Who Has A Right To Crimea

Volodymyr G. Butkevych

What is Russia's historical right regarding Crimea?

The logical starting point for this discussion would be the 18th century, when Russia first expressed a formal desire to annex the Crimean Peninsula. Until this time formal relations with Crimea were carried out only by Ukraine. Sharing the same fate with Crimea (Ukraine being a vassal state of Russia and Crimea of the Turkish Sultanate), Ukraine, as early as the 17th century under the Cossack state, was developing friendly relations with the Crimean Khanate. In a majority of their dealings with Russia, the Cossacks strove, at the same time, to maintain a peaceful alliance with Crimea. This was a basic principle of Bohdan Khmelnytsky's policy in dealing with Russia. It was also the mainstay of the policy of his successors, among whom was Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky, who, in a treaty with Poland in 1658 had it specifically stipulated under Article 17 that Ukraine's right "to maintain a friendly relationship with the Crimean Khan" is guaranteed by the treaty. Hetman I. Samoylovych attempted to persuade Russia to include in the Bakhchissarai Peace Treaty between Russia and Turkey in 1681 a clause about the necessity for the maintenance of good relations between Ukraine and the Crimean Khanate. However this attempt failed because Moscow was vehemently opposed to any strong relations developing between Ukraine and Crimea.

It was, simply stated, not in the interest of Russia for such relations to exist. In order to sow the seeds of discord between the Zaporizhians [6] and the Turks, the Russians forced the Turks to include certain concessions to the Cossacks in the Bakhchissarai Peace Treaty. Among these was an agreement to allow for Cossack use of southern fishing waters under Turkish jurisdiction. Unfortunately for Russia, this did not inflame the intended discord. Both the Zaporizhians and the Turks understood that they were pawns in the hands of their respective imperial centers. As a statement from Moscow issued to Hetman Ivan Mazepa illustrates:

"The Zaporizhians will never have peace with Crimea... and this warning cannot be emphasised enough. Traders from Little Russian cities had better cease travelling to Crimea with their goods and selling horses there as well."

Mazepa was forced to relay this order to the Zaporizhians, which was met with the following: "When the Khan returns from the Hungarian war, the Zaporizhians will conclude a peace treaty with him at that time and then start marching on 'Great' Russian cities."

Faced with this opposition on the part of the Zaporizhians, Tsar Peter I attacked the Sich on May 14, 1709. In response to this action the Zaporizhians left Moscow's protectorate and proceeded to seek an alliance with Crimea, which was finally forged in the form of the Prut Peace Treaty of 1711. Thus, until 1733, for almost a quarter century, the Zaporizhians and the Crimean Khanate shared a common state structure.

For their part, the Ukrainian Hetmany [7] (Pylyp Orlyk, Ivan Skoropadsky, Pavlo Polubotok, Petro Doroshenko) were constantly attempting during their successive leaderships to gain autonomy for Ukraine, to unite with the Sich for this purpose and establish good relations with the Crimean Khanate. However this only resulted in Russia succeeding in annexing the Zaporizhian Sich in 1739.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, Russia developed a plan for the annexation of Crimea as well. However, St. Petersburg had set itself an extremely difficult and complex aim. The annexation of Crimea was made possible mostly due to the final victory over Turkey, and this war could not have been won without the support of the Zaporizhian Sich. At that time, the Otaman [8] of the Zaporizhians categorically refused to fight against the Crimean Khanate. Moreover, he continued to pressure Moscow for the reinstatement of Ukraine's borders according to the treaty signed with Russia by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. It was not until he was assured that the war would be exclusively waged against Turkey and that the borders of Ukraine would be respected that an agreement was reached. A significant role in the matter was played by an anonymous report sent to St. Petersburg by a Zaporizhian officer, P. Savytsky, in 1767, in which he denounced a plan by Otaman P. Kalnyshevsky to prepare to go to war with Russia while "he prepared to send twenty of his best warriors to the Turkish emperor to ask for his support."

However, the decision to deal with Kalnyshevsky was postponed by Catherine ll until after the war, and in the meantime her emissaries were sent to convince him to go to war with the Turks. Promising the Zaporizhians large sums of money as remuneration, the emissaries admitted to Kalnyshevsky that only the Zaporizhians had a force strong enough to destroy the Turkish fortresses on the shores of the Black Sea. The Zaporizhians received a reward for quickly destroying the Turkish encampments. General Field-Marshal P. A. Rumiantsev reported on the excellent leadership displayed by "General" P. Kalnyshevsky. In addition, G. Potemkin requested to be admitted into the ranks of the Kushchiv company of the Zaporizhian Cossacks in order to improve his martial skills. However, this praise was short lived because Russia was preparing for the annexation of Crimea. Its main obstacle to the achievement of this aim was the Zaporizhian Sich, which continued to support the Crimean Khan. The Cossacks' position was immutable and remained so during the worsening of Russo-Turkish relations. They joined forces to win back some saltwater fishing lakes in Crimea and forest lands surrounding the Sich. When the Crimean Shah, Hirei attacked Northern Rus' in 1769, the Zaporizhians refused to come to Russia's aid. When Zaporizhians fell prisoner to the Turks in their war and were being transported across Crimean lands, the Khan always freed and returned them to the Sich without demanding a ransom. In their legal proceedings the Tatars and the Cossacks enjoyed a cooperative atmosphere. The Russian agent Nikoforov informed St. Petersburg that the Sich and the Khanate annually exchanged services equivalent to the sum of 60,000 rubles in gold and silver, at a time when such an amount was considered great.

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About The Author

Volodymyr G. Butkevych, a Ph.D. in juridical studies, currently heads the Ukrainian Institute of International Relations' Department of International Law. He is also the Vice-President of the (former Soviet) International Law Association. His studies have focused on the protection of human rights in the USSR and in Ukraine, as well as on the chasm between Soviet legal standards and international norms. In addition, Butkevych is the Chairman of the International Human Rights Conference's Organisational Committee. The Conference is held annually in Kyiv.

About the Editor

Eugene S. Kachmarsky, an M.A. in political science specialising in eastern Europe and the former USSR, is a graduate of the University of Toronto. He is currently the editor of the English-language monthly newspaper, Ukrainian Echo.

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Document URL: http://www.infoukes.com/history/crimea/page-03.html

Copyright © 1992 Volodymyr G. Butkevych

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Originally Composed: Tuesday August 20th 1996.
Date last modified: Friday March 21st 1997.