Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Those who do learn from the past are condemned to utterly confused by it.
- The New York Times, 17th Feb 1918
The problem with looking into the history of Crimea is that it has changed hands more times than Schwarzer Pieter in a card game.
During the Russian Civil War between 1917 and 1922, was a stronghold of the anti-Bolshevik White Army. In 1920, about 50,000 White Army POWs and civilians were butchered and following the Civil War, the Crimea became an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic but still within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. After WW2, the Crimean ASSR was abolished and transferred to the Russian SFSR as a province called the Crimean Oblast.
In 1954, not long after Nikita Khrushchev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he as a Ukranian, then transferred the Crimean Oblast to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Following a referendum in 1991, Crimea was then upgraded back to an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the borders of the Ukrainian SSR.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Crimea then became the Autonomous Republic of Crimea but within the borders of the newly independent Ukraine. It continued to house the Russian Black Sea Fleet though.
Do you understand all of that? I don't.
Basically as a result of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the subsequent setting up of a new government, clashes erupted in the Crimea between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian supporters. Russia though has unilaterally sent troops into Crimea and by default annexed the peninsula.
On March 1, the Russian Parliament gave the President Vladimir Putin the authority to use force in the Crimea and Russian forces demanded the surrender of Ukraine forces in Crimea by March 4. I don't as yet know of even a single shot being fired at anyone and if that's the case, this so far is the most peaceful war ever fought.
Russia's policy has been pretty well much the same for the past 200 years or so. Although the Crimean War of the 1850s might have been about the "Eastern Question" as to what happened to the land once the Ottoman Empire fell to pieces, really it was about the Russians securing a permanently unfrozen port.
Likewise the The Battle of Port Arthur (1904) in the Russo-Japanese War, which is now the Lüshunkou District of China was precisely for the same reasons. Arguably the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s was also about the same thing as was the state-sponsored effort in the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, though that might not have been successful.
Russia will argue that it has assets to protect and that whilst the Ukraine itself is in what amounts to being a state of chaos, then its actions are about providing stability to a region. Of course that does bring into question of who exactly does hold the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force. Ludwig von Rochau in his 1853 work "Grundsätze der Realpolitik angewendet auf die staatlichen Zustände Deutschlands" or "Principles of Realpolitik Applied to the Political Conditions in Germany" discusses the idea of how power is actually in itself and end to politics and how it should be used. Arguably both Otto Von Bismarck and Adolf Hitler used power as an end to get what they wanted and maybe that is what Russia is doing here.
As far as the world is concerned, it might have been acceptable in the 1890s but 120 years later, who knows?
As far as the people who actually live in the Crimea, they've probably seen all this sort of thing several times over. I heard one chap on the BBC World Service say that "As long as I have bread tomorrow and the roof stays on my building, I don't care which idiots are in charge". Really that's all that any of us can hope for in the long run isn't it?
I really don't understand what's going on in the Crimea; not even history tells an adequate story but I sincerely hope that whatever does happen, not even a single shot will be fired at anyone.