On April 19, 1783, Russian Empress Catherine the Great issued a decree annexing the Crimean peninsula to the Russian Empire and granting Russia access to the Black Sea. The Crimean War of 1768-1772 put an end to Turkish dominance in the area and from that time Crimea was an integral part of the Russian Empire and, later, of the Soviet Union.
A center of ancient civilization, Crimea witnessed the rise and fall of the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman empires. It was in the Crimean town of Chersonese that Prince Vladimir of Kiev was baptized in the 9th century. He went on to become the Christener of all-Russia.
The annexation of the Crimean peninsula was a huge success for Russian foreign policy. In 1783, the construction of the Sevastopol fortress started, which went on to become Russia’s major military port on the Black Sea. Later it achieved fame as a Hero City during WWII, withstanding a constant wave of German aggression from October 1941 till July 1942.
In 1945, Yalta, one of the Crimean cities, hosted the famous "Big Three", consisting of Joseph Stali, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The men, as representatives of the allied victors, met to discuss the post-war world structure.
The history of Crimea took a new turn, when, on February 19, 1954, marking the 300-year anniversary of the unification of Russia and Ukraine, Nikita Khrushchev, famous for his impulsive decisions, practically presented the Crimean Region to Ukraine.
The historians seem to agree that this ‘gesture’ was brought about by Khrushchev’s desire to make amends for all the evil he had done to Ukraine as the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party. The decision was made within 15 minutes without conducting any referendums among the population, which caused endless and fierce disputes between Russia and Ukraine. These intensified upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Crimea became part of the newly independent Ukraine – a situation largely unexpected by its population who were, and still remain, ethnically and culturally Russian for the most part.
Following the ratification of the May 1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership, which laid down allowances to the Black Sea Fleet, tensions seemed to ease. With the treaty, Moscow accepted Ukraine's sovereignty over Crimea. In a separate agreement, Russia received 80% of the Black Sea Fleet and use of the military facilities in Sevastopol on a 20-year lease, until 2017, all for a usage fee of $97 million.
Today, the status of Crimea still seems to be on shaky ground, as the peninsula bears witness to frequent protests and discontent from both Ukrainian and Russian residents of the Crimean population.