeks, Byzantines, Romans, Venetians, Genoese, Jews, Sarmatians, Huns, Goths. In those days, there were Slavs in Crimea. Ancient writers often mention Rosses, Russes – the white, light people. The Arabs called Russes the Slavs, the Black Sea – Russian Sea, Kerch Strait – Russian River. Khazar Khaganate, Tmutarakan principality, the Ulus of the Golden Horde. I would like to highlight one fundamental point: After the dissolution of the Golden Horde in 1443, the Crimean Khanate appeared on the peninsula, which soon became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. A dangerous militant neighbor challenged Russia, Poland, and South Slavs. The Wild Field ran from Perekop to Ryazan and from The Wild Field raids were to Tula and Moscow. In 1580, Crimean Tatars almost burned Moscow to the ground, and about 80 thousand people were killed. The constant threat of Turkish invasion came from Crimea. Ivan the Terrible was the first to appear on the scene. He began cleaning up the Wild Field and progressing to the southern seas. Peter the Great continued this endeavor, and Catherine the Great finished the job. Russian generals and admirals forced Turkey to sign the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca in July 10, 1774. This agreement was, in all respects, perfect for Russia. Under the treaty, the Crimean Khanate gained independence from Turkey. In 1783, the Crimean Khan Shahin Giray filed an official request to Russia in which he asked for Crimea to be accepted as part of the Russian Empire. Nine years passed between the treaty with Turkey and the manifesto of the accession of the peninsula. Russia didn’t capture Crimea; it waited for Crimea to come to it. Shahin Giray decided to join Muscovy, bringing a gift – the Pearl of the Black Sea. Russia received both Crimea and an only passage (the Kerch Strait) from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. In return, the Empress gave her new subjects freedom of religion and freedom from conscription. The Tatar elite were granted all the rights of the Russian nobility. The Muslim clergy were released from taxes.

In the Manifesto of the Accession of Crimea, Kuban, and Taman, Catherine II promised the residents of these regions “holy and unwaveringly for ourselves and our heirs to the throne to keep them level with our natural nationals, to protect and defend their persons, property, churches, their natural religion.”

Crimea – The Victim of a Power Struggle

The Soviet government did not violate the provisions of the manifesto. Just after the Civil War, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR adopted a resolution on the formation of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. According to the population census of 1939, Russians accounted for 49.6 percent of the total amount of people living in Crimea, Tatars – 19.4%, Ukrainians – 13.7%, Jews – 5.8%, and Germans – 4.6%. The Republic had two official languages: Russian and Crimean Tatar. Administrative division was based on ethnicity: Tatar, Jewish, German districts and rural councils. Children learned in their native language in national rural councils.

Crimea Yalta Conference

At the Yalta Conference, leaders of the most influential states were fully aware who owned Crimea.

The war, the complete depopulation of Jews, and the extermination of 80% Crimean Jews during the occupation and deportation in 1944, fundamentally changed the demographics and the administrative division, and destroyed industry and agriculture. Only former names of districts and rural councils remained autonomous. In 1945, the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic became Crimean Oblast. The Federal Government obliged other republics to help Crimea – primarily to send people to Crimea for permanent residence. However, Ukraine was among the republics, and this upset the plan. The head of Ukraine, Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, often came under strong criticism thereby. Whether he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, send the required quorum of people – who knows? But, according to the recollections of some of his leader-colleagues in Moscow, he harbored plans to expand Ukraine by virtue of Crimea. Researchers often cite Khrushchev as saying: “I was almost reduced in dust because of the proposal to transfer Crimea to Ukraine. Anyway, I’ll take it!”

In the Manifesto of the Accession of Crimea, Kuban, and Taman, Catherine II promised the residents of these regions “holy and unwaveringly for ourselves and our heirs to the throne to keep them level with our natural nationals, to protect and defend their persons, property, churches, their natural religion.”

So Khrushchev did, indeed, take it.

Crimea Khrushchev

The death of Stalin in March 1953 changed the situation in the USSR. Khrushchev was elevated to a new height of power. In the fall of 1953, he was elected the First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. He was an impatient and very proud man. He wanted to assert himself as soon as possible and, in the process, he didn’t spare his recent comrades in Stalin’s Guard. He even removed George Zhukov from all power, despite the fact Zhukov had literally saved him at the meeting of the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee. So Pavel Titov, First Secretary of the Crimean Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, was more fortunate than Zhukov. George Myasnikov, the former Second Secretary of the Party Committee of Penza, recalled in Pages from the Diary (2008):

I remember, when he rose (Dmitry Polanski – a major party and Soviet employee, the Chairman of the Government of the RSFSR, First Deputy Chairman of the Government of the USSR and First Secretary of the Crimean Regional Committee of the Communist Party in November 1953). Khrushchev, Titov and Polanski met in Crimea. They started talking about a transfer of Crimea to Ukraine. Titov rejected the idea without a peep, but Polanski called it brilliant. The next day, they gathered a plenum of regional committee: Titov was kicked away, and Polanski became the First Secretary… Either Titov knew something, or simply surmised about future changes. Even at the XIX Communist Party Congress, he wrote a letter to Stalin. He argued the need to return the former Russian name to Crimean Oblast – Tauris. According to Titov, Stalin did not answer at once. He answered at the end of January, 1953: ‘Your proposal is interesting, perhaps, it is correct. We need to discuss it.’ The discussion didn’t take place. Titov informed Khrushchev of this at the meeting in November, 1953. He argued that Russia shouldn’t leave the Crimea, it couldn’t lose the Kerch Strait. His pleas cut no ice. Pavel Titiov was demoted to Deputy Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation. It was a big demotion. And Russia really lost the Strait. The main port on the Kuban on the strait was given to Ukraine. Many years on, Konstantin Chernenko – General Secretary of the CPSU – ordered for it to be returned to Kuban. “

This was never clarified in the history of Crimea. Perhaps a lot of great people wanted it to be quickly forgotten. From that event, Khrushchev began arbitrariness and voluntarism. At that time, he only tried on the dress of a great leader; in reality, he was considered to be an old and experienced guard. Why did none of those really distinguished people reject this crazy (according to Myasnikov) idea? Politically, the transfer was framed majestically and competently – a gift to the Ukrainian people on the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav. However, juristically, according to the analysis of the Supreme Soviet in May 1992, and the recent conclusion of the General Prosecutor’s Office, it was a violation of the Constitution of the RSFSR and the USSR. Despite what the experts say, Ukrainian researchers continue to argue that everything was done according to the book.

Many people argue that it was good that the Ukrainians hastened; in their rush, they failed to comply with a number of important legal requirements. But what would have happened if they complied with all formalities and completed all necessary paperwork? A few years ago, at the Russian-Ukrainian Round Table, Valentine Goydenko, a senior fellow at the Institute of CIS, made a public appearance and announced: “I’ve got in the archives an interesting case about the transfer of the Crimean region from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR. It began on February 4 and was completed on February 19, 1954. So 15 days was enough to transfer Crimea and, thereby, plant a bomb in Russian-Ukrainian relations.” She also quoted from the book Nuremberg Trial: “The original idea to take away Crimea from Russia and to pass it to Ukraine belongs to Hitler. The Fuhrer thought it was a brilliantly designed way to make two major Slavic power mortal enemies.”

In 1783, due to the victories of Russian arms and brilliant diplomacy, Crimea became a part of the Russian Empire. Russia also acquired Novorossiya, a vast territory on the northern coast of the Black Sea. At this point, the Russian progress to the southern seas was over. Ivan the Terrible had initiated the expansion to the southern seas, Peter the Great had continued his efforts, and Catherine the Great had finished it. But, the February decision of the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee (1954) to transfer Crimea to Ukraine began the retreat of Russia from the southern seas and the loss of key strategic areas.

A bomb had exploded, and it would take a very long time to eliminate the consequences. It is clear that Khrushchev could not foresee such a pace of developments. But what made him engage in the national political land management? In his speech in Crimea on March 18, immediately after the referendum, Vladimir Putin highlighted two points: “[Khrushchev] wanted to win the support of Ukrainian nomenclature or make amends for the organization of mass repressions in Ukraine in the 1930s…” That may be true, but it represents a more recent motive. Some of his contemporaries believed that the idea matured since the late ‘40s. Historian Mark Kramer is confident that Khrushchev intended to change the ethnic composition of the Ukrainian SSR by gaining control of Crimea. After all, an increase in the proportion of the Russian-speaking population would reduce the basis for the development of Ukrainian nationalism.

Khrushchev’s children – his son Sergei, his daughter Rada Adjoubei and her husband Alex Adjoubei – explain the transfer of Crimea as an economic necessity. Russia had no time for Crimea, so Ukraine could effectively help it to overcome the demographic and economic crisis. The majority of Ukrainian politicians uphold this version, and it is included in school textbooks. The peninsula had become the thriving Crimea, “a medal on the chest of the planet” (according to Pablo Neruda), and this happened because Crimea became Ukrainian. It would have remained neglected and impoverished In Russia. Such statements represent deft manipulation of today’s ignorance of Soviet realities. The complex, planned, strictly centralized single country’s economy developed on a single plan. Large projects, like Crimea, were implemented in unison, by the combined efforts of all republics, all outdoors under the supervision of Moscow. By this route, they created a second industrial base in the Urals and in the Kuznetsk Basin, the Second Baku in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, the Third Baku in Western Siberia and the Baikal-Amur Mainline.

I studied the primary sources to develop a better understanding of how the transformation of Crimea into the “Medal on the chest of the planet” was financed.

On July 26, 1954, the Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers accepted the resolution “On measures for further development of agriculture, cities and resorts in the Crimean Oblast of the Ukrainian SSR.” Sometimes such documents are prepared for years, in this case, they met the deadline in a few months. Effectively, you’re the master of your destiny! By the way, Dmitry Polanski, First Secretary of the Crimean Regional Committee of the Communist Party, was a member of the commission that prepared a draft resolution of the Central Committee and Council of Ministers.

Moscow – exactly Moscow – unveiled about five billion rubles just for three years (1954-1957). The plan was to develop about 14 hectares of gardens, 16 thousand hectares of vineyards, 900 hectares of small fruit acreages, 80 thousand square meters of greenhouses. It detailed a lot of land reclamations and a construction preparation of a giant project – the North Crimean Canal. A heavy penny-farm applied to all major ministries and allied departments. They planned to build the hydro-electric power station Novokrymskaya, power transmission lines, modern ports in Yalta, Kerch, Feodosia, roads, schools, cultural facilities and powerful processing industry. 600 million rubles was unveiled for the development of the sanatorium-resort area. We have to hand it to Nikita Khrushchev – his idea made him rich. That’s the secret of the Ukrainian miracle.

After 60 years, it is impossible to understand why Nikita Khrushchev broke the territorial and administrative division. Every bullet has its billet: an irrepressible reformist itch, wounded pride, a desire to dominate, to rise above the old Moscow party nomenclature, to reach the level of the true leader, to have his sustainable “patrimony” in the struggle with Moscow and Muscovites. There’s no doubt, Crimea had become a tool and a victim of that struggle.

The second time it was “a lamb to the slaughter” was in the 90s. We can’t say that Yeltsin betrayed Crimea and Crimean people, he just waved at them. He was in desperate need of the friendship and support of Leonid Kravchuk in his fight against Gorbachev and the authorities of the Soviet Union. He paid for this with a treaty with Ukraine that confirmed the inviolability of its borders – for the second time Crimea was transferred to Kiev, then the third by execution of the Belavezha Accords.

93.2% of Crimeans voted for reunification with Russia in the referendum in January 20, 1991, and in the referendum on March 16, 2014 – 96.7%.

Fortunately, the Crimean people did not give up and patiently lined the path to Russia. And thank God, they waited with understanding, recognition and support. Vladimir Putin did not just fix the “errors” of Khrushchev and Yeltsin. He proved that Russia is alive, and Russia doesn’t leave Russians in the lurch. 

Crimea

Crimea