Prince Grigory Potemkin, who established the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea in 1783

Prince Grigory Potemkin, who established the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea in 1783

The Black Sea and the Crimean peninsula that juts into the sea are strategic crossroads between Europe and Asia. They have been contested for centuries by various Empires and nations.

The sea itself has vital trading routes. It is bordered today by five of Russia’s near-neighbors.

Russia must have control of Crimea in order to assert its power in the waterways. This is because it has its main Black Sea port at Sevastopol, and the Kerch Strait that leads to the Sea of Azov. 

At one time or another, Crimea was under the control Greeks, Persians Romans, Mongols and Ottomans.

It was not until 1783 when it fell completely under the control the Russian Empire. Mikhail Kamensky and Alexander Suvorov led a force comprising 8,000 men against an Ottoman army totalling 40,000 at Battle of Kozludzha.

Russia’s Prince Grigory Ptemkin established the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the port of Sevastopol. From there, he asserted naval control over the Black Sea and its neighbours, including Georgia, Ukraine, and Turkey. He also projected his power further into the Mediterranean.

The key trading point of Crimea was also established. The day before World War I in 1914, some 50% of Russia’s exports were stopped and 90% of Russia’s agricultural exports went through Bosphorus Strait, which runs out to the Black Sea. 

In 1954 Crimea was given as a ‘gift’ by Nikita Khrushchev to Ukraine, ostensibly to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s merger with Tsarist Russia, but more likely to secure Ukraine’s support for Khrushchev’s leadership and to cement Ukraine as part of the Soviet Union.

Moscow held control over Crimea, its vital ports, and Ukraine as a member of the Union until 1991 when it was disintegrated and Ukraine became an independent country.

After Ukraine gained independence, access to the peninsula became an important bargaining chip between the countries. In return for concessions like writing off debts or taking control of a portion of the Black Sea fleet, Ukraine recognized Russia’s right at Sevastopol port.

In 2014, however, Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Moscow leader of the government overthrew the government. This was in response to a popular uprising to draw the country closer towards Europe.

Fearing losing Sevastopol’s port, Putin marched troops to Crimea and took control. A’referendum’ later held which showed majority support but is not considered credible.

Moscow controls the peninsula today and refers to it in its territory. However, most international bodies refer to the area as ‘occupied Crimea.

The Black Sea Fleet, Russia’s largest and most formidable fleet, is thought to include 47 ships, seven submarines, and 25,000 troops.