guest post by Tom Klonoski
On March 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law several bills that completed Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The annexation is vigorously opposed by Ukraine, the country from which Crimea was taken, as well as by many Western nations. Some of these nations have implemented economic sanctions against Russia, and Russia has replied in kind.
The result is one of the most significant international conflicts this decade. Because of the major impact the situation will have on U.S. foreign policy and the world economy, among other things, it is well worth teachers’ efforts to create a lesson plan for use in the final weeks of the school year.
The Crimea conflict has deep historical roots, which include the Crimean War of 1853-1856. Russia went to war with the Ottoman Empire purportedly to protect Orthodox Christians from oppression by their Turkish Muslim rulers. Britain and France joined the war on the side of the Ottomans after early Russian victories. A successful siege of a Russian garrison at Sevastopol led to a peace treaty in which Russia agreed to move its warships out of the Black Sea. The Crimean War was also notable for Florence Nightingale’s improvements in field hospitals and for Lord Tennyson’s commemorative poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
After the Russian Revolution, Crimea became part of the Russian Federative Socialist Republic. It was occupied by Nazi Germany during part of World War II. After Crimea was recaptured by the Soviet Union, Premier Nikita Khrushchev made it part of Ukraine in 1954. Khrushchev was a native of Ukraine and wished to make a gesture marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s absorption into Russia in 1654.
The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in the independence of Ukraine and a severing of ties between Crimea and Russia. Tensions ensued due to Crimea’s having a majority of ethnic Russians in its population. In addition to the minority population of Ukrainians, there is also a sizable population of Tatars, a Muslim ethnic group.
Crimea’s naval base makes it of key military importance in the Black Sea and surrounding region. As Russia recovered after its economic collapse in the 1990s, it slowly began to reassert its influence in surrounding countries that were former Soviet republics. Ukraine’s large ethnic Russian population made it fertile ground for Vladimir Putin to forcefully restore Russian involvement. When Ukrainians rose up against pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and formed a new government, Putin declared the government to be illegitimate. Pro-Russian militias, perhaps including some masked Russian troops, took control of Crimea. A referendum was held and it was announced that 96 percent of the Crimean voters favored leaving Ukraine and joining Russia. Russian annexation followed, shortly after the entry of large numbers of Russian troops.
ADDITIONAL TEACHING RESOURCES
Philadelphia middle school teacher Diane Laufenberg, in a blog post, identified these excellent resources for background on the crisis in the Crimea:
• Historical perspective from National Public Radio
• In-depth look at ethnic tensions by National Geographic in 2011
SUGGESTED CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
• Have students create a map of the Crimean Peninsula, showing its location relative to Russia and Ukraine. One possible resource is from the New York Times.
• Have small groups discuss ways of settling the dispute in Crimea. Ask them to prepare for discussion by reading recent news articles and taking notes.
• Present the class with materials detailing the economic sanctions that Western nations have put in place against Russia. Ask students if they think the sanctions will be effective in stopping Soviet expansion. Encourage to suggest additional measures that could be taken and to provide support for their views. Visit this site for details about sanctions.