None of 8 myths in Putin’s ‘Crimea is Ours’ ideology stands up to close examination, Popov says

The Crimean Referendum of March 2014 (Image: RFE/RL)

The Crimean "Referendum" of March 2014 (Image: RFE/RL) 

Analysis & Opinion, Crimea, Russia

’Krimnashizm’” – as the ideologem “Crimea is Ours” is spelled in Russian – consists of a complex of eight myths that are intended to justify Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine and mobilize support for it, Arkady Popov writes in a 4500-word heavily footnoted article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal.”

The eight myths which form the core of “’Krimnashizm,’” in his telling are:

  • Myth #1 : Crimea was given to Ukraine
  • Myth #2: Russia has a historic right to Crimea
  • Myth #3: The Crimean people have freely voted to rejoin Russia
  • Myth #4: Taking Crimea from Ukraine was a matter of “extreme necessity.”
  • Myth #5: Ukraine is an artificial state.
  • Myth #6: The Euromaidan was fascist.
  • Myth #7: Russia has risen from its knees.
  • Myth #8: Incorporating Crimea is cost-free.

In today’s edition, the Russian historian and commentator examines the first of these myths, that “Crimea was given to Ukraine” and shows that none of the claims Putin and his propagandists have offered in defense of their seizure and occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula stands up to close examination.

The myth that Nikita Khrushchev took Crimea away from the RSFSR and gave it to Ukraine is “the very first brick in the edifice of ‘Krimnashizm.’” Many Russian writers had complained about Khrushchev’s action and Boris Yeltsin’s failure to criticize it, but it is perhaps instructive that Putin did not join that “chorus” until 2014, just before he invaded.

“The first feeling” one has in reading statements about Khrushchev supposedly “giving” Crimea to Ukraine is “perplexity,” Popov says. Khrushchev had only been first secretary of the CPSU Central Committee for four months, hardly time enough for him to have enough power to act on his own on something like this.

Moreover, the “Krimnashizm” ideologists act as if Crimea were the only example of part of one republic being transferred to another. In fact, it happened quite frequently – for a listing, see this author’s, “Can Republic Borders Be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, 28 September 1990) –and in Soviet times never with any consultation with the peoples involved.

According to Popov, there are three variants of the myth about Khrushchev giving away Crimea: the alcoholic one, the holiday one, and the political one. None is accurate. Khrushchev wasn’t drinking when the decision was made. It didn’t occur at a time linked to any particular holiday. And transferring Crimea to Ukraine might have been expected to cost him more support among Russian CPSU officials than any gains he would make among the less numerous Ukrainian ones.

Politics was involved in the decision, but not the kind the “Krymnashists” describe. After the death of Stalin and the removal of Beria, Moscow faced the problem of expanding agricultural production. Crimea was a disaster area but had the climate and soils to be a productive place.

Khrushchev and Georgy Malenkov visited Crimea in 1953 and concluded that it could be developed if it got water from Ukraine. Without that, its agricultural production would not go up and consequently linking the area to Ukraine instead of the RSFSR made sense, given the policy priorities of the leadership in Moscow.

What should have happened, of course, Popov writes, was the return of the peninsula to the Crimean Tatars “but apparently the time for such radical decisions had not yet come: from the moment of the death of Stalin had passed less than a year,” and Khrushchev’s rehabilitation of the punished peoples lay in the future.

As far as Khrushchev’s “’voluntarism’” on Crimea is concerned, there is no basis for such claims, the historian says. “In January 1954, Khrushchev’s power was still not so strong that he could decide such questions on his own.” And it is clear that he spoke with other members of the leadership and they collectively agreed.

When claims to the contrary fall away, present-day “Krymnashists” argue that Khrushchev didn’t follow constitutional procedures, when in fact he did as much as any other Soviet leader, or that there wasn’t a proper quorum when in fact the record shows otherwise, Popov points out.

And when those are pointed out, the “Krymnashists” try to make a special case out of Sevastopol. But there too, there is no evidence for their contentions that that city was special in a territorial sense. The only reason this false argument is raised, he suggests, is that in 1993, Khasbulatov’s Supreme Soviet declared that Sevastopol [a part of the already-independent Ukraine] had “federal status” [in Russia].

“This absurd degree was disavowed by the president of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and the UN Security Council at a special session declared that this decree did not have legal force,” Popov writes. At that time, Russia’s permanent representative did not cast a veto.

Those who raise questions about the transfer of Crimea from the RSFSR to Ukraine clearly forget that there are a lot of other places where similar questions could be raised: Tuva, Vyborg, the island of Sakhalin, the Kaliningrad exclave, Karelia, and so on. Thus, making these kinds of arguments about Crimea is potentially very dangerous.

Many of the “Krymnashists” also attack Boris Yeltsin for not demanding “the return” of Crimea in 1991 when the USSR fell apart. But they forget two things: the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union was predicated on the absolute acceptance of the union republic borders as fixed and that Ukraine, including Crimea, has just voted to leave the USSR.

To have challenged those borders would have opened “a Pandora’s box” for Russia and all the others, Popov says.

“All myths,” the historian concludes, “offer a false picture of the world,” but artistic ones do not claim they are real. “Political myths are something else: their inventors and distributors angrily insist that in them is given the only reliable conception of reality” and that they must be respected regardless. And that makes them dangerous, even for those who employ them.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Lev Havryliv

    Russian propaganda is fabricating a threat of NATO against Russia to justify Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its war of aggression in the Donbas.

    When will the people of Russia wake up to the fact that Putin is an inveterate liar and deceiver?

    • EUSrbin

      I hope they will and that Russia will become democratic country one day.

      • Eddy Verhaeghe

        They and Russia will!

        • Dagwood Bumstead

          I’m afraid they won’t wake up until Dwarfstan collapses just like the USSR did, and even then I’m not so sure. Of course, the demented dwarf and his crooked cronies will blame everything and everyone but themselves for the disasters that have befallen and will befall Dwarfstan. They, of course, are blameless.
          The smart ones are leaving the country, or have already left. They are heading for the EU, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and….. the Ukraine and will make use of their talents in their new homes. It will be Dwarfstan’s loss, the others’ gain.

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    According to Professor Stephen Kotkin of Princeton University the decision to transfer the Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR had already been taken by Putin’s Great Hero and Shining Example Stalin.
    After Stalin’s death in March 1953 Malenkov initially took over both of Stalin’s functions: that of Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Prime Minister, and that of 1st Secretary of the CPSU. He handed the position of 1st Secretary of the CPSU over to Khrushchev in September 1953, one suspects that that was not entirely voluntary.
    If Malenkov and Khrushchev did visit the Crimea, it may well have been to see for themselves whether Stalin’s decision made sense. Malenkov’s role has been forgotten because Malenkov himself has been forgotten- he was ousted from his position as PM in 1955, being replaced by Bulganin, was eventually kicked out of the Politburo and ended as manager of a power plant in Kazakhstan.
    The transfer of the Crimea could also be seen as compensation for the loss of the areas around Taganrog and east of Luhansk which the Ukrainian SSR had to hand over to the RSFSR in 1924. So if the dwarf claims that Russia has a right to the Crimea, he should hand these areas back to Kyiv.

    • George

      This is from a comment on an earlier article referring to the Crimea occupation.
      He didn’t mention the 1924 land grab but suggested a direct exchange; this was his comment …………..
      ‘In exchange for Crimea, Ukraine had to give Russia: Taganrog City and
      other areas along the Ukrainian border, a total area roughly equal to
      the area of the Crimean peninsular. These areas had the most fertile
      soil and more than 1.2 million of the Ukrainian population. (source: minutes
      #49 of the Presidium of Central Committee of the Communist Party of
      the USSR dated 25.01.1954)’

      • Murf

        Thanks, I have been trying to locate that.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        I wrote that comment, which was a more or less literal translation of info I’d found on a Russian-language website. I couldn’t find any info on the date concerning the transfer of Taganrog and other territory to the RSFSR until recently, though. I did find a few pre-war maps of the Ukrainian SSR, but they were post-1924 and showed Taganrog as part of the RSFSR. So there was probably no direct link between the transfers of Taganrog and the Crimea, but it’s possible that the Crimea was seen as a “fair” compensation for the earlier grab.

    • Murf

      Funny how he likes to forget that part.
      Maybe Ukraine should remind him in some international court so the rest of the world will know.

  • Nowhere Girl

    It reminds me of the Youtube material “Russian Myths About Crimea”. It also shows that Crimean interior was almost a desert under Russian rule, but after the peninsula was transferred to Ukraine, people set out to work. I think that water is only a part of the problem. Russia has some too-much-land-complex: it HAS TO have a lot of land, it is addicted to annexation, to land grab – but it doesn’t know what to do with this land once it has it. With their pathologically militaristic mentality the only thought they get is “put some missile launcher there”…