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Why Did Russia Give Away Crimea Sixty Years Ago? | Wilson Center - 2014 |

Crimea was part of Russia from 1783, when the Tsarist Empire annexed  it a decade after defeating Ottoman forces in the Battle of Kozludzha, until 1954, when the Soviet government transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federation of Socialist Republics (RSFSR) to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkrSSR).

[...]

Khrushchev had been elevated to the post of CPSU First Secretary in September 1953 but was still consolidating his leading position in early 1954. He had earlier served as the head of the Communist Party of Ukraine from the late 1930s through the end of 1949 (apart from a year-and-a-half during World War II when he was assigned as a political commissar to the front). During the last several years of Khrushchev's tenure in the UkrSSR, he had overseen the Soviet government's side of a fierce civil war in the newly annexed western regions of Ukraine, especially Volynia and Galicia. The civil war was marked by high levels of casualties and gruesome atrocities on both sides.

Occasional armed clashes were still occurring in the mid-1950s, but the war was over by the time Crimea was transferred in February 1954. The repeated references at the meeting of the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium on 19 February to the "unity of Russians and Ukrainians" and to the "great and indissoluble friendship" between the two peoples, and the affirmation that the transfer would demonstrate how wise it was to have Ukraine "under the leadership of the Communist Party and the Soviet government," indicate that Khrushchev saw the transfer as a way of fortifying and perpetuating Soviet control over Ukraine now that the civil war had finally been won.

[...]

The transfer of Crimea to the UkrSSR also was politically useful for Khrushchev as he sought to firm up the support he needed in his ongoing power struggle with Soviet Prime Minister Georgii Malenkov, who had initially emerged as the preeminent leader in the USSR in 1953 after Joseph Stalin's death. Having been at a disadvantage right after Stalin's death, Khrushchev had steadily whittled away at Malenkov's position and had gained a major edge with his elevation to the post of CPSU First Secretary in September 1953. Nevertheless, the post-Stalin power struggle was by no means over in early 1954, and Khrushchev was trying to line up as much support as he could on the CPSU Presidium for a bid to remove Malenkov from the prime minister's spot (a feat he accomplished in January 1955). Among those whose support Khrushchev was hoping to enlist was Oleksiy Kyrychenko, who had become first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine in early June 1953 (displacing Leonid Mel'nykov, who had succeeded Khrushchev in that post in December 1949) and soon thereafter had been appointed a full member of the CPSU Presidium.

Throughout history, the Black Sea region was prone to the fall and rise of Empires. The Russian Federation knew very well it could not stand idle by after the three Western powers considered the signed agreement of Feb. 21, 2014 null and void.

Address by President of the Russian Federation - March 18, 2014

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