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Guide to Crimea

Tensions escalated when armed, masked men appeared at the Simferopol and Belbek airports in Crimea.

Tensions escalated when armed, masked men appeared at the Simferopol and Belbek airports in Crimea.

The focus of the crisis in Ukraine has turned to Crimea, a region that seldom comes under the spotlight of the international community.

What is Crimea, and why is it important? Here is a quick look.

What is Crimea?

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Crimea is an autonomous republic in Ukraine that shares the same boundaries as the Crimean Peninsula, which sits on the Black Sea. The region has seen waves of occupation by powers such as the Byzantine Empire, the Mongol Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union.

In 1853, the Crimean War began. Russia and the Ottoman Empire fought for three years. Russia lost, but Crimea remained part of Russia.

After the October Revolution ended the Russian Empire in 1917, Crimea was briefly an independent state before the Russian civil war. Crimea eventually became an administrative region of Russia.

During World War II, Crimea was occupied by Nazi Germany. The Red Army retook Crimea in 1944. Russia deported all Crimean Tatars, who had been living there for centuries. Tartars were not allowed to return until the end of Soviet Union.

In 1954, Soviet Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine as a “gift.” By 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, many expected Crimea to be returned to Russia, but it never was.

In 1991, 54 percent of the population in Crimea voted in favor of independence from Russia. Crimea remained part of Ukraine as a result, but with independent constitution and legislature. In 1997, Ukraine and Russia signed a treaty that allowed Russia to keep its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.

Source: Adam Talyor, the Washington Post

Who lives there?

Almost 60 percent of the population is ethnic Russian. Ukrainians account for 24 percent.

Why has it become the center of Ukraine-Russia relations?

The area is of strategic importance and serves as home to Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet. The region is also a special place in the imagination of Russian society. A professor at the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies told NPR it has served as a destination for summer vacations and health visits.

“When Russians think of an imaginary map of Russian space, Crimea is part of that map.”

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, told Parliament that the situation in Ukraine was putting at risk the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel, the Associated Press reports.

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