Most Americans don't have a clue what has happened in a place called Crimea, in fact, they don't even know where it is. But, Crimea's location has made it one of the most frequent battlegrounds of empires -- and today is no exception.
A few may remember Crimea through Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Charge of the Light Brigade" about the deaths of almost 600 British soldiers during the 1854 Crimean War as they walked into an ambush immortalized in the infamous words of war...
"Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death,
Rode the six hundred.
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell,
Rode the six hundred."
Most don't remember that in 1941, the Nazis had a 250-day siege of one of Crimea's cities -- Sevastopol -- in which 26,000 were killed, 50,000 wounded and 95,000 taken prisoner. Ultimately, with the defeat of Germany, the Soviet Union regained control of Crimea. Stalin deported 180,000 in 48 hours -- a large part of the Crimean population, Crimean Tatars and others -- to Central Asia and over the years Crimea was repopulated with ethnic Russians. The Soviet government assigned Crimea to the Republic of Ukraine in 1954.
Now, Crimea is in the world's focus with its 2014 people's referendum following the coup against the elected government of the Ukraine which brought to power a right-wing nationalist government supported by the US. United States involvement in the overthrow of the elected government and its aftermath can be traced through the phone call intercepted by Russian government communications spy facilities between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, US Ambassador to the Ukraine. In no uncertain terms, with her now infamous phrase "f*ck the EU," Nuland castigated the EU's lack of efforts to support the Maidan Square events that were leading to the coup. The referendum and annexation are considered as against international law by the US, EU or United Nations.
Despite a U.S. government travel advisory against visiting Crimea, our delegation of 20 persons including 19 Americans and one Singaporean went to see for ourselves what had happened there and to speak with as many persons as we could. Ours was the first international delegation to visit the Crimea from the United States in over two years. Organized through the Center for Citizen Initiatives, our delegation met with government officials, business people, veterans of World War II and the Soviet-Afghan war, students and Crimean Tatars. We spoke with people who voted for reunification with Russia and some who did not.
As much as 80 percent of the population of Crimea went to the polls and 97 percent of them voted to "reunite" with Russia. The Russian Federation formally annexed Crimea six days after the vote. Russia's southern naval fleet is located in Crimea and Russia gave as its rationale for annexing Crimea, the national security necessity to protect the port and fleet from anti-Russian forces.