Vladimir the Great
Wednesday, Apr 02, 2014 06:00 am
When I was a boy, we honoured the soldiers of the Crimean War (1853-56) on November 11. We don’t do that any more. Still, the first Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross was Lieutenant Alexander Dunn of the 11th Hussars who was honoured for his valour in the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. This was also the war that brought us Florence Nightingale.
And now Crimea is back in the news – a peninsula on the north side of the Black Sea and the southernmost province of what was, from 1954 until the breakup of the USSR, the southernmost province of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
But even then, Russia’s involvement with Crimea dates back further – to the reigns of Peter the Great and his second wife Catherine II when she annexed Crimea and nearby provinces of Eastern Ukraine from the Ottoman Empire in 1803. She and her husband had become the protectors of Orthodox Christians and used this as the reason for invading the weakening Turkish empire.
The drive to expand the boundaries of Russia was advanced again, after a half century of peace in Europe, by Czar Nicholas. He decided to protect Orthodox Christians by occupying Constantinople and advanced to take over Turkey north of the Danube.
This threatened the trade routes to India. England, France and Austria reacted to protect the Ottoman Empire. Czar Nicholas retreated but it was easier to let loose the dogs of war than to catch and kennel them again. An army of 200,000 of different nationalities with no ground to fight on decided to take over the Crimean peninsula as a barrier to further Russian adventures.
Thus began the Crimean War in 1853 – a war fought by all parties without taking thought of how armies were to be fed, clothed, warmed or cared for. A war of death and starvation waged by divided and incompetent leaders. The English armies had been trained behind barrack walls and were slow and deliberate in battle. The French armies had been trained on parade and counted on flair and speed for victory. The Austrians provided bodies without leadership. The Russians were armed primarily with obstinate courage.
Nobody was winning and it wound down 1856 with the Treaty of Paris where the only firm result was the banning of the Russian Navy from the Black Sea. This lasted only 15 years. In October 1921, Crimea became an autonomous state under the Russian Federation until being placed under Ukrainian political control in 1954.
And now, we start Russian expansion again. This time the clarion cry is to protect all Russian-speaking citizens of neighbouring countries – the former member states of Czar Peter the Great’s rule.
Only this time we don’t have to deal with Pete, Cathy, Nick or Josef Stalin. We have to deal with President Vladimir Putin – Vlad the Great – armed with oil and gas, a citizenry yearning for returned greatness, and an obedient court of subservient oligarchs.
There is a much bigger game at play than Crimea. We have a corrupt, bankrupt and culturally split Ukraine, a vacillating Europe, a chatty U.S. president and a fired-up but politically and economically unimportant Canadian prime minister.
Let’s have another Treaty of Paris and move on.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.