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Geopolitics of the Crimean War

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Submitted By apazders
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The Crimean war is one of the most memorable and significant wars fought in 19th century Europe. It was a conflict that affected all of Europe from a geographical standpoint since Russia came to war with Britain, France, and Turkey after the decay of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire called upon the aid of the British and French to help them in repelling the Russians, who wanted to expand their geopolitical interests as well as financial dependence. The result of every war has its winners and casualties, who suffer the consequences of the aftermath. Russia strived to gain territory in its attempt for even greater European conquest, but failed and lost its dominating title and leading position in Europe as well as Asia. The Crimean War is a pertinent historical event that marked Russian attempt to conquer in order to become a dominant hegemony in Europe and where the outcomes of the war geographically changed Europe as well as affected people’s nationalistic/identity beliefs.
Often times named one of the bloodiest battles, yet technologically advanced wars of the nineteenth century; the Crimean war was a vital event in European history. It was a conflict where Russia lost to an alliance of France, the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, after Russia’s attempt to expand commercial and strategic designs as the Ottoman Empire was slowly deteriorating . The fall of the Empire would allow Russia to gain control and obtain the Dardanelles, as well as naval access to the Mediterranean, which was already a pertinent geographic body of water that also had the geostrategic and political interests of the allied countries: France and Britain. Anglo- British along with the French had vast sea power, and wanted to prevent Russia from being a threat, and taking what they believed was their power over trade and naval power in the Mediterranean Sea. The Middle East did not want anything to do with Russia either, and did not want to have the Slavic nation interfering with the Ottoman Empire, which at the time was too weak, and could not and did not want to challenge the allied countries of France and Britain in the Mediterranean.
Russia has always been an imperial country, and has strived to maintain the homogenous title over the centuries. Since the “transformation of the tiny principality of Moscow into a Eurasian empire took place over several centuries, by the end of the seventeenth century Russia had become the largest country in the world” ( Boeck 2004, 1). From the time of Peter I (the Great) Russian geopolitics were clearly defined and Russia intended on modernizing, westernizing, and expanding its territories. Peter the Great, was a true monarch, who not only transformed his government but society as well, by demanding that Russian aristocratic elites adopt everything from the Western culture.
With establishing St. Petersburg in the center, it was meant to serve political and economic ends. Throughout the 18th century, another powerful ruler, Catherine the Great, who declared herself empress of Russia, extended the nation’s borders, acquiring lands from nearby Southern Ukraine as well as Crimea. Under her reign, many wars were won, of those which many included with the Ottoman Empire. The great hegemony was successful in all areas of land, military, as well as economic power, and saw the opportunity to achieve full spectrum dominance. With viewing colonization, it has a distinct geography, which targeted critical locations that would benefit the conquering country. One of these locations was Constantinople; a historic and powerful city that would be advantageous for Russia to conquer. Also, a key economic region was desired, and or fortified places, along with frontier regions that would be vulnerable to anti-Ottoman offensives. Russia longed for greater naval power, which would allow them to have an even greater worldwide impact and political position.
One of the main causes of the emergence of the war was over the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which were greatly controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The Balkan territory was under Ottoman control, where people were being treated poorly; with one of the extreme outcomes of mistreatment was death. As a predominant Christian nation, the French were in favor of promoting Christian rights and beliefs, whereas the Russians favored Eastern Orthodox values and rights. Another cause included the unwillingness of the United Kingdom in permitting Russia in gaining power, as well as Ottoman territory after the decline of the empire. The religious aspect of the conflict resolved itself; however, Napoleon III and Nicholas I of Russia continued to battle and remained on bad terms until a victory was eventually declared from either side.
In terms of geographical location; the war had many battles over the course of the three years around Europe. Fronts were fought in Moldavia, Macedonia, the Caucasus regions, but also “fronts in the Danubian Principalities, the Black Sea, Baltic Sea, The White sea, and the Pacific, and ultimately ended with Ottoman defeat in Karsin in November 1856” ( Kozelsky 2012, 1). The battles were carried out over the three years in different areas (pictured below) that affected the majority of the Balkans region as well as the Caucasus territory over on the Ottoman side. Consequently, Russia lost territory in Moldavia, Wallachia, but eventually acquired a small portion of the Caucasus region.

An important and turning battle of the war was after the allies attacked Russia’s strongest zone in September 1854, located in the Black Sea, Sevastopol, specifically on the Crimean peninsula. The map above shows the path that was taken in order to finally reach Sevastopol. The march took roughly three days, but Britain, France, and Turkey came prepared, and fought a successful battle, followed by smaller ones carried out on the fronts in the Baltic, Caucasus, White Sea, and finally the North Pacific. In response, the Russians attacked a month later as well, which became known as the Battle of Balaclava. They fired another attack, one that was specifically ordered by the Russian czar, but was defeated by the war’s Ottoman governor and general, Omar Pasha.
The battle at Sevastopol came to an end after eleven long months of continuous fighting, and the official end of the war followed with the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on March 30, 1856. The allied powers defeated Russia, who was no longer the dominating country in Europe, and had to abide by newly imposed strict laws/rules that restricted Russia from holding their warships in the Black Sea. Post war, the Balkan region was divided into kingdoms separated from Russia. Some of the territory was given back to Ottomans, and organized so Balkans would have their own kingdoms, and still remain partly under the Russian influence. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean was off limits, and untouchable by Russia. As for the religious solution, the Christian groups were officially granted their rightful right to equality, while the Orthodox Church on the other hand regained control of the Christian churches.
The Crimean War drew importance to the Crimean region, as well as the outcomes of war. Since the 18th century, Sevastopol has been the main place where Russia has had its Black Sea naval base and Crimea (in general) has had great significance. “The most important reason for why Russia had its eye on Crimea for so long is due to the fact that control of Crimea gives Moscow continuing access to the naval base at Sevastopol. It’s natural environment; warm water, extensive infrastructure have given it the title of one of the best existing naval bases on the Black Sea” (Osborn 2014).
Located on the southwestern tip of Crimea, Sevastopol’s geographic location allows for Russia to be present and maintain its power in the area of the Black sea. It also allows for Russia to be present back home and symbolize (stand for) Russian hegemony.It has been noted that half of Crimea’s population consists of Russian-speakers, while the rest of the citizens remain of Ukrainian speakers and people of Tartar decent.

The Crimean war greatly impacted the Russian hegemony and its now present day states that have emerged after the war. Whether due to “ battles, population exchanges, or nationalist movements caused by the war, the present day states of Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, regions such as Crimea and the Caucasus all changed in small or large ways due to this conflict” ( Kozelsky 2012, 1).

Post the Crimean War, nations’ borders were changed and created, which resulted in the emergence of new nationalist values and identity. The map above shows a rather recent statistic taken from the census depicting the number of Russian speakers in present day Ukraine. The greatest amount of Russian native speakers, (which surpassed 60%), is found in the Crimean Autonomous republic as well as Donetsk; the farthest east state in the country. These regions are the most affected due to their geographic placement. The second most populated Russian speaking states, which consist of 30-60% native speakers, follow on the eastern side of the country, which shows the heavy geographic location’s impact. The closer to the east side that these states are, the greater the Russian influence they had, which has been roughly the same for a few hundred years.
Benedict Anderson in his famous piece Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, writes about a new sense of nationalism that emerges as groups of people may reside in the same “community”, but not knows each other directly. The author argues that what brings them together is the unity and identity of the same nation and specifically language. Society can live in “communion”, and even within a small nation, small region, not everyone is going to know each other directly. The community is considered this way since it "is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson 1991, 6).What does unite the people is a common vernacular; spoken and written that eases them in their everyday lives and makes communication an advantage for all. The Crimean war created new borders and ended up with still heavily Russian influenced regions that still remained Russian-speaking. The local dialects in close proximity to each other and Russia are able to communicate and understand each other, and ultimately form a common discourse, which is beneficial and serves the people well.
The war resulted in displaced populations that turned into refugees, who struggled to find their place after the war. An important group that was directly affected and shortly displaced after the war, were the Tartars; a Turkic ethnic group of Asian, Mongol decent. The Russian “government charged the Crimean Tatars with the espionage provocation, betrayed and collaborating with the enemy…following the war, Tatars left in mass emigration of up to 200,000” ( Kozelsky 2008 , 866). These vast groups ultimately relocated to the Ottoman Empire and remained there, where they were protected by the empire.
The war also ended up creating a new sense of religious nationalism, and Orthodoxy was adopted as well as implemented, a new way of religion for the people and culture(s) that would change the region. With the occurring changes, many of the minority groups were caught up in self determination. They were transitioning from Ottoman to Russian culture, and experiencing nationalistic changes; however, the events that were happening in terms of religious transition and conflict with the Christian and Jews was resolved under the Millet System. The Ottoman Millett system favored minority aspirations. The millet system was an effective system in the Ottoman Empire that allowed religious minorities, specifically Christians and Jews to freely practice their own religions. They would still be respectively under their own Christian and Jewish laws, instead of those of the Ottoman Empire. This system worked as an exchange; the Christian and Jews got what they wanted, while the Ottomans in return would receive the minorities’ support, and help if an attack were ever to happen.
The system was successful and fair as it allowed Jews; who have been persecuted and denied their rights in majority of Europe and the Middle East, a place to freely practice and most importantly live their life in the Ottoman land. Christians as well had had the same rights as the Jews in the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan’s ability to negotiate with the leader of the Eastern Orthodox people, served him a great advantage since he got the support during war that he desired, while the people obtained their religious freedom.
Ultimately, the Crimean War was a pertinent historical war that has made its mark in European history. It is considered one of the first modern wars of its time since it was the very first war to be technologically advanced’ as it was photographed and captured on a media device. Russia’s imperial plans as well as naval base in Crimea, made it a desirable conquest for personal benefits, yet was an unfavorable idea for the rest of Europe. The war resulted in the creation of new borders of Eastern, Soviet nations, which also created and implemented a new sense of nationalism to the (new) countries. On the other hand, certain groups were displaced and had to find a new place for settlement. The Crimean war has shaped history for what it is today and has left lasting effects that persist in contemporary European geopolitics.…...

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