Crimea is a settler colony: Maksym Dmytrovych Sviezhentsev, ‘”Phantom Limb”: Russian Settler Colonialism in the Post-Soviet Crimea (1991-1997)’, PhD dissertation, The University of Western Ontario, 2020


Abstract: Where does the myth that ‘Crimea has always been Russia’ come from? How did the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union ‘make’ Crimea Russian? This dissertation shows how the they applied settler colonial practices to Crimea, displacing the indigenous population and repopulating the peninsula with loyal settlers and how Crimean settler colonial structures survived the fall of the Soviet Union. It argues that this process defines post-Soviet history of the peninsula.

For centuries Crimean existed within the discourse of Russian imperial control. This dissertation challenges the dominant view by applying settler colonial theory to Crimea’s past and present for the first time. This produces two major scholarly contributions. Firstly, it broadens the geography of settler colonialism, demonstrating that it existed not only in Western European imperialism but also in Russia’s imperial project. Secondly, it challenges the ‘uniqueness’ of Russian imperialism.

The focus is on Crimea as a settler colony during the first years after the USSR’s collapse. The main argument is that the 1990s conflict in Crimea was mainly around decolonization attempts and resistance by the settler colonial system. Contrary to the analysis of ‘conflicts that did not happen’ it argues that Crimea is a case of a conflict that never stoppedsince the late 18th century. It analyses how settler colonial structures fought for their own preservation in opposition to the forces of decolonization represented by the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar national movements, maneuvering between the Russian and Ukrainian capitals, which in turn triggered perceptions of Crimean separatism.

A main theme is control over the narrative. Crimean settler colonial institutions maintained their monopoly over ‘the truth’ about the peninsula’s past and present. This dissertation demonstrates how this continued in the 1990s, how Crimean newspapers forged the meaning of ‘Crimean,’ redesigned boundaries of inclusion and exclusion in order to marginalize Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar activists. Another important issue is the role of hybrid institutions including government structures in Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet, both which conducted subversive operations (informational and military) to counter and reduce the growing presence of the Ukrainian state on the peninsula.

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