Olena Snigyr: More than a territory: Crimea in the policy of historical memory of the Russian Federation

Photo by https://ru.krymr.com/a/27332720.html

Candidate of Political Scineces,
Head of the Department of Informational and Analytical Support
of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance

Crimea has traditionally been the object of increased attention from Russian politicians and political scientists, but since 2014, the topic of Crimea, without exaggeration, has taken a special place in Russia’s public information space and scientific discourse. The number of publications about Crimea by Russian scientists in various fields has multiplied (Vilkov, 2019).

Scientific discourse is exactly the sphere where political ideas, narratives, and interpretations are tested, finally legitimised, and become society’s collective knowledge. Therefore, studying the work of Russian scholars can complement our understanding and knowledge of the Russian government’s plans and intentions and the readiness of Russian society to accept them.

Crimea as an outpost of the Soviet heritage

Today, the exceptional attention of Russian society to the topic of Crimea can only compete with the focus on the topic of “victory in the Great Patriotic War.”

According to opinion polls[1], the proportion of those who consider the “accession” of Crimea the right decision remains consistently high despite the deterioration in the overall quality of life due to sanctions. Citizens of the Russian Federation retain a “special” attitude to Crimea and its role in Russian history.

From the point of view of Russian researchers, such a “special” attitude of the Russians to Crimea is due to two fundamental circumstances:

  1. Crimea “not only physically “contains” several mythologems that have symbolic significance for Russian history and collective identity but also becomes a symbol of the fact that Russia has succeeded historically” and thus fits into the theoretical framework of Pierre Nora’s concept of “sites of memory” (Barash, 2018, p. 132). Today, the image of Crimea has absorbed most of the unifying historical narratives for the Russians and has become for them a proof of the Russian government’s readiness to follow the declared values ​​of state greatness and Russia’s special path.

  2. For a modern Russian identity, Crimea acts as a cultural frontier. Thus, the Russians perceive Crimea not only as a symbol of a naval outpost for protecting the empire’s borders but also as an outpost of the Soviet (cultural) heritage (Barash, 2018, pp. 133-134).

Crimea has also become an ideal tool for the Russian government in its search for a unifying value base for Russian society. According to Russian researchers, even today, there is a lack of “social capital” in Russian society – those moral norms and social institutions that build up trust and form the foundation of the socio-political system (Pakhalyuk, 2018, p.8-9). As early as 2007, opinion polls revealed a lack of ideology, collective goals, and interests that could unite the Russians, as well as the fact that most Russians cited events and achievements in Soviet history as a source of national pride (Barash, 2018, p. 123).

"Patriotic education" of Crimean youth. Photo: sev.gov.ru

The results of opinion polls conducted in the southern regions of Russia[2] in 2016 fit well into the overall picture. They lead researchers to the conclusion that Russian patriotism is of “the state and statist type, based on military and mobilisation patriotic practices,” and that “mythologising and glorification of patriotism due to the mechanism of its reproduction through the actualisation of historical memory and the construction of the population’s historical consciousness grounded in the heroic events of the past” takes place in public policy (Vereshchagina, 2018, p. 62). That said, this situation is typical of the whole country, not just of its southern regions (Lubsky, 2019).

The results of the 2016 polls also show that commitment to the values ​​of civil society, such as, above all, civil rights and freedoms, is shown by the smallest number of respondents (Vereshchagina, 2018). Thus, the adaptation of liberal and democratic norms and principles would require a radical change in the system of socio-political relations in Russia, which could cause even greater shocks and crises than those experienced by the country in the 1990s. Russia’s need for self-preservation in its current viable socio-political form requires that its political and intellectual elite seek and inculcate unifying values into the society, which would be accepted by the majority of citizens while being sufficiently different from the values of the liberal-democratic world to confidently declare that Russia is following a special civilisational path of development.

The military dimension of the Russians’ historical memory


The analysis of speeches by representatives of the Russian ruling elite and analytical and scientific publications on the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea confirms that the Russian political and intellectual elite has made a values choice in favour of state-centrism, in which the state is the highest value, and service to the state is the most dignified form of human behaviour. At the same time, according to Russian scholars, since 2012, Russia has been looking for a values resource mostly in its past (Pakhalyuk, 2018, p. 8-9).

The Russian government’s choice of historical memory as a source of and foundation for values is explained not only by the sentiments in Russian society but also by the need to quickly legitimise aggressive foreign policy in the face of the inevitable confrontation with the West.

Virtually the entire legitimising discourse on the occupation and annexation of Crimea is built through references to the past and the presentation of this event as a correction of historical injustice (Address of the President, 2014) and previously committed illegal acts (Baghdasaryan, 2014; Velyaminov, Voznesenskaya & Kurbanov, 2019).

As Russia’s official historical narrative is still being constructed, the semiotic space of Russia’s past with Crimea as its integral part is being created mainly through performing acts of the Russian government (such as speeches, statements, state commemorative events) and, above all, by the Russian president. After all, it is Putin who “in modern Russia is a figure having real authority and symbolic capital to define and consolidate the foundations of the Russian political system” and to “establish a common interpretative framework” (Pakhalyuk, 2018, p. 14). Such interpretative frameworks are being set both for the recent events of the 20th and 21st centuries and for the more distant past.

Thus, the historical continuity of the relationship between Crimea and Russia is marked by the narratives that are significant from the perspective of state-building and military past:

  • the baptism of Prince Volodymyr in Chersonesus is presented as a symbol of Russia’s succession to Byzantium and as a symbol of the state act that laid the foundations for future Russian statehood;

  • the goal of the military contests for Crimea in the 18th century was to strengthen Russia’s presence in the Black Sea and gain the right to enter the Mediterranean, and the peninsula itself is seen as a “fair trophy”;

  • the Russians associate Crimea in the 20th century primarily with hostilities and casualties during World War II, and therefore the peninsula is closely linked to the historical narrative of the Great Patriotic War and victory.

Thus, with regard to Crimea, the interpretative (or values) framework of historical memory is set by the Russian authorities in two dimensions: consolidating Crimea’s role as an important part of the idea of ​​the continuity of the millennial history of Russian statehood; consolidating the role of Crimea as a symbol of Russia’s victory and the restoration of historical justice.

To transform ideas about the historical past and its interpretations into a part of the collective identity of the Russians, it is necessary not only to legalise them in the national legal system of the Russian Federation but also to substantiate and legitimise them in scientific discourse. It is the work of scholars on substantiating and confirming the proposed narratives that makes these narratives an integral part of Russia’s socio-political identity.

While historians play a major role in the scientific legitimising of Crimea as an important part of the millennial continuity of Russian statehood, lawyers and political scientists – whose task is to form a holistic legitimising narrative to substantiate the legitimacy of the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation – are largely involved in the dimension of “restoring historical justice.”

They work with the period of historical/collective memory, in which international law plays a major role in legitimising the actions of a state, and their efforts to legitimise and legalise the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia are simultaneously solving the problem of constructing a historical narrative of modern events for the collective memory of future generations.

The form and style of substantiation of the authorities’ doctrinal position by most Russian scholars are criticised by some of their colleagues (Savitsky, 2017; Issaeva, 2017). “After the annexation of Crimea, the Russian community of lawyers did not manage to remain outside mainstream political trends and dictates of the authorities and did not offer its own critical view” (Issaeva, 2017, p. 92). In particular, it is noted that the main purpose of such interpretations and justifications is “to create the effect of emotional impact on the audience rather than substantiate the position with verified facts.” The researcher also points to the similarity between the modern Russian method of using emotional rather than scientific arguments and that of Soviet scientists (Issaeva, 2017).


“Justice” and “truth,” “mother” and “stepmother,”
and other methods of constructing Russian historical memory


The leitmotif of the Crimean theme in the Russian policy of historical memory is the concepts of “justice”[3] and “truth.” Russian scholars look at them differently when referring to different historical periods. In the context of modern events, the interpretation of international law is adjusted to these concepts.

The use of the “truth” concept in the Kremlin’s official rhetoric deserves special attention. According to De Lazari, Farino, and Isupov, “truth” is understood in Russian culture as a synthesis of law and justice, law and morality. In this sense, “‘truth’ is the highest expression of justice that is inherent in Russian civilization” and is opposed to “law as a limited expression of justice that is inherent in Western civilization” (Ryabov, 2016, p. 72).

Referring to remote historical times, the “justice” of Russia’s ownership of Crimea is being justified by the duration of its ownership of the peninsula, its sacred significance for the Russian state and spirituality, and the blood shed for this territory. The historical narrative of the continuity of Russian statehood since the baptism of Volodymyr the Great in Crimea turns further contests for Crimea into Russia’s “fair” desire to keep “what rightly belongs to it,” which naturally reinforces the military dimension of historical memory. Therefore, it is logical that in studying the preconditions for the “return” of Crimea to Russia, a prominent place in Russian scientific discourse is given to the historical background (Vilkov, 2019). This is, first of all, the military background: military glory gained during the wars for Crimea in the 18th century, stories of heroism and sacrifice of the Great Patriotic War, and so on.

Designating “19 April, the Day of the accession of Crimea, Taman, and Kuban into the Russian Empire (1783),” as a memorial day by Putin on 3 August 2018 is symptomatic in this context.

This not only emphasises that Crimea is an “integral part of Russia” but also demonstrates the historical continuity with the policies of the Russian Empire (Gigauri, 2018, p. 216). 

The dominance of military issues in Russian political, social, and scholarly discussions about history is caused by the instrumentalisation of history: “All discussions about the past do not concern history, but rather ideas about the desired (ideal) political system” (Pakhalyuk, 2018, p. 23). The emotional component is heavily involved: rhetorical techniques, comparisons, the use of images and symbols that are significant for society. The emotional and symbolic components of historical discourse, the “securitisation” of historical themes,[4] and the consolidation of the relationship between historical narratives and the security of the country[5] severely limit opportunities for discussing historical narratives that do not fit into the doctrinal framework.

The doctrinal form of Russian historical discourse on Crimea aims to legitimise the illegal annexation of the peninsula by Russia and extends to all historical periods. As expected, the greatest emphasis is placed on the 20th century, the period after the collapse of the USSR, and the year 2014. Historical narratives about Crimea are being constructed for at least three target audiences: domestic Russian, Crimean, and foreign. The story of inseparable ties with Russia and the rationale for Russia’s policy and actions towards Crimea and Ukraine in 2014 and nowadays are presented to each of these audiences, taking into account the nature of the consumer.

When working with Russian society (the domestic audience), socio-political unity on the Crimean narrative is achieved by providing a certain amount of collective knowledge about the common past within the interpretative framework set by the Russian authorities (including through institutional tools and promotional resources of a historical memory policy[6]) and by constructing the corresponding scientific discourse supported by emotional and ethical arguments.

Photo: Meridian Sevastopol

In this context, certain rhetorical and comparative techniques used in the Russian public space deserve attention. In addition to the above-mentioned terms “truth” and “justice,” the symbol of the mother is widely used, which should strengthen the ethical arguments by showing the inseparable link between Russia and Crimea and emphasising Russia’s duty to protect the peninsula. According to J. Moss, the use of the mother image is considered a traditional method of military propaganda, designed to convince of the purity of a state’s intentions and the just nature of the war on its part (Ryabov, 2016, p. 84).

Russian researchers also point out that the use of the motherland image more closely linked Russia’s policy towards Ukraine to the images of the Great Patriotic War and explained this policy by the need to protect the memory of the heroes and legacy of the Great Victory. Along with the image of “mother Russia,” the image of “Ukraine-stepmother” was also used, which aimed to delegitimise Ukraine’s right to Crimea due to its “bad, unjust” treatment of the peninsula as part of Ukraine (Ryabov, 2016, p. 84).

Crimea’s strong emotional, semantic, and associative connection with the narrative of the victory in the Great Patriotic War in the collective memory of the Russians explains the popularity of using the terms such as “fascists,” “Nazis,” and the “fascist regime” in relation to the Ukrainians, the Ukrainian authorities, and the Ukrainian state. This terminology is also being disseminated by the Russian side among foreign audiences and is part of the Kremlin’s broader disinformation campaign aimed at delegitimising the 20th-century Ukrainian liberation movement and the forces resisting Russia in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war.

Researchers note that similar rhetorical techniques were used for Soviet propaganda. For example, the events in Hungary and the Czech Republic during the Hungarian and Prague springs were called by the USSR “fascist coups” organised by “reactionary and fascist elements.” Russia’s “failed state” rhetoric about Ukraine is, in fact, a replica of German rhetoric about Poland on the eve of World War II, and the description of “Russian non-interference” in the “civil conflict in Ukraine” is very similar to “Russian non-interference” in the “Finnish civil conflict” in 1939-1940 (Issaeva, 2017, p. 92).

The Crimeans is a separate target audience for Russian scientific and public discourse. Its separation from other target audiences is explained not only by the fact that it would be incorrect to consider the Crimean community a domestic Russian one but also by the fact that, according to Russian scholars, this community requires a special approach and close attention in the context of achieving socio-political unity on the “Crimean narrative.”

There are two formative factors for the Crimean community:

  1. The passionarity and disloyalty of the Crimean Tatar community. At present, Russian scholars can only state that there are no quick and effective tools to influence this community, except for the depoliticisation of the Crimean Tatar factor through the means of socio-economic influence.

  2. The fact that the population of Crimea was in the sphere of political, information, and educational influence of Ukraine in 1991-2014.

Having said that, Russian scholars do not assess the second factor as one that has led to critical world-view differences between the Crimean population and citizens of the Russian Federation as of 2014. According to their analysis, in 2014, Crimean society largely retained the Soviet mentality and values, and the Crimean urban space, the peninsula’s memorials, and sites of memory combined a legacy of the heroism of the Russian Empire soldiers and “military service to the Soviet homeland” (Barash, 2018, p. 134).

Crimean scholars hold a similar opinion on the significance of the influence of the Soviet and Russian toponymy on the preservation of the “Crimean regional identity” while being part of Ukraine. Their thesis is that “the Ukrainian policy of memory came into conflict with the collective memory of the Crimeans, whose unchanged attitude towards the events of the Great Patriotic War allowed delegitimising opponents who idealised the image of ‘fascists,’ ‘the Banderites’” (Khlevov, Latysheva & Chigrin, 2019).

Despite the alleged overwhelming loyalty of Crimean society to Russian historical narratives, declared by Russian and Crimean researchers, the Russian government is changing the demographic composition of the Crimean population by implementing a programme to relocate Russian citizens to the peninsula. The Kremlin and representatives of pro-government scientific discourse regard the inhabitants of the occupied peninsula, in particular the Crimean Tatars, with distrust, which is expressed in certain interpretations and emphasis on the specifics of inter-ethnic relations when describing the Soviet and post-Soviet periods of Crimean history (Khlevov, Latysheva & Chigrin, 2019; Vilkov, 2019):

  • the focus on the destructive role of the Crimean Tatars as collaborators during World War II and the source of the possible spread of international terrorism today;

  • the denial of the ethnic nature of Stalin’s repression;

  • the emphasis on the growth of inter-ethnic contradictions during the period when Crimea was part of the Ukrainian SSR and later in Ukraine, on Kyiv’s policy contributing to it, and Ukraine’s use of the Crimean Tatar factor to incite inter-ethnic hostility;

  • the focus on the common interest of Ukraine, the Mejlis, and international terrorist organisations in the spread of terrorism in Crimea after 2014. The emphasis on the illegitimacy of the Mejlis and the heterogeneity of the Crimean Tatar community;

  • the accent on the stabilising role of the Russian government’s policy of depoliticising the ethnic factor.

The peculiarities of Russia’s presentation of the ethnopolitical factor in the history of Crimea and addressing this issue today make clear the Russian authorities’ further intentions to permanently deprive the Crimean Tatars of their political identity and instil in the Crimean Tatar population the idea of the role and place of their people according to the general “(great) Crimean historical narrative” approved by the Kremlin.

“The great Russian Crimean narrative”:
The framework is set, the roles are defined


We can state that the “great Russian Crimean narrative” has already been constructed. At present, Russian scholars, media, and politicians are consolidating it in historical memory of Russian, Crimean (including Crimean Tatar), and foreign audiences. Some significant smaller narratives, which are part of a larger one and which, as envisioned by the Russian authorities, should create the collective knowledge about the events related to the illegitimate annexation of Crimea and their context, are presented below.

The narrative about the illegitimacy of Ukrainian claims to Crimea is constructed from the following theses:

  1. The decision to transfer Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR on 19 February 1954 is null and void due to violation of the statutory legislative procedure of the USSR, violation of the provisions of the Constitutions of the Crimean ASSR, the RSFSR, and the USSR, and approval of the decision under Khrushchev’s pressure (Velyaminov, Voznesenskaya & Kurbanov, 2019).

It should be noted that the argument about the nullity of the 1954 decision is not new to Russian political and legal thought: an identical assessment was given by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation on 21 May 1992[7]. It is also important to note that the construction of the Russian doctrinal narrative requires formal compliance with the law, albeit within Russia’s peculiar interpretative framework of the terms “truth” and “justice.” Therefore, for example, formally recognising the absence of territorial claims to Ukraine, the Russian side leaves in the above-mentioned resolution the provision on the expression of the will of the Crimean population as a basis for resolving the Crimean issue between the two states.

  1. After the collapse of the USSR, the population of Crimea “constantly, systematically, and peacefully demonstrated their desire to separate from Ukraine.” As Crimea’s struggle for independence and reunification with Russia did not end, the events of 2014 were the “logical conclusion” of all previous processes (Velyaminov, Voznesenskaya & Kurbanov, 2019).

  2. The causes of Crimean “separatism” should be sought in two dimensions (Savitsky, 2017):
    a) in Ukraine’s policy towards Crimea: for 23 years as part of Ukraine, the peninsula has faced “economic degradation, corruption, ethnocide (destruction of the national values of the Crimeans)”;
    b) in the unsatisfactory economic and political situation in Ukraine, the population’s distrust of Ukraine’s ruling elite (including under Yanukovych), the growing influence of nationalist extremism and uncontrolled violence in Ukraine.

  3. During the events in Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian statehood lost its legitimacy (Savitsky, 2017; Brega, 2020). This idea was expressed by Putin in March 2014, and Russian scholars supported it and tried to argue that at that time, there was no political entity in Ukraine with which to talk about Crimea; therefore the only entity with whom it was possible to do was “the people of Crimea.” As a result of the “coup,” a “smaller state” was formed in Ukraine, since not all citizens wanted to live in this state and under new political conditions.

The narrative of the free choice of the Crimean people and the legitimacy of the 2014 Crimean referendum and its consequences is based on the following arguments:

  1. Appeal to the right to self-determination. According to Russian lawyers, Crimea had the right to self-determination due to its autonomous republic status (i.e. the one where self-governance is exercised), which was enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine and the Constitution of Crimea, as well as under the norms of international law: the UN Charter, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, and the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 (Velyaminov, Voznesenskaya & Kurbanov, 2019).
  2. The referendum, as well as all other processes on the peninsula, took place in peaceful conditions: there were no threats of “use of force” or aggressive action by the Russian Federation. The Russian military was there legally, and no shots were fired. Most Ukrainian troops joined the Russian/Crimean military, while others were allowed to leave Crimea (Velyaminov, Voznesenskaya & Kurbanov, 2019).
  3. The results of the referendum reflect the will of the majority. This is confirmed by the results of opinion polls (Kirsanova & Pankratov, 2016).
  4. Crimea seceded from Ukraine in violation of Ukrainian law. However, the peninsula received this right because a coup d’etat took place in Ukraine, constitutional provisions were violated, and an emergency developed (civil war and threat to the lives of the Crimeans). All of the above did not allow the referendum to be held without increased security measures (presence of Russian troops) (Brega, 2020).
  5. Crimea had no legal obstacles to secession from Ukraine as the Constitution of Ukraine had already lost its legal force at that time due to the Ukrainian authorities’ actions (Baghdasaryan, 2014).
  6. As a result of the referendum, the independent state the Republic of Crimea was formed, which later united with the Russian Federation. Thus, in 2014, secession rather than annexation took place. The two independent states united (Brega, 2020). Therefore, Russia did not violate the laws of Ukraine and international law (Velyaminov, Voznesenskaya & Kurbanov, 2019). The authors admit that such a violation could have occurred on the part of Crimea, but this statement contradicts their thesis on the irrelevance of the Constitution of Ukraine to Crimea due to the illegality of the 1954 decision.

The problem of conceptual definition of the Russian Federation’s actions in Crimea in 2014 is still the subject of internal Russian discussion. The competition is between descriptive terms such as “accession,” “reunification,” and “return,” but more important is the discussion around the terms of international law: “annexation,” “secession,” and even “Anschluss.” The term “Anschluss” was proposed by Professor A.B. Zubov (2014), for which he was subject to criticism and fired. The term “annexation” is also rejected by most Russian scholars. Moreover, it is noted that in modern Russian speech, this term has acquired a markedly negative connotation, in contrast to the English definition, which sounds more neutral (Issaeva, 2017, p. 91). Thus, the most popular and generally accepted terms for defining Russia’s actions in Crimea in 2014 in Russian pro-government scientific discourse remain “secession” and “accession.”

It should be noted that in the historical and legal argumentation of the legitimacy of Russia’s actions towards Crimea and Ukraine, Russian scholars who strictly adhere to the doctrinal framework set by the Russian authorities demonstrate a selective approach and contradictions in detail. As many Russian lawyers advocating the illegal annexation of Crimea today contradict their own approaches to the interpretation of certain rules of international law before 2014 (Issaeva, 2017, p. 98), it is highly likely that holistic discourse on the legal justification for the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea has not yet been developed.

Creating and promoting a historical narrative about the Crimean events of 2014 and Russia’s policy towards Crimea and Ukraine to the Russian audience solves the problem of the internal consolidation of society. Not much is needed here as Crimea has already occupied a special place in the collective consciousness and historical memory of the Russians. We can even say that the Russian authorities have in some way used this special status of Crimea as a unifying myth to ensure the loyalty of the population.

By contrast, the “Crimean history” (narrative) for a foreign audience should solve a completely different task – to give the legitimacy to the Russian Federation’s actions in the eyes of the international community.

The narrative about the legitimacy and legality of the Russian Federation’s actions contains the following elements:

  1. Crimea’s “accession” to Russia was not a violation of Russia’s international legal obligations to Ukraine. Among other things, the CSCE Helsinki Final Act of 1975 is called irrelevant because it consolidated the political and territorial results of World War II as of 1945 when Crimea was part of the RSFSR. Russia’s breach of its obligations under the Budapest Memorandum is also denied because:

a) the Budapest Memorandum was not ratified by the Russian Federation and therefore had a declarative character;

b) the Russian Federation did not undertake to prevent the secession of part of the territory of Ukraine (Brega, 2020).

  1. Russia had the right (and duty) to make peacekeeping intervention because there was:

a) a direct appeal of the “current and legitimate President of Ukraine Yanukovych for the use of the armed forces to protect the lives, freedom, and health of the citizens of Ukraine”;

b) the appeal of the authorities of the Republic of Crimea to the President of the Russian Federation to “assist in restoring peace in Crimea” (Brega, 2020).

It is necessary to look at the political and legal justification for Russia’s “peacekeeping intervention” in more detail. Russia opposes its framework of “peacekeeping intervention” to the Western one. If the West declares the application of the Response to Protect (R2P) concept to protect individual rights and freedoms and achieve democratic transit through the creation of a liberal-democratic form of the organisation of society, Russia’s doctrine of “responsibility to protect” involves intervention to “restore and preserve a state, which will be capable of fighting terrorism, and the establishment of democratic government” (Tarchokova, 2019, p. 210). The Russian government and scholars who adhere to the Kremlin’s doctrinal framework rely on the R2P concept but adapt it to Russia’s foreign policy needs and interpret it accordingly. To legitimise military intervention in third countries, Russia uses the formula of intervention at the invitation of government officials.

  1. There is no single approach to covering the role of the Russian armed forces in the Crimean events of 2014. For example, Russian lawyers, whose activities are mostly aimed at foreign audiences, firmly adhere to the thesis that the Russian military was on the peninsula and acted exclusively within the framework of bilateral agreements between Russia and Ukraine.

This position of Russian lawyers remains unchanged, although, in April 2014, Putin himself confirmed the use of special forces and the military in Crimea, and Russian diplomacy began to follow the same line (Issaeva, 2017, pp. 101-103). In unison with Russian lawyers, the Russian Military and Historical Society paints a peaceful historical picture of the “accession” of Crimea in its 2014 edition of The History of Crimea. By contrast, some Russian military experts cover the participation of the Russian military in invading Crimea; in particular, they describe in detail some of the difficulties with seizing certain Ukrainian military units (Savitsky, 2017). This dissonance in the assessments of the actions of the Russian armed forces in the Crimean events of 2014 may well be explained by the fact that the Russian authorities fully understand that Russians’ feeling of pride in the army should be reinforced by informing the citizens about its “victories,” even symbolic and “bloodless” ones.

  1. The illegitimacy of the transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954 is also used as an argument for foreign audiences. Russian authors believe that this may affect the legal reassessment of the events of 2014, given that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was “a fundamental change of circumstances,” and the transfer of Crimea became invalid based on the principle of rebus sic stantibus (so long as conditions have not substantially changed) (Velyaminov, Voznesenskaya, Kurbanov, 2019, p. 19).

If a foreign audience agrees with the interpretative framework of Russian scientific discourse, it will legitimise Russia’s actions in the eyes of the international community and thus will remove all the negative consequences from which Russia suffers today as a violator of international law. The international audience is directly identified as a priority for the Russian scientific community. It is important to note that Russian scholars see as their primary task the need to change the perception of Russia by Western states: from the conceptual foundations of historical revisionism and imperialism to the perception of Russia as “the initiator of the international legal compliance movement and the guardian of the international order.” They also note that “potential resources of the instruments for legitimation (of the Russian Federation’s actions) are inexhaustible” (Tarchokova, 2019, p. 213). 

In this regard, it’s noteworthy that Russian politicians and scholars rather quickly stopped explaining Russia’s actions towards Crimea and Ukraine in 2014 by the threat from NATO. The tone of the justifications for the Russian authorities’ decisions has changed radically from “Russia feels threatened and defends itself” to “Russia defends justice and stability” and “Russia is the leader of the new just order.”

It can be said that the topic of Crimea in the policy of the Russian Federation is a special instrument, by using which the Russian government strengthens the factor of historical memory as one that can legitimise its domestic and foreign policy actions (so far, in the eyes of its own population). Russian citizens unequivocally support the illegal annexation of Crimea as an act committed for the sake of “truth,” “justice,” and “memory of the heroic past” – categories that, in the opinion of most Russians, outweigh all other considerations. Such support, in turn, gives these categories a special power – the power to legitimise in the eyes of society other illegal actions if they are interpreted and explained accordingly. The desire of Russian politicians and scholars to make these conceptual approaches acceptable in the field of international relations is part of the general destabilising influence of Russia on the international legal order, considering the ideas and myths that can stem from historical memory.

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[1] The results of opinion polls that in one way or another relate to Crimea show the constant consolidation of the Russians around the topic of “accession” of the peninsula. For example, a survey conducted in December 2018 showed that among the main events uniting the nation, the Russians named the victory in the Great Patriotic War (63%) and the “accession” of Crimea (12%) (The Unity of the Nation, 2018). (Barash, 2018, p. 126). 44% of the Russians consider the “accession” of Crimea to Russia a reason for national pride, which can only be compared with the Russians’ pride in their army – 46% (Barash, 2018, p. 131). The analysis of the trends in the results of opinion polls by the Levada Center shows that the topic of Crimea is viewed by the Russians outside the context of the assessment of the Russian authorities’ actions: The Annexation of Crimea. Press release. 01 April 2019. https://www.levada.ru/2019/04/01/prisoedinenie-kryma/. The Approval of Institutions and Trust in Politicians. Press release. 25 February 2021. https://www.levada.ru/2021/02/25/odobrenie-institutov-i-doverie-politikam/.

[2] Project No. 28.3486.2017 / PCh “Civil patriotism in the formation and development of solidarity practices in the south of Russia: Resource potential and conditions for its implementation” is part of the State Task (the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation).

[3] For example, the term “justice” was used four times in Putin’s Crimean speech and five times in his Valdai speech.

[4] The Criminal Code of the RF, Art. 354.1.

[5] The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation (2015), paragraphs 11, 77, 78.

[6] Such as the Russian Historical Society, the Russian Military and Historical Society, the History of the Fatherland Foundation, the information and promotional resources История.рф, the journal Историк, the multimedia parks project Russia – My History (under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church).

[7] The Resolution of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation “On the legal assessment of the decision of the highest organs of state power of the RSFSR to change the status of Crimea, adopted in 1954.” Moscow, the House of Soviets of Russia. 21 May 1992. No 2809-1 https://docs.cntd.ru/document/901607649

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The Crimean Library section on the blackseanews.net website has been created with the support of the European Program of the International Renaissance Foundation. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the position of the International Renaissance Foundation