Staunton, August 15 – Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from the RSFSR to Ukraine not as some unique act about which he was particularly concerned but as part of a far larger reorganization of the administrative-territorial divisions of the USSR, Maksim Artemyev says. Seen from this perspective, his decision could easily have been reversed by later Soviet leaders.
In a Nezavisimaya gazeta commentary, the historian says that most Russian analysts ignore that broader context and focus on Crimea by itself, a reflection of a broader tendency to view borders in Soviet times as unchanging, when in fact they weren’t (ng.ru/kartblansh/2021-08-15/3_8225_blansh.html).
(On this broader problem, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/borders-in-post-soviet-space-were.html to which is appended Paul Goble’s “Can Republic Borders Be Changed?” from the RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990.)
After the death of Stalin, the Soviet leadership engaged in a major redrawing of oblast borders. In April 1953, it disbanded five and created a new one by splitting off Magadan Oblasst from Khabarovsk Kray. Then, in January 1954, it created five new oblasts in the RSFSR even as it liquidated four in the Belarusian SSR.
The following month, Moscow liquidated Ismail Oblast in Ukraine and transferred the Crimean Oblast from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR. According to the historian, “no one was particularly concerned ab out Crimea. Its fate was only part of more general administrative arrangements at that time.”
These administrative-territorial changes continued. In July 1956, Moscow liquidated an entire union republic, Karelo-Finn SSR. And in the same year, it transferred from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan several districts. And in 1963, it shifted an area larger than Crimea from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. (The Kazakhs in 1971 got part of this transfer back.)
But Khrushchev later showed he was quite prepared to reverse course if others with power argued for it. Within three years of his creation of five new oblast, three were liquidated. Two years later, the same fate awaited the Drobych Oblast in the Ukrainian SSR and in another year the Molodechne Oblast in the Belarusian SSR.
“For Khrushchev,” Artemyev says, “the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine was only one of many cases of administrative shifts which he was blamed for in October 1964” at the time of his ouster. His successors could have reversed any of them. But they were prepared to do so only if there were senior party officials arguing for them.
Kazakhstan had a full member of the Politburo and succeeded in that regard, but the RSFSR which did not even have its own party organization did not have a “republic” representative as such. As a result, Ukraine which did kept Crimea. Had the RSFSR had a full member on the Politburo, the story might have been entirely different.