Nicholas I the Cudgel, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, intervened in Crimea in order to get influence over Balkans but it turned into the Crimean War. Today, Russia had again intervened in Crimea.
In order to understand Russian revisionism, there is a need to analyze the history of Crimean peninsula and the struggle of foreign powers to have a hold over it.
Crimea has been an important playground for big powers since long. Cowing to its geopolitical importance, the Ottoman Empire; the Russian Empire; the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany in World War 2 tried to influence Crimea in order to get dominance over this warm-water port in the Black Sea.
Ottoman forces under Gedik Ahmet Pasha conquered all of Crimean peninsula and joined it to the Khanate in 1475. The Crimean Khanate became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, and was also a power in its own right, claiming territory in what is today Russia’s Caspian-Volga region. Crimea was later conquered by the Russian Empire in 1783.
In Soviet Union, it remained the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic from 1921 until 1945. In 1954, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, transferred Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and remained with her till the end of ideological war—Cold war. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Crimea became a part of the independent Ukraine when Ukraine with its Crimean peninsula voted for independence. Referendum took place and Crimea agreed to remain a part of Ukraine but with significant autonomy. In 1997, Russia and Ukraine signed a bilateral treaty which allowed the former to keep its Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. In recent times, Ukraine wanted to build relationship with EU and NATO jeopardizing Russian interests. The fear of Western dominance compelled Russia to annex Crimea and to intervene in Ukraine.
Crimea’s Geopolitical and Geostrategic Importance
Crimea is essentially a giant, immovable military fortress at the mouth of some of the most vital transportation routes for Ukraine. It is argued whoever controls this “fort”, controls Ukraine. Russia can interdict the Ukrainian links to the Black Sea easily from its Black Sea naval headquarters in Sevastopol, and its control over the peninsula is secure because majority of population of Crimea is ethnically Russian and pro-Russian. Starting from the strategic importance of the Black Sea, one can shape some elements that highlight the geopolitical importance of the Crimean peninsula:
2. It is a defensive / offensive naval outpost of the Russian Federation closest to NATO;
3. It controls the bordering countries’ exit gate to the Ocean Dome;
4. It is included on the proposed route for Caspian and Central Asia oil and gas transportation to Western consumers;
5. It is the shortest way for Russia to South and then East (through the Suez Canal) and to the North African coast, as the only way to “warm seas;
6. It provides lots of trade and tourism facilities;
Crimea is the starting point in designing the influence over the entire region. From the historical point of view, Russia’s consistent policy of having a voice in the Eastern Mediterranean resulted in the New Eastern War of 1853 and the Crimean Campaign (1854-1856).
When Russia held the Crimean peninsula, extremely valuable geostrategically, it was forced to give it away three times. In 1854, the combined expedition of England, France, Sardinia and the Ottomans was successful, forcing the Russian Empire to moderate the expansion at the expense of Western Moldova and Wallachia, and undertake a series of disposals. Russia’s intentions to annex parts of today’s Romania motivated the unwanted invasion of the great powers, only to show that the maximum limit of Russian territorial control is the River Prut. The second time Russia lost control of Crimea was in 1918 when the peninsula was occupied by Germany. History keeps Lenin’s protest letter to Kaiser Wilhelm, in connection with this fact. In achieving its geopolitical ambitions, Germany tended to establish its control over the Black Sea region, the plans of General Ludendorf figuring even the creation of a small German state on the River Don. Third time, Russia was forced to cede Crimea to the already Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and eventually, after the event in Belovejskaia Puscea, the peninsula, previously gifted to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev, remained to Kiev.
After the collapse of the USSR, as a protection for keeping NATO remote, Russia imposed several outposts in the west to ensure its military security: to North – Kaliningrad, to centre — Transnistria (Moldova), to South — Crimea.
Thus, regionally Russia managed to create and maintain on the European continent a fundamental line of enclaves geopolitically dividing the Black Sea – Baltic Isthmus, from Kaliningrad to the South in Transnistria, on Republic of Moldova territory. Regardless of NATO’s eastward expansion, Moscow will not withdraw the troops stationed in the CIS, as it is mainly interested in maintaining the Federation protection alignment on the route Kaliningrad-Tiraspol-Simferopol (Crimea).
By annexing Crimea and intervening in Ukraine, Russia has earned severe criticism and sanctions from EU and some other countries. But this criticism would not stop her to pursue her revisionism because she is an energy empire and could sustain by herself, without European nations, as some analysts argue. Moreover, Russia is strengthening her ties with the biggest emerging economy i.e. China, which could compensate losses she had faced due to sanctions.
Will Russian revanchism lead to another Cold War? Only time will tell!