From Siberia to Crimea: The Revenge of History in U.S.-Russian Relations

Russian army troops rehearse before the World War II anniversary in Moscow

One is tempted to conclude that the Washington foreign-policy establishment has learned little over the past century.

US public opinion was generally pro-Russian during the Crimean War … There was a general sympathy for the Russians as an underdog fighting against England, the old imperial enemy, as well as a fear that if Britain won the war against Russia it would be more inclined to meddle once again in the affairs of the United States. … Commercial contracts were signed between the Russians and the Americans. A US military delegation (including George B. McClellan …) went to Russia to advise the army. American citizens sent arms and munitions to Russia … American volunteers went to Crimea to fight or serve as engineers on the Russian side. Forty US doctors were attached to the medical department of the Russian Army.

The above American inclination to take Russia’s ownership of Crimea rather seriously “way back when,” points to the peculiarity that exists today of basing U.S. strategy in Eurasia (and other parts of the world) on contesting Russia’s claim to that blood-soaked peninsula in the Black Sea. Never mind that everyone knows that the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 gave over Crimea to the Ukraine SSR as a rather meaningless gesture with obviously unintended consequences. It might further be recalled that Russia first acquired Crimea in the same year, 1783, that marked the end of the American Revolution. To put it bluntly, Russians have controlled Crimea for quite a long while now and are extremely unlikely to give it up, so let’s neither hold our breath, nor premise our strategy on absurdly ahistorical, neo-liberal premises. European security specialists have much more pressing issues to address obviously, including primarily the refugee crisis and terrorism. A more thorough knowledge of history could help American policymakers draft more responsible policies to stop the “free fall” in U.S.-Russian relations that now imperils Ukraine, Europe and the entire world.

Lyle J. Goldstein is Professor of Strategy in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. You can reach him at [email protected]. The opinions in his columns are entirely his own and do not reflect the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.

Image: Reuters

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