Crimean legends

Alexey Kupriyanov

“They won’t live here. Their generation will not grow up here. And their children are not here, and they will not die for our land. It will never be Russian territory. Just never! Yes, at least rewrite history, at least rename all the cities, Yalta is there, and so on. Erase this story… It’s impossible! They will all return to their homes. It’s a question of time”.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the current president of Ukraine, made this pep talk a little over six months ago. During this time, Russia has not left the Crimea. On the contrary, Kyiv has lost control over the entire Kherson region and most of the Zaporozhye region, and the territory of the people’s republics of Donbass is slowly but surely approaching the administrative borders of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine.

“A land convenient to the people”

Could this have been avoided? Theoretically, yes, if Kyiv recognized the reunification of Crimea with Russia and implemented the Minsk agreements, having a chance to integrate the Donbass back, albeit on special conditions. But for this, it would be necessary to radically change the entire paradigm in which the Ukrainian state exists, abandoning its inherent primordialism, that is, the idea that the current Ukrainian nation is not even an heir, but directly the same nation that existed in officially recognized for 2014 the borders of Ukraine in prehistoric times. Primordialism does not recognize the appropriation of territories – only their tragic loss, and hence the borders, would not hurt to expand “from San to the Caucasus.” Therefore, nationalist-minded Ukrainian historians are desperately looking for any grounds that would allow them to declare Crimea primordially Ukrainian and inscribe the notorious decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of 1954 on the transfer of the Crimean region to Ukraine into the national myth.

Why this decision was made is not known for certain. There is a version that in this way Khrushchev (or other representatives of the Soviet elite) decided to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Pereyaslav Rada. Another common point of view – they say, in this way Nikita Sergeevich tried to please the Ukrainian people and make amends for the repressions, in which he was directly involved as the first secretary of the Central Committee of the CP (b) of Ukraine in 1938-1940. Both of these versions more or less fit into the Ukrainian national myth: in accordance with the first, Ukraine acquired Crimea by right in exchange for the union of Bohdan Khmelnitsky with Moscow in ancient times, according to the second, as a kind of compensation for the suffering suffered. This also includes the marginal idea that Khrushchev allegedly tried to change the national composition of Ukraine in this way, adding more Russians there, but the Ukrainians eventually prevailed. The idea of ​​short-sighted predecessors (or, as in this case, insidious foreigners) planting a bomb under the future of the state, as we see, is popular not only among us.

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The fourth and fifth versions – that Khrushchev gave Crimea in a drunken state during a feast, and that he was an ethnic Ukrainian and tried to strengthen the position of the Ukrainian SSR within the Union with such a gift – are common in Russia. These are marginal legends with the opposite sign: here is the familiar image of a drunken tsar squandering Russian lands, and such an understandable idea of ​​a representative of a national minority who made his way to the highest state post and plays along with “his own”. There is not a single mention of a banquet at which Khrushchev would have given away the Crimea, either in his memoirs or in archival documents. The secretary general’s Ukrainian roots are also bad luck: he was born in the Kursk region, wrote “Russian” in questionnaires all his life and did not know the Ukrainian language.

So the most boring version seems to be the most reasonable: the transfer of Crimea was dictated primarily by economic considerations. The Ukrainian SSR supplied Crimea with grain, consumed its fruits and natural resources – iron ore mined in the vicinity of Kerch was exported to Kryvorizhstal. Finally, the North Crimean Canal, the project of which began in 1951, and which was supposed to provide water to the arid Crimea, was completely tied to the infrastructure and economy of the Ukrainian SSR.

Is it worth it because of the decision taken 68 years ago to accuse Khrushchev of short-sightedness and hang all the dogs on him? Unlikely. In those days, changing borders, including between union republics, was commonplace. None of the Soviet leaders could have imagined that the purely administrative decisions they made decades later would turn into blood and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people. The Crimean history is a good lesson for state leaders: a strong country can afford any level of internal autonomy, while a weak one can fall apart, even being formally unitary.

The author is a senior researcher at IMEMO RAS

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