Vladimir Putin has been mentioning Crimea frequently in the recent days. He either gives history lessons, saying some Rus-Russian roots lie in Crimea, as prince Vladimir was baptized in Korsun (Kherson). However, the question is what this prince had to do with real Russia, Muscovia? Even in his New Year’s speech, Putin did not forego mentioning ‘Crimea is ours,’ saying Sevastopol and Crimea had “returned to their rightful home.” Which even creates an impression that Crimea is some sort of ‘sacral territory,’ without which Russia is incomplete. In reality, Crimea had many times played a key and, at the same time, fatal role in Russian history. It is a different matter that Russian historians want to keep that secret, not to traumatize the consciousness of their compatriots.
Muscovia is a vassal of the Crimean Khanate
Muscovia, or Russia (it was named thus in the times of Pyotr I) was formed first and foremost as a province within the Golden Horde. Muscovite princes were vassals to the rulers of the Golden Horde – the dzhingiskhids. They were the ones who gave them the right to land ownership. In the XV century, the Crimean Khanate succeeded the Golden Hoard. The Muscovite princes became subjects to the Crimean Khan. The official relations between Crimea and Moscow were established in 1474. Since then, Crimean Khan Mengli Hirey starts to control his new vassal, the Muscovite prince, by sending his representatives to Moscow on a regular basis. By the way, when the Tatar ambassadors came to Moscow, the prince would greet them by the walls, on foot, not on horseback. He even fed the ambassadors’ horses from his own hat. A humiliating custom which demonstrated the vassal dependency of the Muscovite prince, and which remained or a long time. Besides, the Muscovite princes paid their dues to the Crimean Khan.
In the preserved documents, the Muscovite princes called themselves the Hirey family’s little brothers, and they called the Crimean Khans their tzars. For example, Muscovite prince Ivan III, whom Russian history presents as one of the pillars of Russian statehood, swore an oath of allegiance to the house of the Hireys on the Bible. It happened that Muscovite churches first prayed for “a single tzar,” the Crimean Khan, and then then Muscovite prince. It even happened that Crimean Khans called the Muscovite rulers their servants.
Such a state of affairs remained until the end of the 17th century. Only during Pyotr I’s rule was Muscovia’s vassal dependency on the Crimean Khanate abolished. Pyotr I decided to build his own empire to encompass the Baltic and Black Sea regions. It was important for him to conquer not only the Baltic, but the North of the Black Sea, by throwing out the Turks and Crimean Tatars.
“Crimea is ours” as a Russian problem
In order to build a full-fledged Russian empire, it was necessary to eliminate the Crimean Khanate. The latter owned not only Crimea, but what is now souther Ukraine, Kuban, and Northern Caucasus. This goal was reached during Ekaterina II’s rule, when the complex battle for the Crimean Khanate unfolded, leading to its occupation. In 1783-1784 the lands of this state were finally incorporated into the Russian Empire.
Ekaterina II regarded this event with great importance. The theme of Crimea’s occupation was discussed by herself in letter to French philosophers and educators, particularly Voltaire and Diderot. This was presented as an important step in ‘civilizing’ Eastern Europe. In 1787 Ekaterina II even made a special visit to the new lands which had previously been controlled by the Crimean Khanate.
However, the annexation of the Khanate was difficult. Crimea became Russia’s problem for a long time. They had to populate these territories with ‘their own’ people, which was easier said than done, and they had to do something with the Crimean Tatars who felt no love for their ‘new Motherland.’ Many Tatars were forced to leave their lands back in the days of the Russian Empire.
The Crimean War of 1853-1856 became a big problem for Russia, when the countries of Western Europe (Great Britain, France and the Sardinian Kingdom), together with the Ottoman Empire, landed a detrimental blow to the Russian Empire. The main base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol, which currently in the Russian consciousness is viewed as ‘a city of Russian glory,’ was surrounded and it was likely that it would fall. Russia de-facto capitulated. The war ended with the Paris Treaty in 1856, which rid Russia of the right to locate its military fleet in the Black Sea, as well as fortresses and shore arsenals. The Russian Empire decided not to stake claims on Moldova, Valakhia and Southern Bessarabia. The Russian tsar was no longer in charge of the Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Russia’s southern expansion was a failure. The Crimean War demonstrated Russia’s rotten nature. The events of the war became Russia’s ‘black mark.’
We should also remember that Crimea was a problem to Soviet Russia as well. One of the main White Guard bases was located here. Soviet Russia’s attempt to solve the ‘Crimean problem’ resulted in the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944.
However, it was difficult to make Crimea stand on its own when it was ‘freed’ from a significant part of the native population. They had to involve Ukraine. Is this not why, in 1954, “taking into account the historical, economic connections, geographical location” (this is how they put it back then), the Presidium of the High Council of the USSR decided to give Crimea over to Ukraine?
When examining the history of Crimea, its complex relations with Russia, it is obvious that Crimea was and remains a big problem for Russian ‘geopolitics’ and Russian consciousness. The Crimean Khanate had been Muscovia’s long-time master. One of the biggest defeats of the Russian Empire has to do with Crimea – the war in 1853-1856. In the times of the USSR, the Russians were unable to cultivate Crimea independently. Don’t all of these factors define the Crimean inferiority complex of the Russian chauvinists, their attempts to create myths about ‘Russian Crimea,’ about the ‘city of Russian glory’ Sevastopol and so forth? Aren’t these myths an escape from reality? The reality is such: Crimea has never been an achievement but a problem for Russia.
It is obvious already that Putin’s occupation of Crimea has become a serious problem for Russian people. Maybe this occupation will end about the same was as the Crimean war in 1853-1856.