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To Understand Russia's Interest In Crimea, Start With Catherine The Great

Stefano Torelli, 1772, Oil On Canvas
Wikimedia Commons

Talks in London about Ukraine between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up Friday, but the country’s top two diplomats say there’s “no common” vision between Russia and the United States.

“It’s not just about power and access to the base,” says Suzette Grillot, the Dean of the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “Historically, there’s much more to this story.”

A Crimean state controlled by Tartars gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1774 after the Russo-Turkish War. The treaty brought Crimea within Russia’s sphere of influence before it was formally annexed in 1783.

“Catherine the Great sent [Grigory] Potemkin, her lover and general, down to take the Crimea and the areas around the North Black Sea, which he did, and he developed them,” says regular World Views contributor Joshua Landis. “She took an incredible tour down there, bringing hundreds of courtiers with her. It’s such a long part of Russia’s identity.”

A century and a half later, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ethnically cleansed Crimean Tatars for allegedly colluding with Nazis during Germany’s World War II occupation of the peninsula.

“Now that Ukraine has decided to leave Russia's orbit, and move into Europe's orbit, Russia has reached in and tried to grab this one hunk of Ukraine that is a majority Russian in ethnicity,” Landis says. “I don't want to make any apologies for Russia, and what Russia is doing, but it looks like both sides are trying to save some face.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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