History 101: Don’t cry for me, Crimea
March 27, 2014
As every Russian schoolchild knows, Catherine the Great annexed the Crimean Peninsula to Mother Russia in 1783. Today, the population of the Crimea is 12.1 percent Tatar, 24.3 percent Ukrainian, and 58.5 percent Russian. Ninety-seven percent of the population speaks Russian.
While few westerners like to see Russia’s Vladimir Putin throw his weight around, Putin has history, demographics, and geo-politics on his side. One does not need to be Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, to understand that it is a vital national interest for Russia to have a warm-water port on the Black Sea and, from there, to be able to access the rest of the world’s seas and oceans.
For 171 years, the Crimean Peninsula was part of Mother Russia. In 1954, then Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, inexplicably gave the Crimea to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine; however, the USSR retained possession of its naval base at Sevastopol, Crimea.
Khrushchev’s gift of the Crimea—with Russia’s only warm-port port—was just one of Khrushchev’s several dumb ideas that caused his Politburo comrades to force him to “retire” in 1964, to become a “non-person.” In 1971, “Pravda” (the main Soviet newspaper) devoted just one sentence to the death of Nikita Khrushchev.
In Moscow, in July of 1989, Wonder Wife and I, and ten other American journalists, interviewed Sergei Khrushchev. Unfortunately, none of us thought to ask Sergei why his father had given the Crimea to Ukraine. Mainly, we asked: Why did your father risk putting those missiles in Cuba? He said President Kennedy did not impress his father when they met in Vienna and Kennedy’s generally weak responses to Soviet initiatives, such as the Berlin Wall, led his father to think the U.S. would allow Soviet missiles to be stationed in Cuba. Wrong.
Recently, Sergei told reporters that the Crimea was given to Ukraine which, at the time, was part of the Soviet Union; because another massive hydro-electric dam was being built in Ukraine and his father thought it would be more efficient for the entire area downstream from the dam, to include the Crimean Peninsula, to be under Ukrainian control.
Obviously, Nikita Khrushchev did not foresee the end of the USSR or he would not have given the Crimea to Ukraine, which officially broke away from the USSR in 1991. Nevertheless, Nikita Khrushchev continues to make trouble even from the grave. Had Khrushchev kept the Crimea inside the USSR, we would not be reading today about the fruitless diplomatic charge of Secretary John “Swift Boat” Kerry’s Lightweight Brigade.
Even though the remote Crimea is virtually unreachable for U.S. ground and naval forces, the current dust-up over the rejoining of the Crimea to Russia can have an upside for the United States. It brings to the public mind that our armed forces are being cut in half just when Russia and Red China are more than doubling the size of their military forces.
There is no canine-American in this fight. While western Europeans may mutter in their Chablis or their Guinness about Vladimir Putin, the return of the Crimea to Mother Russia will soon be forgotten.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.