In the days of the Kievan Rus, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Crimean War and World War II Russians have time and again bled to keep or retake Crimea – and NATO thought it could just waltz in?
Editor's note: Most assume the Russian military history connection to Crimea goes no further than 1783 when the territory was finally retaken Catherine the Great. In fact Peter the Great had already led several efforts to restore the region to Russia almost a hundred years earlier, after it had been lost in the destruction of the great Kievan Rus state by the Mongols in 1240. It had been added to Rus in the distant 10th century.
Sevastopol’s Wars: Crimea from Potemkin to Putin, by Mungo Melvin
A Military History of Crimea
Retired British Major General Mungo Melvin, author of a very well-received biography of Erich von Manstein, gives us a highly detailed study of a the very complex background to the present crisis over Crimea, the possession of which has historically been critical to the domination of the Black Sea. In sorting through the deep roots of the crisis, Melvin divides his subject into four parts.
In the second part, Melvin examines the Crimean War in considerable detail. The city of Sevastopol became the prime objective of the Anglo-French-Turkish alliance. The original defenses were primarily against naval attack, and improvised landward fortifications resulted in a protracted siege. After nearly a year of bloody conflict, the Russians were forced to withdraw, after putting their fleet and the city to the torch. They concluded an unfavorable peace soon afterwards, curbing Russian influence in the Black Sea. The defeat demonstrated the structural weakness of Russia, and led to the Emancipation of the Serfs and attempts at modernization.
Melvin’s third part addresses the history of Crimea over the following seven decades. The city was rebuilt and connected by railroad with the rest of Russia, reviving both the region and Russian naval power. But modernization led to problems, notably the revolutionary unrest of 1905-06 which sparked mutinies in the fleet, which were crushed. Though a short period of liberal reform followed, it ended abruptly with the First World War. Russia’s defeat led to Revolution, the Bolshevik coup, , and civil war. The Crimea for a time fell under German occupation, and then various groups competed for control (e.g. the Crimean Tartars, the Ukrainians, the White Guard), until the Red Army secured control, instituting a reign of terror in which thousands were executed and imprisoned.
The fourth part of Melvin’s account deals with the gradual recovering of Crimea under Soviet rule, the devastating effects of the Second World War, particularly the forcible relocation of the Crimean Tatars, and the two protracted sieges of Sevastopol, captured by the Germans in 1942, and liberated by the Soviets in 1944. During the postwar years there was a slow revival of the city and the region, which continued to be a vital base for the growing Soviet Black Sea Fleet. It was in this period that the seeds of the present Crimean crisis were planted; in 1954 Premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which left Russia’s primary base on the Black Sea under control of the newly independent Ukraine, which in turn led to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the present crisis in the region.
Melvin very effectively explores the inter-linked economic, cultural, strategic, and political issues involved in the question of control of Crimea over several centuries. This is a complex study of a very complex problem.