In geographic terms, Crimea is a peninsula located on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov; it has a population of nearly 2 million and covers 26,200 square kilometers. It is connected to the European mainland by the Isthmus of Perekop and is less than 10 kilometers from the Russian-controlled Kerch Peninsula. Due to its moderate climate, the area is popular with tourists and has many spas and health resorts. The region was the site of the eponymous Crimean War (1853–1856) and the Yalta Conference during World War II. Politically speaking, the term “Crimea” refers to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, an administrative unit of Ukraine, with its capital at Simferopol.
   Rulers of the Crimean Peninsula have included the Greeks, Persians, Huns, Khazars, Mongols, Genoese, and others. The Crimean Khanate, which was a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, was conquered by the Romanov Empire in the 18th century. During the Soviet period, Nikita Khrushchev transferred control of the region to Ukraine to mark the 300th anniversary of the union between Ukraine and Russia; the region was an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic from 1921 until 1945. Ethnic Russians represent a majority of the population (58 percent); Ukrainians are the second-largest group (24 percent), while Crimean Tatars account for 12 percent of the republic’s populace. The Crimean Tatars were one of the punished peoples of the Soviet Union and were expelled to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many have returned to their ancestral lands, though spatial and economic displacement has resulted in many Tatars turning to crime, creating social problems with other ethnic groups.
   Ukrainian is the republic’s official language, but only one-tenth of the population are native speakers. Spoken by more than threequarters of the population, the Russian language has been granted special status as the language of interethnic communication. Crimean Tatar is a recognized regional language. During the 1990s, the status of Crimea severely complicated relations between Kiev and Moscow. The division of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, which had been based in Sevastopol, between the two countries, proved especially problematic, as was Russia’s continuing use of the city for its naval activities.
   Nationalist politicians in the Russian Federation also used the status of ethnic Russians in Crimea as a populist tool, often inflaming anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. Tensions lessened somewhat during the second Yeltsin administration, following the signing of the 1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Kiev and Moscow. Problems resurfaced in 2005 with disputes over certain properties in and around Sevastopol and Cape Sarych; the situation was not improved by the Kremlin’s discomfort with the effect of Ukraine’s color revolution. Responding to the expansion of UkrainianUnited States military cooperation under Viktor Yushchenko, anti–North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) protests flared in 2006. Distribution of Russian passports to residents of Crimea has also soured relations.
   See also Cossacks; National identity; Turkey.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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