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What is Crimea? Why is It SO Important to Putin and Soviet Leaders?

Vladimir Putin
(Photo by David Goldman – Pool/Getty Images)

We’ve all heard the the news stories and seen the headlines about  Ukraine and Crimea.  Besides obviously the unrest and uproar, why is it such a big deal?

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union as we knew it in 1991 (Communist Russia), Ukraine declared it’s independence, and basically became it’s own “country.”  Ukraine includes the peninsula of Crimea, which is alongside the Black Sea in Russia.   Following a number of political upheavals and changes, for the last 14 years Crimea was recognized by Russia as an “autonomous republic.”    It’s also where the bulk of the Soviet Navy operates from. It’s one of the very few, if the only, parts of the “old” Soviet Union that was granted independence.

But the area has much greater significance to Russia and the world besides the navy and other interests.  Dating back some 2,000 years, the area has been repeatedly invaded by various ethnic groups: Greeks, Goths, Huns, Ottoman Turks from Middle East, and others.

One of these many invasions, the Crimean War of 1854, was the inspiration for the famous poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It contained the famous phrase, “into the valley of death rode the 600..”    The war was between British and French troops who joined against the Russians for control of the Black Sea.

That Crimean War also made a legend out of Florence Nightengale, the female nurse who pioneered many modern methods of medicine in treating soldiers wounded in war.

Crimea was also the last outpost of anti-Communist forces during the 1917  Russian Revolution.   The White Russians, who opposed Lenin and Communism, fled to Crimea where they made their last stand but were crushed by the Red Army (Soviets)  in 1920. (Yes, that’s where we got the name for the alcoholic drink!)

During World War II,  the city of Sevastopol in Crimea you hear about in the news today was considered perhaps the most beautiful and honored Soviet cities because of it’s architecture, it was called the City of Russian Glory.  It was almost completely destroyed during the fighting between the Germans and Russians.   It was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of WWII.   The city was rebuilt by Stalin stone by stone because of it’s historical and political significance to Russia.

So why after nearly two decades of somewhat peaceful existance is Soviet leader Vladimir Putin moving forces into Ukraine and Crimea, and threatening to take over the area again?  He claims actions by what he calls “ultranationalist” forces in the region are threatening Russian citizens and interests.

The last couple of years have not been so peaceful in Ukraine and Crimea.   You may have heard stories of some of the terrorist attacks and bomb attacks that have killed numerous people in the region.   Some is due to political scuffling between different leaders in the region, others say they are from anti-Russian groups.

However, many critics say Putin is using this political turmoil as an excuse to continue to “rebuild” the old Soviet Union.   Putin is a former KGB official who is very loyal towards the old regime that was famous for the Red Army, Communism, strong military, and industrial strength.  Some critics said even a few years ago Putin is trying to take the Soviet Union “back in time” to before the collapse of Communism we mentioned in 1991.

In the big picture of things, many experts say this is the latest, and biggest, of Putin’s “Power Grabs,” part of his attempt to get Russia back on par with China and the U.S. and the rest of the world’s super powers. So that’s why Crimea is important, and years from now could become a major chapter in world history – especially if Russia returns to superpower status.   By taking over Ukraine, and especially Crimea, Putin would be signalling to the world the Soviet Union has “returned”…look out!

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