Putin’s Own Historical Injustice
Published: March 26, 2014 (Issue # 1803)
Among Russians, the most common justification for the annexation of Crimea is that the Kremlin is rectifying a historical injustice. Meanwhile, Putin is committing a gross historical injustice of his own.
Here is Crimea’s history in brief: It had been Russian territory since 1783, when Catherine the Great seized it from the Ottoman Empire.
Then, in 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine as a “gift” to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s union with Russia. But this was a symbolic gesture only, the argument goes. After all, Crimea, Ukraine and Russia were all part of one large country in 1954, so any administrative shifting of internal borders were largely meaningless outside of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev never imagined that several decades later — in 1991, when Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union — Moscow would lose control over a peninsula that Catherine the Great called “the pearl of the Russian Empire.”
To help correct this “historical injustice,” a bill was introduced to the State Duma on Monday to officially revoke Khrushchev’s “reckless and arbitrary” gift to Ukraine. This is the Kremlin’s way of setting the record straight, lest anyone think that Crimea was ever Ukrainian territory — even symbolically.
But what about that pesky 1994 Budapest Agreement or the 1997 Treaty of Friendship, both of which were signed by Russia and recognized the territorial integrity of a Ukraine that included Crimea?
These agreements were also “historical injustices,” the supporters of Crimean annexation say, because Russia was terribly weak in the 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin and could not stand up for its rights — and its possessions — as President Vladimir Putin is doing now.
“Russia was not just robbed; it was plundered,” Putin declared on Mar. 18 in a speech, denouncing Yeltsin’s decision to allow Crimea to remain a part of Ukraine after the Soviet collapse. After the speech in the Kremlin to several hundred members of the political elite, Putin signed the treaty recognizing Crimea as Russian territory.
Now, with the annexation of Crimea all but completed, it would seem that Russians and Crimeans have received compensation for Khrushchev’s and Yeltsin’s “plundering” of Russia, and a great historical injustice has been reversed.
But why stop at Crimea?
If Putin is committed to reversing all of the historical injustices committed against Russia, why not revoke the Belavezha Accords, signed on Dec. 8, 1991? After all, Yeltsin and the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus had no legal authority to dissolve the Soviet Union. Putin reiterated his stance on Mar. 12, reportedly telling the head of the Crimean Tatars that Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991 had no legal foundation.
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