Who Has A Right To Crimea

Volodymyr G. Butkevych

How did the present Crimean question arise?

At the end of the summer of 1917, the Ukrainian Rada sent a delegation to Petrograd to discuss questions of autonomy with the Provisional Government. The latter appointed a commission of scholars to join the discussions. The Ukrainian delegation enunciated a position supporting the inclusion of the Crimean Peninsula into Ukrainian territory. As a member of the delegation, Vynnychenko described the reaction of the Russian scholars to this suggestion:

"Caught up in the heat of the debates, the Kadet scholars unconsciously allowed their true, full, miserly bourgeois class face to surface. Measuring out the territory of the future autonomous Ukraine, they touched on the questions of the Black Sea, Odessa, the Donetsk region, Katerynoslav, Kherson and Kharkiv. Here, with the sole thought in mind of Donetsk and Kherson coal, Katerynoslav steel, Kharkiv industry will remain theirs, they became so agitated that they forgot their professional behaviour, their knowledge, the Constituent Assembly, and began frantically waving their arms, showing the real essence of their slick, miserly Russian nationalism. Oh no, under these conditions they could not accept (Ukrainian) autonomy. Kyiv, Poltava, Podillia, even Volyn' and maybe even Chernihiv. But Odessa and the Black Sea, with its port and a route to the Dardanelles and Europe? But Kharkiv, Tauriia, Katerynoslav and Kherson? The population in these parts is not Ukrainian; they are Russian territories, they say. The poor professors even spit in the face of their knowledge and like an unweaned piglet, they kicked their legs out when approached with their own statistics and evidence from the Russian Academy of Sciences." [32]

So as not to increase tensions, the Rada decided to proclaim its jurisdiction only over undisputed territories. Regarding others such as Crimea, that were creating points of contention, it decided to forego discussion for separate talks. With these considerations in mind, the authors of the Third Universal 33 proclaimed in that document:

"Belonging to the territory of the Ukrainian National Republic are the lands, populated mainly by Ukrainians, including: Kyiv, Podillia, Volyn', Chernihiv, Poltava, Kharkiv, Katerynoslav, Kherson, Tauriia (without Crimea). The final demarcation of the national borders of the Ukrainian National Republic regarding the inclusion of Kursk, Kholm, Voronezh, and the guberniias between these lands, where the population is mainly Ukrainian, must be established under the agreement of the organised will of the people."

Having forgotten the latter condition (perhaps due to the fact that the Rada was preparing to discuss the question directly with Crimea and not with Russia), the Russian Sovnarkom insisted in their discussions with the Germans that the territories under consideration in their talks should include only those named in the Third Universal. On March 29, 1918, the German Foreign Ministry replied to a memorandum received from the Russian People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs on March 26:

"The final establishment of borders between Russia and Ukraine must receive attention in a Russo-Ukrainian treaty of peace, which the Russian Government is obligated to conclude immediately according to the peace treaty it concluded with us and our allies. The German Imperial Government, in accordance with the proclamation of the Ukrainian Central Rada, maintains that the following nine guberniias belong to Ukraine: Volyn, Podillia, Kherson, Tauriia (without Crimea), Kyiv, Poltava, Chernihiv, Katerynoslav and Kharkiv. It would also be worth adding sections of the Kholm guberniia, that have been imparted to Ukraine in adherence to treaties concluded by our allies with it. " [34]

The note, while not part of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, touches on a final settling of the territorial question between Russia and Ukraine. The Rada continued to insist on a final regulation of the territorial problem. Russia, on the other hand, had at this time sent its own emissaries to attempt to convince Crimea to separate from Ukraine.

Having no significant cadres from which to gain support (while financially supported by Petrograd to the sum of 49 million rubles), the emissaries formed a Central Committee of local Soviets in Tauriia and on 19 March 1918, proclaimed a Soviet Socialist Tauride Republic. The new leadership claimed its jurisdiction over Ukrainian territory as well. The Russian Sovnarkom quickly announced the establishment of official relations with the new 'republic'. Three days later the Tauride government corrected its earlier mistake by renouncing its claims to the Dnipro, Melitopil and Berdians'k regions of Ukraine. According to the 1897 census, the population of the Dnipro region was 73% Ukrainian, while that of the Melitopil and Berdians'k regions was 59% and 54% respectively.

The Tauride Republic lasted for one month and was dissolved by the Tatars on 30 April 1918. The Russian Sovnarkom realised by then that it had erred in pursuing the separation of Tauriia from Ukraine. The Tauride government had no support from the local population and was, therefore, doomed from the start. The logical course would have been to allow the people to decide for themselves; but the Sovnarkom knew that the people would not decide in Russia's favour. Thus, it decided to convince the local population that it was being represented by its own and changed the identities of the emissaries to make them appear Ukrainian. S. Ordzhonikidze wrote to Lenin on 14 March 1918 that it was necessary to "immediately create a unified defensive front from Crimea to Great Russia, engage our villagers and decisively and unconditionally change our face in Ukraine. This is our immediate task. Antonov must be prohibited from using the name Antonov-Ovsienko, and must only use Ovsienko. The same can be said of Muravyov (if he remains in his position) and others.

"Please tell comrades Vasylchenko, Zhakov and others that no matter how they plot to separate their region from Ukraine, it will, judging from Vynnychenko's geography, be included into Ukraine and the Germans will fight for it." [35]

A chief of the Austrian Foreign Ministry Headquarters wrote:

"The road to the East is through Kyiv, Ekaterynoslav and Sevastopil, since this is where ties to Batumi and Trapesund begin. In my opinion Germany intends to leave Crimea behind as its colony in one form or another. They will never let the rich Crimean Peninsula slip out of their hands." [36]

The Germans indeed did capture Crimea in the Spring of 1918. The note of a German diplomatic representative to the RSFSR, Mirbach, indicates that on 3 May 1918 the Russian Commissariat of Foreign Affairs was informed that "the Imperial Government will bestow full right to the self-determination proclaimed by the Russian government, and foresees that the question of Crimea, which until the present belonged to the Tauride guberniia, will become the subject of a Russo-Ukrainian treaty." [37]

At a meeting of representatives from the Imperial Government and Kaiser Wilhelm lI's Supreme Central Command it was also stated that "Great Russia and Ukraine are presently each laying claims to Crimea. Agreement between the two on this question is as impossible as on the question of borders. Order, in the most extreme case, must be imposed. Bolshevik criminals are still roaming free there. We cannot do justice indirectly. The population is not able to form a government. General Sul'kevych is ready to rule the country in conjunction with us." [38]

General Sul'kevych formed a Crimean government on 17 June 1918. Like his predecessors he was unfamiliar with the conditions present in Crimea and regardless of his ethnic ties to the local population (he was a Lithuanian Tatar), Sul'kevych found support from the people of Crimea. He was able to install himself in power only with the help of a handful of Tatars when he appealed to the German government for help in transforming Crimea into an independent Tatar Khanate. This appeal was received by Germany on 21 July 1918. However, the population of Crimea openly supported and pursued a renewal of political, economic and socio-cultural ties with Ukraine.

Railworkers in Ukraine and Crimea organised a strike in July 1918. The Russian press increasingly began writing of the people of Crimea as peasants of southern Ukraine. A plenary meeting of the UKP(b) Central Committee on 8 September 1918 issued an order to the Odessa party obkom: "Tour Crimea, help organise a Crimean Conference, and give every encouragement to our Crimean comrades, including financial aid." [39] According to an order of the RKP(b) Central Committee from October 1918, the Crimean party organisation was made a part of the Ukrainian party structure as a provincial party. Thus delegates from Crimea were present at the UKP(b) Second Congress WhiCh took place from 17-22 October 1918.

There were also connections to organs of Soviet power in Ukraine. For example, the Ukrainian Sovnarkom invited Crimean representatives to a meeting of Ukrainian provincial government leaders in March 1918. These contacts continued even during the period of German occupation. Furthermore, the inability of the pro-German Sul'kevych government to foil attempts at renewing Crimean-Ukrainian ties became greater and greater.

Following the liberation of Crimea from German occupation, on 14-15 November a Russian Kadet/SRlMenshevik/ government was formed. However, this government lasted only a very short time.

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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-09.html

Copyright © 1992 Volodymyr G. Butkevych

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