The Fate of Crimea, the Future of Ukraine, Part I

About this Episode

Guests
Myroslava Mudrak, Sergei Zhuk, Nicholas Breyfogle

The world has been electrified these past weeks by the explosive events in Ukraine: a dramatic political revolution in Kyiv's Independence Square, the surprise annexation of Crimea into Russia, and rising tensions between Russia and the United States/European Union that are reminiscent of the darkest of Cold War days. Join hosts Leticia Wiggins and Patrick Potyondy as they talk with Myroslava Mudrak, Sergei Zhuk, and Origins editor Nick Breyfogle about Crimea's rich and varied history, how Crimea was absorbed into Russia, and what the future holds for Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula.

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Posted on April 10, 2014

Cite this Site

Leticia R. Wiggins, Patrick R. Potyondy , "The Fate of Crimea, the Future of Ukraine, Part I" , Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective
April, 2014
https://origins.osu.edu/historytalk/fate-crimea-future-ukraine-part-i?language_content_entity=en.
April, 2014

Transcript

Leticia Wiggins 

Welcome to History Talk, the history podcast for everyone produced by Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective. This is your co-host, Leticia Wiggins. So given the recent startling and important events transpiring in Ukraine, Crimea, and Putin's Russia, all of us here at History Talk decided to deliver not just the usual single episode, but in fact a double feature podcast this month.

 

Patrick Potyondy 

And this is Patrick Potyondy, your other co-host. In part one, you'll find an in-depth discussion with three experts on the historical background undergirding the troubling events in Crimea specifically. One of the panelists is a native of Ukraine itself and produced not only informed analysis, but also impassioned pleas on behalf of the region.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

Please keep an ear out for part two focusing on Ukrainian politics in more recent decades to be released later this month.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

Sergei Zhuk, professor of East European and Russian history from Ball State University in Indiana.

 

Dr. Myroslava Mudrak  

I'm Myroslava Mudrak. I'm Professor Emeritus. I was an art history professor here at Ohio State University.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Hi, I am Nick Breyfogle. I'm one of the editors of Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective and I'm also a Russian historian.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

Thanks you guys all for joining us and thanks for those introductions especially. So to start us off, Crimea is a place with a long and special history and we were wondering what are the most important aspects of Crimean history, geography, and demography, that someone trying to make sense of this, of these Crimean events should know, and, Myroslava, we'll give you this question first.

 

Dr. Myroslava Mudrak  

Well, I'm happy to start out. Crimea has had a very long and varied history. In antiquity, it was colonized by the Greeks and the Romans, up to the fourth century AD, and it was strongly associated with powerful nomadic tribes such as the Cimmerians and the Scythians. One should know that since the time of Justinian in the sixth century, Crimea was part of the Byzantine Empire, but in the aftermath of the Mongol invasions and the movement of the Golden Horde in the twelfth and then thirteenth centuries, the Crimeans cannot establish the peninsula as their ancestral home, they settled there, and it became the home of the Tartars since.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

And what's important to remember from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries?

 

Dr. Myroslava Mudrak  

Catherine the Second came upon the scene, and in 1783, she annexed Crimea into the Russian Empire, and at that time, she forced out some two thirds of the Tartars and settled that area with Russians.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

I would just add, what happened with Tartars, even under tsarist rule, Catherine the Great and her charter of annexation of this peninsula actually accepted rights of Crimean Tartars and she promised to keep these rights. And even if 200,000 Tartars left Crimea, she promised to protect the face, Muslim face, and the rights of local Tartar population.

 

Dr. Myroslava Mudrak  

It's also important to note that that's the time that the Crimean city of Sevastopol also became the home of the Russian Imperial Navy. So there is an intertwining of history here dating back to the eighteenth century. Eventually, of course, in more recent times that evolved into the Black Sea Fleet and this is a site that we all know is a very important strategic, warm water military operation that has served both the Empire and the Soviet Union over many global conflicts, including the Crimean War in the middle of the nineteenth century.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

But because of Crimean War, and because of this war was Ottoman Empire, and as Myroslava mentioned, the Tartar are not Crimean, are not a solid state of Ottoman Empire, Alexander the Second decided to change policy, taught local Tartar population, and many mosques were destroyed. They were transformed or rebuilt into Orthodox churches and as far as the numbers, if in the end of fifteenth century, we had 90% of the population in Crimea were Tartars. Then afterwards, we have German settlers, Mennonites, that was common there. We have Jews coming there and it was a multinational population by the middle of nineteenth century.

 

Dr. Myroslava Mudrak  

I just want to come back to the issue of the Crimean Tatars, because I think it's important to emphasize the population that has claimed this area as their homeland.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

And now we have 60% of population by 1854, 60% of the nation's Tartars, but by 1897, because Alexander the Second began this anti-Tartar campaign in Crimea, we have only 30% of population that are left.

 

Dr. Myroslava Mudrak  

This is a population I think that really suffers the real tragedy of recent events. In 1944, Stalin deported tens of thousands of Tartars to Uzbekistan and other Central Asian regions of the USSR. He finished the century-old ethnic cleansing of the nation that Catherine had begun. Many, many died and many were killed. Then in 1954, Khrushchev arbitrarily gave Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

 

Dr. Myroslava Mudrak  

It was only in the late 1980s, when the USSR was on the verge of collapse, that those who were expelled, the Tartars who had been expelled, began returning to their homeland. In 1991, the territory became the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within a newly independent Ukraine.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

When we are talking about them, very important dates for Crimea, we need to mention 1654, when Russians are promised you can call for us for help, a lot of rights, and promises their autonomy, but eventually Russians actually replace these rights with more different politics, limiting the strides. Many Ukrainians became serfs of Russian landlords. In Soviet times, this year 1654 was presented as the most important date of this friendship of two brother nations. So that is why when, again, Khrushchev came to power and he wanted a new power base in Ukraine, he began this new organization campaign, very short-run campaign, and he returned Crimea to Ukraine. Again, he celebrated lavishly this 300th anniversary of this event. During the short period of Soviet history from 1921 to the early '30s, we have implementation of very important Korenizatsiia program or indigenization program, when Soviet state supported local, especially small national minorities, and in Ukraine, it was called Korenizatsiia campaign, organization campaign because according to this campaign supported by Lenin from 1931, all major offices and parties in the state should be led by and occupied by people of Ukrainian nationality. The same happened with Crimean Tartars in 1831. The Soviet state created Crimean Tartar Autonomous Republic, it was included in Russian Federation, but Tartars had many rights, speak and teach Tartar language so and it existed till 1945, as Myroslava mentioned, when in 1944, all Tartars were deported to Uzbekistan and other parts of central Asia.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

And another addition, Soviet intellectuals and then independent interactions of independence, Ukraine didn't feel very bad or uncomfortable with this idea of Ukrainian independence. That's why, when we have the rise of Crimean separatism in 1982, when Crimeans wanted their independence from Ukraine, Russia supported this movement. Moreover, in 1992, now we forgot about this, it was Russian Duma, which declared the act of 1954 as unconstitutional and invalid. So we forgot that this anti-Crimean enter Ukraine campaign began not under this KGB guy from Kremlin, President Putin, but even under Yeltsin.

 

Patrick Potyondy 

We've kind of moved into our second question here, which is a great segway. And so a lot of these recent events took many of us by surprise, I think, and so specifically, I'm wondering, why was Russia interested in absorbing and annexing or seizing Crimea depending on what language you want to choose? And first, Sergei, he will toss this question to you.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

Oh, because Russia was afraid to lose Crimea, because of the Euromaidan revolution. For Russian politicians who try to restore this great Russia and limit expansion of NATO and the European Union, pro-European slogans of Kyiv revolution, revolution of the Ukrainian youths were a threat and to the expansion especially, they still remember what happened with this Black Sea Fleet. They were afraid of losing their base in Sevastopol, it's one reason. Another reason Putin wants to stop the so-called "Euromaidan disease" spreading to Russia, because from theoretical point of view, if you analyze the essence of all post-Soviet regimes, which still exist in Eurasia, they have the same social, political, and economic structures. They're ruled by oligarchs who suppress people's opinion, who try to support only their interests. But in Russia, we have rule of so-called "KGB oligarchs" and of course, for Russian politicians, for Kremlin, this spread-out imitation of Euromaidan process of rebellions would be a real threat for their own rule, and Putin obviously wants to stop this. Oligarchs in the East like Akhmetov and then now it's proven who sponsored so-called empty Ukrainian, pro-Russian demonstrations, paying unemployed people off the bus for their participation in these demonstrations, which look like a real provocation. I have some of my friends who were in Afghanistan during 1979 in Soviet times, and some of them unfortunately participated in this anti-Afghan operation. Now they're retired, military officers who live in the Ukraine, my former classmates, they told me that if you analyze what happened in Sevteroppol in February, it looks like an imitation of would happen in Kabul, December 1979. The same scenario, people without any ranks with strange uniforms. So this is KGB operation against independent Ukraine. And that's why we should be careful with supporting and justifying putting, like some, unfortunately, American scholars like Stephen Cohen, or politicians like Henry Kissinger.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Can I jump in for a second, because I was thinking that I think we've laid out an incredible kind of history for the long-term perspective. One of the points I was thinking about in terms of why this event takes place when it does, I mean part of it, as you say, Sergei, is the political weakness in Ukraine, and instability is the long-standing Russians' sense of connection to Crimea, and the desire to make sure that they control the naval base and this sort of thing. But it strikes me, the other factor going on is the Russian-U.S. relationship, that part of why we see this event happen when it did was that the Russians and Putin in particular saw an opportunity to, in some ways to kind of stick it to the West, and not just that he's worried about losing Ukraine into the European Union, into the "clutches of the West", but that there is a long standing frustration on the part of the Russian government towards how the United States and others have treated them and this was a chance where they realized that there wasn't much for the United States or the European Union to do and so here was a way to achieve certain ends that they've been after for several years. As you say, this goes back well before Putin, but at the same time, to make the U.S. and the EU look like weak. And they seem to have succeeded, at least in the short term, in that regard.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

But may I step in, he needed some kind of drastic interference in international arena to show Russian people that he reflects their interests. Putin actually referred to history to justify this and as a result, Crimea is a symbol of Russian glory, of Russian history.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

We wondering both how have the events in Crimea changed the future of the Ukraine? And then also, what should the United States and the European Union do in response to the events in Crimea? And, Nick, we'd like to start this question off with you.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Sure. I, it seems interesting to me, I mean, I think what's happened in Crimea is abhorrent. I think that the process of one country violating the sovereignty of another and grabbing territory is horrific and it's certainly not the planet that I want to live on. You know, that said, it seems to me that as Ukraine moves forward, my sense is that I don't see an opportunity for...I think that it's unlikely that Crimea will return to Ukraine, and at this point, that the future of Ukraine is going to be one without this extraordinarily beautiful location with its extraordinary history and as a result, I think that then Ukraine and other parts of the world have to think about, well, what are the what are the pros and cons? What are the gains and losses of this particular moment? And I think, in some respects, I mean, obviously, there's extraordinary losses. This is, as I said, a beautiful part of the world, extraordinary. I mean, it's a beautiful tourist location, great beaches, lovely health resorts, excellent wine, and all of these kinds of things are going to be lost to Ukraine, and in some respects, at this point, not to mention all of the military equipment and infrastructure and this sort of thing that's gone. What I wonder, though, is whether there, in fact, there is some kind of a silver lining here for the country in the sense that I mean, as Myroslava pointed out, Crimea has been, from the moment of independence of Ukraine after the end of the Soviet Union, a kind of thorn in the country in the sense that it's a site of instability, because of the Russian naval base that was there, because of the large ethnic population, because of the fact that everybody knew that large segments of the Russian population, the Russian leadership had their eyes on it, and I wonder to a certain degree, whether, in fact, it's perhaps not a bad thing. That in terms of the stability of Ukraine going forward, to get rid of this destabilizing source, and both in terms of the military presence there, but also, in terms of the kind of democracy moving forward in the sense that this is a part of the Ukrainian country that had voted for presidents like Yanukovich, the recently deposed president with his strong Russian ties. And now those 2.2 plus million people, who had tended to vote in that direction, are not going to be voting in elections anymore, and that perhaps then the desire for other parts of Ukraine to separate from Russia, to push westward, and towards EU, now have a greater kind of democratic chance to do that, just in terms of the number of votes, the number of people and so, as I think moving forward, I wonder whether, in fact, there are some opportunities here, and that ultimately, whether they like it or not, the new Ukrainian government and the new president that will be elected in May really need to be looking at what are the opportunities here? And how can we make the best of the situation? And to a certain degree, I think they need to be asking themselves, what can we get from Russia in return for having lost this territory?

 

Dr. Myroslava Mudrak  

And I would like to say that, as we all witnessed this farce, this theater of takeover in Crimea, with its green men and tourists and brotherly invasion, right? I hope that this will not overshadow what really was a very important, historic moment, not only for the history of Ukraine, but I think for Europe, and for us too, as citizens of the universe. That is this, I don't know who coined this term, "revolution of dignity", but I really feel that that's really what happened on the Maidan, and I hope that Crimea won't overshadow that because that's really the heart of it all. I think this needs to be emphasized and reiterated repeatedly. I think there can be no turning back to the system that rules people's lives through coercion. It's been made evident, it's been exposed. Europe and the United States should not turn their backs on the aggression manifested by Putin, the pressure should be on. If it isn't on, it would mean, and I think we would have to admit this, that the West has failed in its mission in supporting democratic processes of free governments, so that's very important. But the other important thing is, we have to learn as much as we possibly can and we need to weigh the stories. There's a huge propaganda campaign, huge propaganda campaign. I am heartened by the transparency and objectivity of a young generation of journalists who are, as they say, translating the events of the day, conducting interviews. That's the future of Ukraine, and they have a Herculean task to overcome the propaganda that has fed so much of the minds of the former Soviet citizens who are still living in Ukraine, who still think like Soviets, and so I would like to see that this generation be given a chance to really write its own Ukrainian history and not have some foreign power write this history so that they can in fact feel that they have shaped their future. They're not going to leave a brain drain in Ukraine, but they're going to live there and they have something to live for. It's a wish, it's a wish and hope.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

Yeah, I would add, expressing not only my own opinion, but all my friends who are faculty members in many universities and other schools of higher education in Ukraine, who are proud to have their students fighting for their dignity, for their rights and probably Americans forgot that a very bad thing about Ukraine that all the Ukrainian administrations, beginning with former apparatchik, Kravchuk, and including this hero of Orange Revolution, Yushchenko, where thieves, who unfortunately robbed Ukraine, all our administrations, and this reached the peak under Yanukovych, this fleecing of Ukraine. And that's why these new young people, who represent a different generation, had no connection to Soviet past, came to the streets asking about their own rights. My friends asked me to give you just two major important requests from my people, people from my Ukraine. The first because of all presence of Ukraine, killed Ukraine economy, it's on the brink of collapse. It's already collapsed. We need money, we need funding from Europe, from United States, but with the presence of Western representatives, specialists on the ground, could help us to control distribution of these funds. Otherwise, my friends afraid again, it will be stolen like it was done in 1990s. The second, we need to have certain kind of military presence of the West, either on Western borders of Ukraine, or in Ukraine itself. Why? Because we have precedents. In 1995, Ukraine already was the first country of Commonwealth of Independent States, which signed agreement with NATO. And in 1997, people now forgot about this. Ukraine had military exercises with NATO on Crimean Peninsula. So we have precedents, we have agreements. So if, my friends told me, if we have some kind of engagement of young, independent Ukrainian military troops in military exercises with NATO, which actually had been planned before in April, somewhere on Western borders, far from Russia. Of Ukraine, we will have very good protection from Putin's invasion.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

One of the things that I was thinking too that, as we're moving forward, if these great dreams are to come true, and I share these great dreams. I mean, I do think that your point about the generational differences is really important and importance about the young people in particular, and the opportunities for them, and the way in which they look at the world, I think quite differently from many of the older generation, I think is really important. But I just think it matters in terms of the economy, it strikes me that one of the big things that the Ukraine and the West in helping them really need to figure out is what to do about energy and that ultimately, there's the corruption issue, which is a huge one, but the fact that Ukraine, I mean, like so many other countries, actually, to the west of Russia, it was so heavily dependent on Russian energy sources, ensures that Ukrainian sovereignty is always to a certain degree compromised because of that, and it strikes me, you asked about the question of what can the U.S. and the EU do going forward? Well, it strikes me that in the long term. what is particularly important is that the West more broadly really works with Ukraine to restructure its energy supply, so that it and many other countries on the borders of Russia are not as dependent on Russia for energy. And this doesn't necessarily mean fracking the hell out of our land here, but thinking about other types of alternate energy sources so that it's not just natural gas, and so it's not just reliant on Russia because I feel like Ukraine will always suffer from a certain type of dependency if it cannot separate itself from its need for Russian energy sources.

 

Patrick Potyondy 

To just wrap up with the final word, we'd like to thank Sergei, Myroslava, and Nick for joining us on History Talk.

 

Dr. Myroslava Mudrak  

Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.

 

Dr. Sergei Zhuk  

Thank you very much.

 

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 

Thanks so much for having us.

 

Patrick Potyondy 

This has been part one of April's double feature from History Talk on the events in Ukraine, Russia, and Crimea.

 

Leticia Wiggins 

This edition of the Origins podcast, History Talk, was brought to you by the Public History Initiative in the Goldberg Center and the history department at The Ohio State University. Our main editors are Steve Conn and Nicholas Breyfogle. Our executive producer is David Staley. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer. Our audio editors and co-hosts are Patrick Potyondy and Leticia Wiggins. Find our podcasts and more at our website, origins.osu.edu. And you can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Thank you for listening.

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