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Crimea Plays Critical Role in Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — The Crimean Peninsula dangles off Ukraine’s southern coast like a diamond, blessed with a temperate local weather, sandy seashores, lush wheat fields and orchards filled with cherries and peaches.

It is usually a critical staging ground for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Linked through bridge to Russia and serving as a house to Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, Crimea offers an important hyperlink within the Russian army’s provide chain that helps tens of hundreds of troopers now occupying an unlimited swath of southern Ukraine.

For President Vladimir V. Putin, it’s hallowed floor, having been declared a part of Russia by Catherine the Nice in 1783, serving to pave the way in which for her empire to turn out to be a naval energy. The Soviet ruler Nikita S. Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. And since Ukraine was then a Soviet republic, not a lot modified.

However when the Soviet Union collapsed practically 4 many years later, Russia misplaced its jewel. Mr. Putin thus claimed to be righting a historic incorrect when he illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

Mr. Putin promised on the time that he had no intention of additional dividing Ukraine. But eight years later, in February, tens of hundreds of Russian troopers stormed north out of the peninsula, kicking off the present conflict.

In latest days, army targets in Crimea have come underneath assault, and the peninsula as soon as once more finds itself on the fulcrum of an awesome energy wrestle.

Early within the conflict, Russian troops surging from Crimea seized swaths of the Kherson and Zaporizhia areas that stay the important thing to Russia’s occupation of southern Ukraine.

Crimea, in flip, presents key logistical assist for Russia to take care of its occupation military, together with two foremost rail hyperlinks that Russia depends on for shifting heavy army tools. Crimean air bases have been used to stage sorties in opposition to Ukrainian positions, and the peninsula has supplied a launching floor for long-range Russian missiles.

The peninsula can also be house to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, serving to Russia keep dominion over the ocean, together with a naval blockade that has crippled Ukraine’s financial system.

Russia is chilly — a fifth of the nation is above the Arctic Circle. However it may be positively balmy within the sun-drenched Crimean metropolis of Yalta.

“Russia wants its paradise,” wrote Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine the Nice’s normal and lover, when he urged her to say the land.

Crimea is the place czars and Politburo chairmen saved trip properties. Earlier than the West imposed sanctions on Russia for illegally annexing the peninsula, it was a spot the place rich Jap Europeans went to unwind and celebration.

“Casinos buzz and ping all over the place amid town’s pine-bowered alleyways,” a New York Occasions Journey article proclaimed about Yalta in 2006, including: “A lot — if not every part — goes on this seaside boomtown.”

Tourism fell steeply after 2014. However when explosions rang out at an air base final week close to Crimea’s western coast, there have been nonetheless guests at close by resorts taking images and movies as black smoke obscured the solar.

“Crimea has all the time been an integral a part of Russia within the hearts and minds of individuals,” Mr. Putin declared in his 2014 handle marking the annexation. However his is a selective studying of historical past.

Over the centuries, Greeks and Romans, Goths and Huns, Mongols and Tatars have all laid declare to the land.

And maybe no group in Crimea has watched the unfolding conflict with as a lot trepidation because the Tatars, Turkic Muslims who migrated from the Eurasian steppes within the thirteenth century.

They had been brutally focused by Stalin, who — in a foreshadowing of the Kremlin’s justification for its present conflict — accused them of being Nazi collaborators and deported them en masse. 1000’s died within the course of.

In 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev, the final Soviet chief, allowed Tatars to return to Crimea. And earlier than the 2014 annexation, they made up about 12 % of Crimea’s inhabitants, numbering about 260,000 there.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch accused Moscow of intensifying the persecution of the Tatar minority in Crimea, “with the obvious aim of fully silencing dissent on the peninsula.”

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