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Consider the minutes of a July 1987 politburo meeting convened by Mr Gorbachev. “Most likely, from a historical point of view, it would be correct to return Crimea to Russia. But Ukraine would rise up against that,” Mr Gorbachev told his colleagues.
the decision in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, his successor, to transfer ownership of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine; and the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which turned Crimea, virtually overnight, from a largely Russian-populated bastion of Soviet naval might into the most ethnically and politically contested region of a newly independent Ukrainian state.
In 1954 Khrushchev’s action seemed of little significance, for Russia and Ukraine each formed part of a rigidly centralised, one-party dictatorship. Soviet archives suggest Khrushchev knew exactly what he was doing and had even contemplated the move as early as 1944.
This transfer was an explicit effort to win the loyalty of Ukrainians, a people who in the 1930s had endured mass famine and terror at the hands of Stalin and his henchmen, including Khrushchev, a peasant’s son of mixed Russian and Ukrainian heritage. They were by no means fully reconciled to Soviet rule in the early 1950s. Yet what the Soviet leadership gained by pleasing Ukrainians, they lost by alienating Russians.