- - Tuesday, April 25, 2023

As Ukraine prepares to launch its spring offensive to break a stalemate against the Russian invaders, it is not clear whether its forces will register a decisive victory and reach the outskirts of Crimea, the strategically vital peninsula on the Black Sea.

Whether Ukraine should attempt to recover all territory lost to Russia since 2014 is occupying minds in both Kyiv and Western capitals because of the enormous risks it would entail. In this episode of History As It Happens, Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft discusses why Crimea has been so important in great-power competition going back to the late 18th century – and why any Ukrainian attempt to retake it could lead to massive escalation of the war.

“Crimea was critical to the entire Russian position in the Black Sea and to the conquest of the whole of what became southern Ukraine, which until then had been a no-man’s land between Crimean Tatars who raided Ukraine and Russia for slaves,” said Mr. Lieven, who recently spent three weeks in Ukraine talking to public officials and ordinary citizens about whether their country should attempt to drive Russia out of Crimea.

The Tsarist Empire took Crimea from the Ottomans in 1783 and then fought a coalition of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France in the Crimean War in the mid-19th century. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who at this point was fighting for supremacy atop the Communist Party, transferred Crimea to the Ukraine S.S.R. in a bid to cultivate support among Ukrainian elites, among other reasons. More than a half century later, in 2014, the Kremlin ordered troops into Crimea to seize the peninsula, with its ethnic Russian majority, after protesters in Kyiv ousted a pro-Russia president in the Maidan Revolution.  

“As has always been the case in historical claims, people pick whatever aspect of history or legality will suit them, and ignore other aspects or simply make things up in the process,” Mr. Lieven said. Crimea was Ukrainian territory illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, but the point could be decided on the battlefield against a foe who subscribes to a different version of the past.

History As It Happens is available at washingtontimes.com or wherever you find your podcasts.

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