KYIV, Ukraine – The Crimean Peninsula hangs like a diamond off Ukraine’s southern coast, with a temperate climate, sandy beaches, lush wheat fields and orchards full of cherries and peaches.
That too An important platform For Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Linked to Russia by a bridge and serving as home to Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, Crimea provides a vital link in the Russian military’s supply chain, which now supports tens of thousands of soldiers occupying large swathes of southern Ukraine.
President Vladimir V. For Putin, it was holy ground, declared part of Catherine the Great’s Russia in 1783, paving the way for his empire to become a naval power. Soviet ruler Nikita S. Khrushchev gave Ukraine in 1954. And since Ukraine was then a Soviet republic, not much has changed.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed nearly four decades later, Russia lost its jewels. Mr. Putin said he was righting a historic wrong when he illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
Mr. Putin then assured that he had no intention of further dividing Ukraine. Eight years later, in February, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers marched north from the peninsula and began the current war.
In recent days, military targets in Crimea have come under attack, and the peninsula once again finds itself at the center of a major power struggle.
Early in the war, Russian troops rising from Crimea captured the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia, key to Russia’s occupation of southern Ukraine.
Crimea provides vital logistical support for Russia to maintain its occupying military, including two key rail links that Russia relies on to move heavy military equipment. Crimean air bases have been used to launch strikes against Ukrainian positions, and the peninsula has provided a launch pad for long-range Russian missiles.
The peninsula is also home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which helps Russia dominate the seas, including through a naval blockade that has crippled Ukraine’s economy.
A place in the sun
Russia is cold – a fifth of the country is above the Arctic Circle. But in the sun-drenched Crimean city of Yalta, it’s a plus.
“Russia needs its paradise,” said Catherine the Great’s general and lover, Prince Grigory Potemkin, who insisted on claiming the land.
Czars and Politburo chiefs had holiday homes in the Crimea. Before the West imposed sanctions on Russia for its illegal annexation of the peninsula, it was a place where wealthy Eastern Europeans went to relax and party.
“Casinos everywhere buzz and ping amid the city’s pine-lined alleys.” New York Times travel column declared about Yalta in 2006, adding: “Much – if not all – is going on in this coastal boomtown.”
After 2014, tourism fell sharply. But when An explosion was heard at the air force base Black smoke obscured the sun near Crimea’s western coast last week, with onlookers taking photos and videos at nearby resorts.
Relations with Russia
“Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in people’s hearts and minds,” said Mr. Putin signaled the link in his 2014 speech. But reading his history selectively.
Over the centuries, Greeks and Romans, Goths and Huns, Mongols and Tatars have all laid claim to the land.
No group saw war unfolding in the Crimea with such trepidation as the Tatars, Turkic Muslims who migrated from the Eurasian steppes in the 13th century.
They were Brutally targeted by Stalin, who – in a foreshadowing of the Kremlin’s justification for its current war – accused them of being Nazi collaborators and deported them en masse. Thousands of people died.
In 1989, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, allowed the Tatars to return to Crimea. Before the 2014 annexation, they made up about 12 percent of Crimea’s population, numbering about 260,000.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch accused Moscow of Intensifies the persecution of the Tatar minority in Crimea, “with the express aim of completely pacifying dissent on the peninsula.”