Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

History does repeat itself: Crimea

By Gaither Stewart

Continued. Read Part I of the article here

On a trip backwards through the events of over 150 years we arrive at the Crimea recently annexed by Russia and the Crimean War fought by Russia against the intervention of the first major coalition of Western powers in alliance with the Ottoman Empire to attack Russia. No one should believe easy accusations of Russian guilt in the Ukraine crisis. Western intervention against Russia is an old story. A tradition that has continued until today.

Russians had inhabited the territory of southeastern Ukraine between the state of Ukraine and Crimea in the 19th century, shortly after the Crimean War (1853-55) which, by the way, some historians call the real World War I. Also those Russians of the 19th century referred to their home territory as Novorossiya, New Russia.

The descendants of those first colonists in Novorossiya in today's southeastern Ukraine have declared their independence from the Ukraine of the West and its capital of Kiev and established the "Donetsk Peoples' Republic". Last May it joined with the "Lugansk Peoples' Republic" to form a new Novorossiya as a confederal "Union of Peoples' Republics". The lands of Novorossiya are rich in natural resources-light and heavy industry, minerals and agriculture-and borders on both Russia and on the once again Russian Crimean peninsula and other Russian lands such as Transnistria quite near Odessa.

Who today knows much about the almost forgotten Crimean War? In fact that war is often confused with the second Allied Intervention in Russia against the new Communist regime, just the memory of which triggers knee-jerk reactions in Western capitals, especially in Washington where many people and their leaders tend to think of Russians as Communists who fall outside the New World Order. The very idea of Novorossiya constitutes a menace to US strategy for world hegemony. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 while the new regime was struggling for its very survival, the Russian Civil War broke out which pitted the reactionary and privileged Whites-who in general favored the ancien regime of the Tsars-against the Bolshevik-led Reds. The already difficult situation of the revolutionary forces was then further complicated by the second Allied intervention in Russia within a century.

So here a few words about the Crimean War are in order. The Crimean War began as another of the series of 19th century wars between the crumbling Ottoman Empire on the one hand and an expansive Russia seeking an exit from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean on the other. The key part of that war began in September 1854 when the coalition of Britain, France, the Ottomans and later the small Kingdom of Sardinia, the core state of the future Italy, landed troops in Russian Crimea located on the north shore of the Black Sea.

As the historical name indicates, most of the war was fought in Crimea. The Allies began a year-long siege of the Russian fortress of Sevastopol. However, besides Sevastopol, the Anglo-French fleet attacked areas on the adjoining Azov Sea and in the Caucasus. In a forgotten part of the forgotten war, the Allied fleet, obsessed with the destruction of the Russian navy, sailed also to the Baltic Sea to attack the proudest bastion of the Russian Bolshevik, the seaport of Kronstadt near St. Petersburg and to destroy the Russian fleet stationed there. Three British warships then left the Baltic for the White Sea where they spread destruction. Naval skirmishes also occurred in the parts of the Far East where the Anglo-French naval force besieged Russian forces and attempted a land invasion around the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The major Crimean battle fought at Balaclava in the Crimea was commemorated by the great English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his The Charge of the Light Brigade which, by the way, school children in Great Britain often learn by heart. Tennyson's poem, published in December of 1854 in The Examiner first praises the bravery of the Brigade:

"When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made."

At the same time the poet then mourns the futility of the charge, the futility of war in general:

"Not tho' the soldier knew

Someone had blunder'd.

Finally, on September 11, 1855, the Russians blew up their forts and sank their ships and evacuated Sevastopol, defeated by western armies. They had won the battle of Balaclava but lost the war.

Concerning the causes of the Crimean War, British historian A.J.P Taylor notes that there were deeper causes than blocking Russia's historical need for an exit from the Black Sea through control of the strait Dardanelles strait near Istanbul:

"The Crimean war was predestined and had deep-seated causes. Neither Nicholas of Russia nor Napoleon III of France nor the British government could retreat in the conflict for prestige once it was launched. Nicholas needed a subservient Turkey for the sake of Russian security; Napoleon III needed success for the sake of his domestic position; the British government needed an independent Turkey for the security of the Eastern Mediterranean....Mutual fear, not mutual aggression, caused the Crimean war."

In the eyes of some historians the major point is that the Allies fought the Crimean war not in favor of the Ottoman Empire, "the sick man of Europe", but against Russia. Britain feared Russia would modernize its navy and threaten British naval supremacy in the world and was intent on giving Tsarist Russia a lesson. The war might have ended earlier but war fever had been whipped up by the press in Britain and France so that politicians were afraid to propose ending the war.

But with the passage of time public sentiment in Britain changed to anti-war, and France which had suffered major casualties wanted peace. The signing of the Treaty of Paris brought an end to the war but not to Western hostility to Russia. The Black Sea was demilitarized, which weakened Russia, no longer a naval threat to Britain. Sevastopol and other occupied cities were returned to Russia which however had to give up some of its Danubian principalities and its aspirations to unite with its Slavic cousins in Bulgaria and Serbia still under the yoke of the Ottomans.

Gaither Stewart

Senior Editor Gaither Stewart serves as European Correspondent for The Greanville Post and Cyrano's Journal Today.  He is also TGP's director of the Russia Desk.