By Paul Goble
Vladimir Putin justified his 2014 Anschluss of Ukraine’s Crimea by denouncing Nikita Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR. Now, a backer of restoring the tsarist-era Tauride Gubernia, that united Crimea and what is now southeastern Ukraine, is pointing to a 1955 decision as justification for that.
In recent weeks, many Russian authors have been promoting the idea of restoring the Tauride Gubernia to integrate southeastern Ukraine with Crimea and thus set the stage for its inclusion in the Russian Federation, quite possibly as a model of the gubernization of that entire country (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/04/re-creating-tauride-guberniya-in.html).
Now, Aleksey Baliyev, an analyst at Moscow’s Strategic Culture Foundation, has added a new twist to that argument by recalling that Kyiv changed the border between Crimea and Kherson was changed a year after the transfer of Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR at Russia’s expense (vpoanalytics.com/2022/05/04/tavricheskaya-guberniya-xxi-veka-na-puti-k-vossoedineniyu-kryma-i-hersonshhiny/).
On March 3, 1955, he writes, the Ukrainian SSR transferred two villages from the Dzhankoy district of Crimea to the Genichesk district of Kherson Oblast, something that helped Kyiv send nationalistic Ukrainians from the west and opened the way for Ukraine to put further pressure on Moscow.
That development was not critical as long as Ukraine and Russia were within the borders of a single state, the USSR. But afterwards, it became insupportable, Baliyev says, because it gave Kyiv leverage on Russia, leverage it has retained even after Putin annexed Crimea eight years ago.
In short, the Strategic Culture Foundation analyst is arguing that at least this part of Kherson Oblast must be returned to Crimea now for much the same reason that Crimea had to be returned to the Russia Federation in 2014. That is likely to be a persuasive argument for many in Moscow.
But taking this step has two larger consequences. On the one hand, it reopens Putin’s campaign to amalgamate regions and republics within the Russian Federation. And on the other, it suggests that Moscow is now focusing on reversing other changes in the borders of the RSFSR in Soviet times.
While many in the West have long viewed the union republic borders that became international ones in 1991 as something eternal, in fact, they were changed many times and thus remain neuralgic problems. (On border changes in Soviet times and these dangers, see “Can Republican Borders be Changed?”RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990, pp. 20-21 online at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/borders-in-post-soviet-space-were.html.