On February 19, 1954, a Soviet news outlet known as the Pravda published an article on a decree set by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) to transfer the area of Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic 1. This came as quite a shock to the Soviet people because the Crimean outblast had been part of Russia since 1783 when the Empire defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Kozludzha 2. The only citation that was given was from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in 1954 which stated that there were “… economic commonalities, territorial closeness, and communication and cultural links [between Crimea and the Ukrainian SSR].” This was ultimately seen as a symbol of peace between all parties involved and also represented the power of Soviet influence throughout Eastern Europe 5.
There was one question that baffled historians concerning this event: What was the main motive behind this transfer of land? There are several factors that perplex individuals and them from being able to answer this question. Firstly, the Crimean peninsula was nowhere near touching the Ukrainian SSR – they did not share any political boundaries. Furthermore, the peoples inhabiting Crimea culturally identified more-so with Russian than Ukraine 1. Lewis Siegelbaum notes that, “According to the 1959 census, there were 268,000 Ukrainians but 858,000 ethnic Russians living in Crimea.” Lastly, the Crimea relied on tourism and recreation as its main economic factor; the majority of those that took advantage of this were from the USSR 1. With this present evidence, it will be hard to decide what the true motive for such an action would be.
Regardless of the motive, the transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR was ironic in that the chairman of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, Kliment Voroshilov, gave his closing remarks at the signing of the decree, he stated that the “enemies of Russia” had “repeatedly tried to take the Crimean peninsula from Russia and use it to steal and ravage Russian lands.” He commended the “joint battles” waged by “the Russian and Ukrainian peoples” as they mete out a “severe rebuff against the insolent usurpers.” Voroshilov’s description of Russia’s past “enemies” seems fitting for today in showing Russia’s own actions face-to-face with the Ukraine. Moreover, the transfer of Crimea is an ironic action of sixty years ago, taken by the USSR to strengthen its control over Ukraine, that has come back to haunt Ukraine today.
This post was featured in the “Comrade’s Corner” section of the Soviet History Classroom Website.
- Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The Gift of Crimea.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 2 Dec. 2015, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/the-gift-of-crimea/
- Kramer, Mark. “Why Did Russia Give Away Crimea Sixty Years Ago?” Wilson Center, 2 Feb. 2018, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/why-did-russia-give-away-crimea-sixty-years-ago.
- Wilson Center Digital Archive. “MEETING OF THE PRESIDIUM OF THE SUPREME SOVIET OF THE UNION OF SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICS.” Wilson Center Digital Archive, http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/119638
- Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The Gift of Crimea.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 2 Dec. 2015, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/the-gift-of-crimea/the-gift-of-crimea-images/#bwg135/764
- Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.