The Ukraine and Crimea. Part One, historical background of the Ukraine to the fall of the Soviet Union.
Russian military pressure on the Ukraine, and especially the Crimea, moved it to the front page this past week. The financial markets from Moscow through Kiev and on into Europe and the U.S. signaled the world’s concern. In Part One, we will give a little geo-political background on the Ukraine up to the fall of the U.S.S.R. It will be seen that borders for the Ukraine have changed with regularity and it seldmon has had an independent. state status.. The Crimea has generally been it’s own autonomou s region, with a minority of Ukrainians living there. In Part Two, next week, we shall examine changes due to the fall of the U.S.S.R. Up to the recent crisis. We shall see that Crimea has a vast majority of Russians and Tartars. And, that Russia has, by agreement with Crimea, maintained their Black Sea Fleet there as well as a sizable number of troops, even before the current crisis. We will also look at how we got to the current level of tension and will discuss options for dealing with this crisis and likely outcomes. We will also evalaute the “tough” talk on the part of Republican critics of President Obama’s measured diplomatic approach.
The Ukraine has had a long and rocky relationship with Mother Russia. And an equally stormy history with its neighbors as well. The Ukraine has not had an equivalent long history as an independent state. In the last millennium alone it has been under Mongol control. In the 16th Century, The Union of Lublin, a Lithuania-Polish Commonwealth, controlled the Ukraine while ceding large portions of its area to Poland. In the 17h Century, the thirty year war known as “The Ruin” saw fighting between the Turks, Poland, Russia, and the Cossacks over control of various parts of the Ukraine. Add invasions by the Crimean Tartars and about 20 other local entities, formal and informal, such as the Polish landowners in West and Northern parts of the country and one can easily see where the name Ukraine comes from. It translates as “the borderlands.”
Pledging loyalty to the Tsar, Ukraine formed a tenuous alliance with Russia, and by 1886, Russia and Poland divided up the Ukraine. Under terms of the agreement, Russia controlled the Ukraine, east of the Dnieper River, including Kiev. Poland was ceded control of lands west of the Dnieper. Tartar Crimea, once a powerful Khanate that had defeated and largely destroyed Moscow was, by the last quarter of the 18th Century, losing its power. By 1783, as Cossack power waned, the Russians defeated the Tartars and exercised effective control of Crimea. Meanwhile, the Russians were in the process of redistributing, then Polish lands, West of the Dnieper, among themselves and Austria.
Internally rule was unstable as well. Besides Cossack forays, Ukranian landowners, often of Polish heritage, and with peasant-serf foot soldiers, fought one-another. Religion became another catalyst for in-fighting including Cossack forays. Conflict became close to a normal state of affairs. The lack of Ukrainian landowner hegemony allowed Russia to declare much of the territory North of the Black Sea as New Russia and began moving Ukranians and Russians into the region and on down to Crimea. Originally promises of autonomy were made to New Russian Ukraine, but by the time of the Tsarists, the program of migration known as Russification, was put into place.
World War I saw the weakening of the Russian Empire. This, as well as the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Alliance, led to a lack of central control of the lands of the Ukraine. Following the war, parts of the Ukraine were given to Rumania and Czechoslovakia, larger parts to Poland, and the rest to The Soviet Union. In 1917, the state of Ukrainska Narodna Respublica (UNR), a nascent nationalist movement, was formed in the areas surrounding the Dnieper and to the west of the Ukraine. A few months later the Petrograd Revolution established the Bolsheviks in power. This new government was not recognized by the UNR, which led to fighting with the Ukranian Bolsheviks. The UNR had several constituent minorities with their own Ministries including Polish, Russian, and the Jewish Bund. It should be noted that under the Tsar, parts of the Ukraine were made “The Pale of Settlement” where Russian Jewry were forced to migrate. Hostility over the Jewish population led to forty five thousand Jews dying in 1919-20, largely in pogroms by Bolshevik Ukrainians. In 1922, the USSR proceeded to establish the portion of the Ukraine under its control as one of the constituent Soviet Socialistic Republics.
Crimea historically was viewed autonomously from the Ukraine. To this date it is an autonomous region of the Ukraine, with its own constitution and its own President. Within the Crimea, Sevastopol is an autonomous city. It 1921, it became the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialistic Republic. Attitudes towards Crimea have often been negative. Crimean Tartars had been active slave traders, up to and including the 18th Century, trading Russian and Ukrainian slaves to Middle Eastern countries. Crimea itself had been a stronghold of the White Russians in the early days of the Bolshevik revolution, and it changed hands several times before coming under Soviet control. Under Stalin Tatars, mostly Islamic, were persecuted and many left the area or were forced out. After Khrushchev denounced Stalin some Tartars returned. Many more came back following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In Part II, in our next post, we will examine contemporary Crimea and trace the events that led up to the current crisis.