23

One of the major reasons why Russia is stated to be so much in the need of controlling the Crimean peninsula, is that their economy is restricted due to having too few options for sea trade, having very limited access to the sea. The north is frozen for a big part of the year, and Vladivostok is too remote, therefore they need another sea trading option.

However, even if Crimea stayed in Ukrainian hands and they blockaded the Kerch Strait and cut off Mariupol and Rostov, Russia still has over 400 km of coastline on the NE part of the Black Sea. Is that coastline so unsuited for building a sea port (or expanding existing ones, like Sochi)? Why is control over Sevastopol (in terms of sea trade) so important for the Russians, so they risk a potentially very costly war over it?

13
  • 13
    Why do you think it is only about trade? There is a huge naval base in Crimea - by far bigger than Guantanamo, which Americans refused to vacate after Cuban revolution - see here. Mar 2, 2022 at 8:27
  • 4
    Curious why the -1. The question heading maybe should be "Is Crimea really important for Russia, and why? (Or did they just take it because they easily could and because most inhabitants are Russian)?
    – Ivana
    Mar 2, 2022 at 13:05
  • 2
    Good ports can be hard to find. Look at the long west coast of the US. There are only a handful of places (four to six) that are usable as good ports, and sometimes some of those ports need to be shut down temporarily due to bad weather. The port of Novorossiysk similarly has to be shut down temporarily due to bad weather. Temporary shutdowns are not a good option regarding military operations unless there are other ports that can serve as a backup. Mar 2, 2022 at 13:09
  • 4
    False premise. Russia has more control over Crimea now that in has in recent memory. Russia now has the worst trade prospects in living memory. It seems that it was not good for Russian trade.
    – J...
    Mar 2, 2022 at 17:51
  • 3
    @MikeBrockington that's not a controversial statement, the 2001 Ukrainian census put it at 60.4% ethnically Russian 24% Ukrainian. By citizenship of course they weren't Russian before 2014 (well, I don't know how citizenship worked for people living through the collapse of the USSR), but ethnically and linguistically yes (77% Russian speaking in that 2001 census). Doesn't justify the annexation but it is what it is
    – llama
    Mar 2, 2022 at 21:17

2 Answers 2

30

Military importance
There are several reasons of the importance of Crimea to Russia, the primary of which is the Sevastopol naval base, which is the largest Russian naval base on the Black sea:

  • It is a comfortable harbor with extensive military and naval infrustructure, built over decades (or even centuries). It is simply difficult to replace at a reasonable cost and in a short amount of time.
  • It allows Russia to control the black sea coast of its immediate neighbors, notably Ukraine and Georgia, but also other countries, and potentially teh Balkans. (See below for the map).
  • The Black sea provides the shortest and the surest access to the Mediterranean sea, and by extension to the Indian Ocean and Southern Atlantic (what in US parlance is called projecting military power to the Mediterranean).

Economical importance
The OP suggest that Sevastopol is not indispensable for trade - this is correct, given that Russia still has a rather long Black sea coast line. Also, traditionally the trade in the Black sea was passing not through Sevastopol, but through Odessa (a Russian equivalent of Marseille), which is not in Crimea and still under Ukrainian control. However, any trade is largely dependent on presence of a military force, guaranteeing its protection, although this is arguably not the principal mission of the Russian Black Sea fleet.

Historical and cultural significance
Crimea was conquered by Russia from the Ottoman empire by Prince Potemkin (during the reign of Catherine II), in realizing the Peter I vision of Russian access to the warm Black sea.

Crimean war Several wars were fought in Crimea against Turkey and its allies, most notably the Crimean war, in which Britain and France militarily supported Turkey. This war is sometimes cited as the first mediatized war, as the war correspondents were present in place, and the photos were published in newspapers, and people were shocked by the explicit brutality of the war. Sevastopol is still a name of many landmarks, e.g., in France, in the memory of this war. Sevastopol sketches is a famous series of stories by Leo Tolstoy (the author of the War and Peace) about the war.

In less formal culture Sevastopol is well-known as a hot sea resort during the Soviet period (a kind of Russian Côte d'Azur), as well as for the wine making tradition - see Crimean wines.

enter image description here

Some additional reading
Crimea's strategic value to Russia
What is Russia doing in the Black sea?
What makes the Black sea so strategically important?

13
  • 3
    Seems a good answer. Given that it got only about 18% of the real estate in this answer, but is really the dominant issue, I feel like the "Military Importance" section should be circled back to at the end, or perhaps expanded at the top.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 2, 2022 at 17:04
  • 1
    There's also oil/ng deposits in the Black Sea that are inside the 3 mile economic exclusion zone controlled by Crimea.
    – Arluin
    Mar 3, 2022 at 1:13
  • 1
    This youtube video had some good information about the overall reasons why Russia might be invading: youtube.com/watch?v=If61baWF4GE
    – Arluin
    Mar 3, 2022 at 1:25
  • 2
    Hmm, the "It is a comfortable harbor with extensive military and naval infrustructure" argument might be a good point even if they sometime in the future want to use it for trade, as building a completely new port and its infrastructure seems to be extremely expensive. Practically a new city would have to be built for housing the workers and all, and then all the services and their infrastructure to support that population. The fact that it was built over centuries made me realize how important that is.
    – vsz
    Mar 3, 2022 at 21:17
  • 1
    @Fizz as indicated in bounty note, the quarrel over Crimea predates Stalin by a century or more. Mar 1, 2023 at 21:12
-4

It's not really as important as Russian propaganda would portray. When Ukraine was in control of the peninsula it allowed Russian control of Sevastopol naval base with no problems. Also Russia has other major ports on Black Sea, including another major naval base.

It's not Crimea that's important, and not for Russians. It's gaining Crimea important, and not for Russia, but for Putin. Putin is a dictator who has everything one can imagine and a lot one cannot imagine. In all that opulence and power he wants to make the next step in what he considers his personal greatness: to go into history books as the conquerer, the "gatherer of lands". The current war in Ukraine, as well as his previous excursions into Crimea, Georgia, Moldova - all of that was his personal ego.

Apart from ego, winning small wars and gaining lands is known to be a handy tool for retaining power. Many tried before Putin, and he has done that multiple times now: enhancing his own image via nationalism and wars of conquest.

EDIT. Based on some comments I'd like to point out that Crimea isn't authentically Russian.

In fact, Crimea had very little Russian population until 1853 Crimean War and didn't have Russian majority until Stalin's ethnic cleansing of Tatars in 1944. After the genocide against the Crimean Tatars perpetrated by Russians Soviets - well, yes, after that Russians became the majority. Please take a look at how the ethnic make up of Crimea change over the years in the Ethnicities and languages table in this wikipedia article.

Therefore the pro-Putin's nationalistic meme "Крымнаш", meaning "Crimea is ours", is historically false.

9
  • 4
    When Ukraine was in control of the peninsula it allowed Russian control of Sevastopol naval base with no problems. that was not sure to continue - the lease was for a limited period and Ukraine aimed joining NATO. Mar 2, 2023 at 5:54
  • 1
    The bounty description said "I am looking for more historical perspective on the struggle for Crimea and the access to the Black and the Mediterranean seas in XIXth century between Russian Empire and Western powers (mostly Britain and France.) Why was it so important for Russian Empire, British and French? (Emphasis on perspective from different sides.)" - did you really think you'd qualify for that with this answer?
    – vsz
    Mar 2, 2023 at 16:12
  • 2
    @RogerVadim Yeah, when Yanukov(y/i)ch was overthrown, one of the first actions of the new regime(using the word in its original meaning, because it's the best fit, not the current form of "any government-like entity I don't like") was to announce that they will be cancelling the basing agreement ASAP, since signing it in the first place was one of their major beefs with him.
    – Eugene
    Mar 2, 2023 at 20:18
  • 1
    This is somewhat true, but only half-way. Indeed, gaining Crimea was important for Putin to justify remaining in power, but only because Crimea is important for Russians, who have sentiment for it and its people.
    – alamar
    Mar 5, 2023 at 19:02
  • 2
    The latest addition is also false because Russians were still the most populous Crimean ethnicity before the deportation of Crimean tatars by Stalin and also way into XIX century.
    – alamar
    Mar 9, 2023 at 17:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .