What started after the Crimean War was concluded after World War I and the Russian Revolutions. Countries were created after the default of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into modern Turkey. Drawn up borders and created countries started to exist in the former borders of fallen empires without respecting the desires of the population and ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are examples which were created in 1918 and less than a century later stopped to exist.
Yugoslavia ceased to exist by the hand of violence, a brutal civil war between those members seeking independence and those opposing it and murderous attempts of land grabbing even between those seeking to depart from Yugoslavia. At the height of the civil war, the West intervened with even more brutal violence against the violent Serbian efforts to maintain Yugoslavia as a state or at least extend the territory of Serbia. Both Serbia and Bosnia paid a high price. The first for their struggle against the break up of Yugoslavia, the later for their independence from Yugoslavia and the ruling Serbian power base.Croatia, victim and perpetrator in its attempts to free itself from Yugoslavian and Serbian dominance and at the same time pushing to extend its borders into Bosnian territory, played a dubious role and in the end gained independence into the republic it is today. When Kosovo developed its desire for unilateral declaration of independence, the West stretched all its might and military capabilities to ensure this would take place as requested by the majority of the now independent republic.
Czechoslovakia showed the world another path to break the unwanted union which was created in the vacuum at the beginning of the 20th Century. Negotiations as equal partners, acting and reacting to every hurdle on the path of independence, the former Republic was dismantled into 2 proud and independent republics with a strong bond. Not a bullet was fired! This all was possible, good and bad, in the vacuum which was created by the default of the Soviet Union.
During this process of default, former Soviet Republics had the opportunity and took that opportunity. Ukraine and Belarus, founding members of the United Nations, were greeted into their independence by Western powers. Other former Soviet Republics like Georgia and Uzbekistan followed the same path and declared independence under their own constitutional powers. The Baltic states, disputed Soviet States since they were absorbed under the German-Russian pact, were supported in their strive for independence by the same Western powers and obtained this independence. All implemented treaties, preliminary and ratified constitutions came into force and Western powers and the Russian Federation cooperated to ensure the transitions were done peaceful, ensuring that legislation and will of the people were aligned.
One former Soviet Republic was deprived of this process: Crimea!
Declaring itself a Soviet Republic in 1917 and ratifying its Constitution in 1918, Crimea was a Republic under the administrative authority of the Supreme Soviet. Crimea remained a Soviet Republic until it was occupied by Nazi Germany and its Allies. As a result of this occupation, Stalin personally ordered to downgrade Crimea to an Oblast within Russia, as with other regions within the Soviet Union. Although this was intended to be a temporary measure for the duration of the occupation by Nazi Germany, this ruling was not reverted after World War II. Some historians argue that Stalin decided directly after the Yalta Convention that Crimea was to remain an Oblast of Russia and not to regain its state as Soviet Republic. In argument with his later successor about the state of Crimea, Stalin is reported to have said “Yalta is to be remembered as the place where the future of Europe was decided and the victory of the Soviet Union was recognized. Yalta and Sevastopol are to remain under direct control and command of the Supreme Soviet.” 10 years later, this and many other decisions by Stalin were overruled.
With the decree by the Supreme Soviet in which Crimea Oblast was placed under the administrative authority of the Soviet Republic Ukraine, the Supreme Soviet breached not only its own constitution, but also the constitutions of Ukraine and Crimea, especially articles 72, 76 and 81 of the Constitution of the Soviet Union. All former Soviet Republics appealed to Article 72 of the Constitution of the Soviet Union to declare their independence and entitlement for self-determination. So did Crimea, and even weeks before Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Re-installing its original Constitution and adopting to a non-soviet future, Crimean legislators ratified this constitution following the same procedures as other former Soviet Republics. Months before Ukraine became Ukraine, Crimea was already Crimea, a republic with a ratified constitution and entitled to be recognized by the United Nations, the Russian Federations, former Soviet Republics and first and foremost by Ukraine.
In reality, Crimea became the center of politics and struggles between West and East. Still in comatose state after the fall of the Soviet Union and the growing realization that former Soviet Republics turned away from Russia and Moscow faster than that Russia was able to process, Russia had no real policy for Crimea other than to maintain a major part of the Black Sea Fleet. The Western powers represented by the USA and UK were mainly interested in avoiding just that. Once again, the strategic importance of Sevastopol and its ports and complexes would determine the future of Crimea. Once again the value of what Hitler called “the strongest natural defense in Europe” and what NATO later called “the unsinkable carrier” prevailed over the wishes of the population of Crimea. What was done in Europe after World War I, was repeated for Crimea in the early 90’s. Crimea’s calls for independence were ignored and Crimea was firmly anchored into the Ukrainian territory under pressure of the Western powers, thus ensure that the once feared Black Sea Fleet would be carved up between Russia and Ukraine.
What started after this was nothing other than the forced Ukrainification of Crimea. Sevastopol was placed under direct administrative authority of Kiev and the powers of the Crimean Rada were significantly reduced by Kiev in unconstitutional moves and changes in the authority of the Crimean legislators over Crimea. Crimean legislators appealed against these moves and attempted to bring Ukraine back to complying with its own constitution and thus complying with the Crimean constitution, both stipulating that the only constitutional manner of handling these manners was by referendum. And it was exactly this referendum which the Kiev rulers refused to recognize, fearing that the fast Russian majority would not vote for being part of Ukraine.
At final a compromise was reached, in which Crimea’s autonomy was recognized as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. No longer an Oblast with Ukraine for which any constitutional change, including independence, would have to be accepted by a referendum which represents the entire republic and not only the Oblast it applies to, Crimea is no longer bound solely by the Ukrainian Constitution. Crimea re-installed and ratified its prior Constitution in an adopted form in which it recognized the rule of Ukraine and provisioned for constitutional changes, including the rule by Ukraine, by the means of referendum.
When violence erupted in Kiev and spread across the country, it also reached Crimea. Maidan escalated from a student protest into a violent outburst against the Russian population of Ukraine. This is when the Russian population of Crimea decided to leave their failed peaceful path towards independence and reunification with Russia and take matters into their own hands. And this time when Crimea called out, Russia finally answered the call!
Bosnia had the right of independence, the Baltic States had the right of independence. Czech Republic and Slovakia had the right to go their way. In the same time frame, Crimea made the same claim and has chosen to go the path Czechoslovakia wend: peaceful. Its strategic importance and the Western desire to weaken Russia are the true reasons why Crimea was not granted the same rights as all other states.
Welcome home, Crimea!