What Is Crimea? Why Does Russia Want Crimea?

What Is Crimea? Why Does Russia Want Crimea?

When it comes to world politics and power, having any kind of advantage is important. Getting this advantage could mean having a strategic piece of land that would allow a country to resupply troops should a war break out. This is part of the reason why Crimea is so important. But let’s back up a second. What is Crimea in the first place?

What Is Crimea?

Crimea is an autonomous republic of southern Ukraine. It is actually Ukraine’s only autonomous region. Crimea has an area of 10,400 square miles and a population in 2013 of more than 2 million people.

Crimea is a popular tourist destination because it has a temperate climate. It is often visited by Russians and Ukrainians. Other sources of income for the peninsula include farming, with sunflowers, wheat, and corn as the main crops. It also has chemical processing plants and, in Kerch, iron ore is mined.

Where Is Crimea?

Crimea is a peninsula in eastern Europe, located in the Black Sea. It is connected to Ukraine by a small strip of land in the north. The eastern shore of Crimea has a finger that almost touches Russia, and a goal of Russia is to build a bridge across the strait to connect itself to the land.

Recently, Russia has exerted their sovereignty over Crimea. While some other UN member states recognize Crimea as part of Russia, Ukraine also continues to claim the land as an integral part of the country. Most governments support Ukraine’s claim, as does the non-binding United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262.

Crimea on a map
Crimea on a map.

History of Crimea

The history of Crimea is varied and tumultuous. It is believed to have been inhabited by its original settlers around 1,000 BCE. There have been numerous wars and exchange of leaders throughout the land, with the Ottoman Empire eventually becoming a dominant force in the area for hundreds of years.

During the 17th century, Russia’s frontier expansion brought it to war with the Ottoman Empire. In 1774, the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca was signed, and it ceded the fortresses under Russian control on the Kerch Peninsula and created a Crimean Tartan state that was independent. In 1783, the peninsula was annexed by Catherine the Great, and the area became a Russian territory.

This didn’t stop the hostilities between the Turks and the Russians, and from 1853 to 1856, the area was pulled into a larger European conflict dubbed the Crimean War. Both France and Britain backed the Turks, and the hostilities during the war would reshape Europe. It is estimated that more than half a million people were killed during this conflict.

In 1856, Russia signed the Treaty of Paris, acknowledging their defeat. Per the terms of treaty, they would dismantle their naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea. This pleased France and Britain, who wanted to rid the Black Sea of the Russian threat. But by 1870, Russia began to rebuild the base at Sevastopol, giving Russia military leverage in the Black Sea and the larger Mediterranean region.

Crimea became part of Ukraine in 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev gave it to his native land. It wasn’t a big deal until 1991, when the Soviet Union broke up and Ukraine, and hence Crimea, became independent. Since then, there have been political issues about the area’s status between Kyiv and Moscow.

Why Does Russia Want Crimea?

Russia wants Crimea for a variety of reasons. For one, there is the historical argument that Crimea had been part of Russia before the country split into different regions.

There’s also the argument that having control over Crimea will once again give Russia undisputed control over Sevastopol, which has already been shown to be strategically important for military reasons. It’s also the port in which a lot of supplies and goods come into the country and eventually find their way to Russia. Currently, the city pf Sevastopol is administered by Russia, though Ukraine and most of the UN member countries continue to regard Sevastopol as a city with special status within Ukraine.

But there’s another theory as to why Russia wants Crimea: oil and gas. Gaining control over this Ukrainian land would give Russia access to the hydrocarbons that could be found in maritime zones around Crimea. Large energy companies have expressed interest in helping Kyiv explore the area. It’s possible that the region contains a large amount of wealth, and some intriguing deposits have already been located in Russia’s Black Sea zone. Having control of the energy in the region would give Russia a monopoly on energy exports.

Crimea Today

In 2014, Russia took over Crimea, forcing the U.S. and its allies to enforce sanctions. This deteriorated the relations that existed between Russia and the West. Several years after the annexation, it’s unclear exactly how the region has changed. There is a drive to make the infrastructure, including the airport, easier to access, especially for Russia to get supplies in and out. There’s also a sense that prices have increased to be more in line with what is charged in Moscow.

At the same time, however, there is a sense of relief among some that there is no longer any more war in the area. For now, only time will tell exactly how Russia’s annexation will all play out. Whatever the case, the world will be watching.

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