Russia’s Crimea Conquest

Conquering the Crimea: Chapter 1

Congratulations, Russia, you seem to have taken over Crimea in about two weeks! Not a blitzkrieg in the classic sense, but then the Olympics were just ending in Sochi, and you wanted to bask in the glory of winning the most medals. Now, with a heightened sense of Russian nationalism, you can conquer Crimea.

Russian Invasion of Crimea
Russian Invasion of Crimea in 2014

Well, the map above seems to indicate “Mission Accomplished.” Yes, former U.S. President George W. Bush was associated with that phrase, after an initial American victory over Iraqi forces in 2003. But occupying a region is a lot more costly than the initial conquest. A few geographic points to consider:


Population Geography

Yes, we have all heard the propaganda that Crimea is mostly ethnic Russian, but these figures are based on a dated 2001 census. The Sevastopol city-region (eastern limit shown on the map with a red line) is estimated to be 70% ethnic Russian. The rest of Crimea is maybe half Russian, with more than 500,000 Ukrainians and 260,000 Crimean Tatars, out of a total population of 1.99 million people. So, are you planning to win the ethnic minorities over or make them refugees? Remember, if you treat them badly, then you could have a massive insurgency on your hands.

Various reports state that Serbian “Chetnik” fighters are in Crimea to help their Russian brothers. You should keep the Serbians away from Crimean Tatar communities, because Serbians did not endear themselves to ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999. Both Tatars and Albanians tend to be Muslim, which evidently does not go over well with some Serbian nationalists.


The Geo-Military Situation

Yes, you have disarmed most of the Ukrainian soldiers in the Crimea, but now what do you do? If you hurt them, there is a much larger Ukrainian army to the north. Also, there are still the Ukrainian sailors on more than a dozen warships, who are still quite armed. If you are too decisive in getting rid of the Ukrainian military, then neighboring countries may get a bit anxious, increase their defense budgets, and aim missiles at you.


The Larger Geopolitical Situation

The referendum on March 16 focuses on union with Russia and restoring the 1992 constitution. As the billboard image below shows, you are giving Crimeans a chance to vote between a Nazi-like Ukrainian government and a glorious Russian government. Seems easy.

Propaganda Billboard on Crimea Referendum, March 16, 2014
Propaganda Billboard on Crimea Referendum, March 16, 2014

However, any annexation of the Crimea would violate the 1997 Friendship Treaty you signed with Ukraine. It is not very friendly to invade and annex the territory of a nearby country. Plus, the U.S. and the European Union would use the information, diplomatic, economic, and even military tools of foreign policy against you. This could hurt over time. Yes, China is an ally, but most of your trade is with Europe.


This Chapter is Still Being Written

While it is nice to reclaim the Crimea and have Catherine the Great smile down upon you, the harsh realities of 21st century geopolitics make military conquest difficult. Yes, you got away with it (at the time of the 2008 Olympics) against Georgia; but Georgia was the aggressor when it invaded South Ossetia, and it clearly underestimated Russian resolve.

You have put quite a scare into the Ukrainians and the world community. Perhaps, the best result is to bargain for greater access or autonomy in the Sevastopol region. Maybe you could negotiate sovereign rights to your military bases in the Crimea. How this will end is largely up to you.

Author: David Miller

Learned about the wonders of geography while working at National Geographic for some 25 years. Started teaching one class a semester at NOVA in the 1990s but became a dedicated instructor in 2010.

5 thoughts on “Russia’s Crimea Conquest”

  1. Good article!
    You need to translate it to Russian, so it is read by them. And maybe change their minds. If not, they keep reading propaganda from Putin…

  2. The Crimea returned to the Motherland. In USSR time there was no big difference on what republic it was apart of / Russian Federation or Ukrainian Socialist Republic /, in 1954 when the Crimea became a part of Ukrainian SSR by administrative reason. Nw after so called ” revolution ” and total mess in Kiev,captital of Ukraine the crimeans decided to return to their Montherland. Russia just took back the gift that was given in 1954. Simple story.

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