Crimea is a mythical land which cannot be defended. The Russian forces took it in less than a week in 2014 (27th February – 1st March). They had a similar experience in World War Two. They entered Crimea on April 8th, 1944 and, by May 12th, the last German troops had been defeated. The German Army had entered Crimea on September 26th, 1941, and conquered most of the peninsula by October 30th, with the main exception of Sebastopol. The peninsula was conquered in less than a month on three different occasions in the last 75 years. The General who described the German conquest, Erich von Manstein, indicated that any invasion there relies heavily on air support as well as naval help. In other words, once an air force has struck, nothing blocks infantry from entering the peninsula. It is defenceless. The various communities which have historically lived separately within Crimea (Armenians, Greeks, Tatars, among many others) reveal that each group lived its own life relatively undisturbed by history. The lie of the land cannot be changed.
The military strategists even today only want Sebastopol. It is an extraordinary port on the southwest tip of the peninsula which the Soviet Union defended during an incredible eight-month siege in 1941-1942. It was awarded the title of ‘hero city’. Potëmkim in 1783 established it and then the Russian empress Catherine the Great visited it in 1787 together with the Austrian Emperor Leopold. The site is extraordinary and was built beside the Ancient Greek colony of Chersonnesus founded in the 6th century BC. It is a deep-water port, something unusual in that part of the Black Sea. It is a tribute to the accurate eye of the Ancient Greeks who found and colonised it.
It is the symbolic prize of the war between Russia and Ukraine. It is also an extraordinary waste of resources. The Russian Federation was having serious administrative problems as well and economic difficulties with the supply chain before February 24th, 2022. Tensions at a local level were rising. The peninsula is very expensive to manage.
The key to administer Crimea is a firm control of the regions which border it. They are now battle zones (Cherson, Mariupol, to name just two). Over the centuries this has been an area run over by many different peoples. The Crimea was less affected by the radical changes than the mainland.
The symbolism is due to the ancient Greek civilization: Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris (5th century BC) is set there, as well as Goethe’s Iphigenia auf Tauris (1787). More importantly the first Christian leader of Rus (Volodymyr/Vladimir) was baptised there in 988. Crimea was part of the Roman Empire from 63 BC (more or less) until the fall of the last Byzantine outpost in Theodoro (Mangup) in 1475. It was Roman for 1538 years. Rome itself fell to invaders in 476 (1200 years after its foundation). Crimea was part of the Roman state longer than Rome itself. This paradoxical statement reveals the mythological status that Crimea has for Russia and Ukraine. From their point of view, it is second only to Constantinople itself, the centre of Roman/Byzantine culture and the centre of Orthodox beliefs.
Crimea is something more relaxed: it has Greek-like beaches, enchanting vineyards, and lovely weather. It is truly a tourist haven, but manifestly a military trap.