Territorial disputes: Crimea (Part 8) [Post 73]

In discussing the dispute over Crimea, yesterday we introduced the first ground for a colourable claim: HISTORICAL ENTITLEMENT. Before going into any negotiations about the sovereignty over Crimea, we have to decide who has the right to claim. For more references about the colourable claim see our previous post.

To demonstrate the importance of factual evidence (the basis for the historical claim) and the way in which this “same” evidence is interpreted differently, we are going to review today two very different “perceptions” of these facts concerning the same TERRITORIAL DISPUTE: Crimea. Both these “perceptions” come from academic “rigorous” analysis.


Same facts but two different accounts

Account ONE of the facts concerning Crimea

“The Crimean peninsula officially became part of the Russian Empire in 1783 on the orders of the Catherine the Great (1762-1796), when the Russian imperial army finally defeated dwindling forces of the Crimean Khanate – a state that was nominally under control of the Ottoman Empire. Since then, Crimea’s sea ports became the home of the Russian Black Sea fleet and the peninsula was immediately regarded as the strategically important outpost of Russian Navy. The peninsula was also the site of 1853 Crimean War in which the Russian Empire fought against Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire. The author of the famous War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy, also fought in the Crimean War and later published several accounts of his experience in the battles. A world-renowned Russian novelist Anton Chekhov, author of The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, also lived and composed his brilliant books and plays in Crimea. Chekhov’s house became “a magnet for other Russian writers of his day – Ivan Bunin, Maksim Gorky, Alexander Kuprin – and for musicians such as Sergei Rachmaninov and the great singer Fyodor Chaliapin.”5 Furthermore, Sevastopol, the chief port of the Russian Black Sea Navy, entered into the Russian imagination as the legendary “City of Heroes” after withstanding the German Nazi army’s relentless siege and the city’s heroic defense by the Soviet soldiers during the World War II. In short, the site of Russia’s Christian origins and identity, the land of Russian military glories and tragedies, a hub of cultural rejuvenation – Crimea has a special place in the Russian heart and enigmatic soul.

Crimea, or the Crimean Autonomous Republic, became part of Ukraine in the second half of the twentieth century. The jurisdiction and authority over the territory was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 at the initiative of Nikita Khrushchev who was then serving as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. At that time, it was an insignificant event as even a thought of the Soviet Union’s eventual implosion was unthinkable. Khrushchev, who was himself a Ukrainian, never explained his decision to attach the peninsula to Ukraine’s territory; neither did the official memoranda of the communist Party. Today, many theories exist of why Khrushchev considered it necessary to transfer control over Crimea to Ukraine.”

Annexation of Crimea:

Link to the complete article

 Account TWO of the facts concerning Crimea
“In actual fact, the Crimean peninsula, for most of its history, had nothing to do with Russia. Since antiquity, Crimea’s mountainous southeastern shores have been dominated by Tauri, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, and Genoese principalities, before they were conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1475. The vast inland steppes of Crimea were ruled and populated by Scythians, Greeks, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Khazars, Mongols, and Karaites, and eventually, from 1441, formed the heartland of the Crimean Tatar Khanate, a tributary of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans and the Tatars continued to rule over their respective parts of the peninsula until 1783.

Throughout the premodern era, Crimea’s only substantial historical connection to either Russia or Ukraine was the fact that the inland section of the peninsula was controlled by the Kievan Rus’ –the precursor state of both modern Ukraine and Russia – from the mid10th to the early 13th century. At the onset of Kievan rule (which did not extend to the mountainous southeastern parts of the peninsula that contained its most important settlements and ports and remained under Byzantine control), the Crimean city of Chersonesos, now a part of Sevastopol, was the site where the leader of the Rus’, Vladimir I. of Kiev, converted to Christianity. This was a seminal event in the development of the Eastern Orthodox churches (both in Russia and in Ukraine), since Vladimir then oversaw the conversion of the entire Kievan Rus’ to the Orthodox faith. Notwithstanding the symbolic importance of this event, which was duly invoked by Vladimir Putin in his annexation speech on 18 March, the period of rule by the Kievan Rus’ did not leave a deep cultural or political imprint on Crimea. In the centuries following the demise of the Rus’ in the 1200s, the peninsula was the site of sporadic Cossack raids, but it remained firmly in Tatar and Ottoman hands.

Throughout its history, Crimea has thus been a crucible of cultures. It was not until 1783 that it became Russian territory, following Catherine the Great’s victory over the Ottomans and her conquest of the Tatar Khanate, and it remained Russian for the next 170 years.

In 1954, the Soviet leadership transferred Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkrSSR). In spite of frequent claims that the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, bypassing all legal norms, singlehandedly assigned the peninsula to Ukraine, the transfer was in fact carried out legally and in accordance with the 1936 Soviet Constitution (which, admittedly, was in essence a legal fiction).[…]

For the next six decades, Crimea was formally a part of Ukraine. Its ties to Kiev always remained somewhat loose, but much the same can be said about its ties to Russia throughout the preceding seventeen decades when it had been a part of the Russian Empire and the RSFSR. Throughout most of these 170 years, while it was politically controlled by Russia, Crimea had remained culturally distinct, and its cultural connection with Russia was relatively tenuous. In spite of substantial Russian colonisation efforts throughout the 19th century, around 1900 the Tatars still formed the largest ethnic group on the peninsula. The demographic pre-eminence of ethnic Russians in Crimea was only firmly solidified following the mass deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population, as well as the smaller populations of ethnic Armenians, Bulgars, and Greeks, at Joseph Stalin’s behest in 1944. This de facto ethnic cleansing of the peninsula’s native inhabitants led to the death of between 20 and 50 percent of the Crimean Tatar community; the remainder were only able to return to Crimea in the 1990s.

Crimea has long occupied a special place in the Russian national consciousness, but this should not obscure the fact that, while its historical and cultural connection to Ukraine has been weak, its historical and cultural connection to Russia has scarcely been any stronger. Even a cursory glance at its history reveals that the recurrent proclamations of various Russian officials regarding Crimea’s “primordial” historical and cultural importance for Russia range from vast exaggeration to downright fantasy. Given that the Kremlin has invoked such claims in the attempt to justify a grave violation of international law and intrusion upon another sovereign state, it is important to spotlight how little they correspond to historical reality.”

The Legitimacy of Russia’s Actions in Ukraine

Link to the complete article

Tomorrow, the second ground for a colourable claim: legal status.

 NOTE: based on Chapter 6, Núñez, Jorge Emilio. 2017. Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue. London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

Jorge Emilio Núñez
Twitter: @London1701
06th June 2018

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