KYIV, Ukraine — The Crimean Peninsula dangles off Ukraine’s southern coast like a diamond, blessed with a temperate local weather, expansive seashores, lush wheat fields and orchards full of cherries and peaches.
It can also be a critical staging ground for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Connected by way of bridge to Russia and serving as a house to Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, Crimea offers an important hyperlink within the Russian navy’s provide chain that helps tens of 1000’s of troopers now occupying an enormous swath of southern Ukraine.
For President Vladimir V. Putin, it’s hallowed floor, having been declared a part of Russia by Catherine the Great in 1783, serving to pave the way in which for her empire to change into a naval energy. The Soviet ruler Nikita S. Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. And as a result of Ukraine was then a Soviet republic, not a lot modified.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed almost 4 a long time later, Russia lost its jewel. Mr. Putin thus claimed to be righting a historic incorrect when he illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
Mr. Putin promised on the time that he had no intention of additional dividing Ukraine. Yet eight years later, in February, tens of 1000’s of Russian troopers stormed north out of the peninsula, kicking off the present conflict.
In latest days, navy targets in Crimea have come underneath assault, and the peninsula as soon as once more finds itself on the fulcrum of an important energy wrestle.
Early within the conflict, Russian troops surging from Crimea seized swaths of the Kherson and Zaporizhia areas that stay the important thing to Russia’s occupation of southern Ukraine.
Crimea, in flip, affords key logistical help for Russia to take care of its occupation military, together with two important rail hyperlinks that Russia depends on for transferring heavy navy tools. Crimean air bases have been used to stage sorties in opposition to Ukrainian positions, and the peninsula has offered a launching floor for long-range Russian missiles.
The peninsula can also be house to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, serving to Russia preserve dominion over the ocean, together with a naval blockade that has crippled Ukraine’s economic system.
A Place within the Sun
Russia is chilly — a fifth of the nation is above the Arctic Circle. But it may be positively balmy within the sun-drenched Crimean metropolis of Yalta.
“Russia needs its paradise,” wrote Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s normal and lover, when he urged her to assert the land.
Crimea is the place czars and Politburo chairmen stored trip properties. Before the West imposed sanctions on Russia for illegally annexing the peninsula, it was a spot the place rich Eastern Europeans went to unwind and social gathering.
“Casinos buzz and ping everywhere amid the city’s pine-bowered alleyways,” a New York Times Travel article proclaimed about Yalta in 2006, including: “Much — if not everything — goes in this seaside boomtown.”
Tourism fell steeply after 2014. But when explosions rang out at an air base final week close to Crimea’s western coast, there have been nonetheless guests at close by resorts taking photographs and movies as black smoke obscured the solar.
Ties to Russia
“Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people,” Mr. Putin declared in his 2014 deal with marking the annexation. But his is a selective studying of historical past.
Over the centuries, Greeks and Romans, Goths and Huns, Mongols and Tatars have all laid declare to the land.
And maybe no group in Crimea has watched the unfolding conflict with as a lot trepidation because the Tatars, Turkic Muslims who migrated from the Eurasian steppes within the thirteenth century.
They had been brutally focused by Stalin, who — in a foreshadowing of the Kremlin’s justification for its present conflict — accused them of being Nazi collaborators and deported them en masse. Thousands died within the course of.
In 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev, the final Soviet chief, allowed Tatars to return to Crimea. And earlier than the 2014 annexation, they made up about 12 p.c of Crimea’s inhabitants, numbering about 260,000 there.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch accused Moscow of intensifying the persecution of the Tatar minority in Crimea, “with the apparent goal of completely silencing dissent on the peninsula.”