1954 transfer of Crimea
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The transfer of Crimea in 1954 was an administrative action of the Supreme Soviet which transferred the government of most of the Crimean peninsula from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian SSR.
On 19 February 1954 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union issued a decree transferring the Crimean Oblast from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian SSR. According to the Soviet Constitution (article 18), the borders of a republic within the Soviet Union could not be re-drawn without the agreement of the republic in question. The transfer was approved by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union; however, according to article 33 of the constitution, the Presidium did not have the authority to do so. The constitutional change (articles 22 and 23) to accommodate the transfer was made several days after the decree issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
"Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet transferring the Crimea Province from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR.
Taking into account the integral character of the economy, the territorial proximity and the close economic and cultural ties between the Crimea Province and the Ukrainian SSR, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet decrees:To approve the joint presentation of the Presidium of the Russian SFSR Supreme Soviet and the Presidium of the Ukrainian SSR Supreme Soviet on the transfer of the Crimea Province from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR."
Uncertainty of legitimacy
The question should have been submitted to the open discussion of the Supreme Council of the Russian SSR. Moreover, a referendum should have been conducted to find out the opinion of the residents of the two republics. Nothing of that happened. The Presidium of the Supreme Council gathered for a session on February 19, 1954 - only 13 of 27 members were present. There was no quorum, but the decision was adopted unanimously.
Nina Khrushcheva, the political scientist and great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, the then General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union said of Khrushchev's motivation "it was somewhat symbolic, somewhat trying to reshuffle the centralized system and also, full disclosure, Nikita Khrushchev was very fond of Ukraine, so I think to some degree it was also a personal gesture toward his favorite republic. He was ethnically Russian, but he really felt great affinity with Ukraine." Sergei Khrushchev, Khrushchev's son, claimed that the decision was due to the building of a hydro-electric dam on the Dnieper River and the consequent desire for all the administration to be under one body. Sevastopol in Crimea being the site of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, a quintessential element of Russian and then of Soviet foreign policy, the transfer had the intended effect of binding the Ukraine inexorably to Russia, "Eternally Together", as the poster commemorating the event of 1954 proclaimed (illustration, right).
The transfer was described by some of the Supreme Soviet as a gift to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654 when the Cossack Rada apparently decided to unify with Muscovy, putting in place the eventual acquisition of Ukraine by Russia. Other reasons given were the integration of the economies of Ukraine and Crimea and the idea that Crimea was a natural extension of the Ukrainian steppes.
The transfer increased the ethnic Russian population of Ukraine by almost a million people. Prominent Russian politicians such as Alexander Rutskoy considered the transfer to be controversial. Controversies surrounding the legality of the transfer remained a sore point in relations between Ukraine and Russia for the first few years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and in particular in the internal politics of the Crimea. However, in a 1997 treaty between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, Russia recognized Ukraine's borders, and accepted Ukraine's sovereignty over Crimea.
In January 1992 the Supreme Soviet of Russia questioned the constitutionality of the transfer, accusing Nikita Khrushchev of treason against the Russian people and said that the transfer was illegitimate. Alexander Rutskoy, the former Vice President of Russia, said that this was a "harebrained scheme" for which Khrushchev was famous saying that those who signed the document must have been suffering from sunstroke or hangovers.
There was confusion about the status of Sevastopol and whether it was a part of the transfer as it had a degree of independence from the Crimean Oblast and never formally ratified the transfer, although it was later mentioned as Ukrainian territory in the Soviet Constitution and the Belavezha Accords between Ukraine and Russia.
In 1994 a Russian nationalist administration took over in Crimea with the promise to return Crimea to Russia, although these plans were later shelved.
After the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych was deposed by protesters in 2014, Russian forces swiftly moved into the Crimean peninsula, annexing it within less than a month. This move was denounced by the new Ukrainian government, and disregarded by the West and its allies. The Venice Commission declared that the referendum was illegal under the Ukrainian constitution, which requires that any changes to Crimea's constitution be approved by the Verkhovna Rada, and contravened international norms.
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