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In 1954 Soviets transferred Crimea from Russian Soviet Republic to Ukrainian Soviet Republic.

Why is this strange?

The whole act, at least officially, was meant to be "a gift", a token of friendship. You do not normally give huge pieces of land in moderate climate, which are also strategically located.

Russians are not known for giving land away, quite the contrary - Russia has been constantly expanding since XVII century.

After the deportation of the Tatars by Stalin Russians were the majority population of Crimea at that time (and still are).

Russia doesn't seem to have a solid foothold of the Black Sea coast - it seems that their only usable naval port apart from Sevastopol (which is in Crimea and is only leased from Ukraine!) is Novorossiysk.

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    I am not able to give an answer to this great question. But I want to add that Russia has a pretty solid foothold in the Crimea and that Sevastopol serves as one of the major ports of the Russian navy (what makes your question even more forceful!). At my last trip there about a year ago the Russian flag welcomed every visitor. Except the Crimean Tartars who try to claim more and more ground recently, the typical average Crimean believes to be Russian, not Ukrainian. Investors from Russia prefer to do business on the Crimea, then in Odessa as second choice, and bypass the rest. – Ben Oehler Oct 25 '12 at 20:32
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    Although I can't give a full answer either, note that in 1954, the Ukraine was completely within the USSR's borders. The government, military, and technical organizations could operate in Ukraine just as easily as Americans can travel between states. I'm sure Khrushchev (party boss of Ukraine!) never dreamed of the coming collapse. – DrZ214 Sep 4 '15 at 5:36
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    BTW, Russia has been constantly expanding since XVII century. is not correct. XVII = 17th century. The sale of Alaska in 1867 and the loss of Finland after the Russian Civil War (1917 - 1922) come to mind as prime counterexamples, not to mention the loss of Central Asia and many Eastern European states after breakup of USSR (1991). Those were some fairly large losses of land---shrinkings, not expansions. – DrZ214 Oct 8 '16 at 2:00
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Khrushchev wanted to...

  • test his political power
  • to please the Ukrainian population
  • to shift the rebuilding cost to the Ukrainian republic.

Khrushchev wanted to test his political power

If anyone would wanted to challenge Khrushchev, just rising to power, his controversial idea and hollow arguments would be a perfect occasion. The stake was very little at the same time. Seemingly Khrushchev wanted to test his position before more important changes he may have been planning. http://books.google.com/books?id=RwfIEhLDaMsC&lpg=PA310&pg=PA311

Khrushchev wanted to please the Ukrainian population

While the Russian and Ukrainian cadres were in great friendship ever since 1930s (1920s?), Ukrainian people's drive for independence was a recurring problem for the Soviet Union. During World War II this drive has risen again to a great extent. After the war, Soviet power went into a de-facto war with Ukrainian nationalists and relations became very strained. http://books.google.com/books?id=DHFDjhPugJIC&pg=PT199&hl=en&sa=X&ei=OlGKUMH9DISxtAauk4GwDw&ved=0CFQQ6AEwBw

The Crimea had an opinion of a crown jewel, the best vacation resort in Soviet Union. So the gesture would appear favorable to Ukrainian commoners. In reality...

Shift the rebuilding cost to the Ukrainian republic

In reality , after the 1944 mass deportations of Crimean Tatars the region became an economical disaster zone. It would require major investment, and Khrushchev wanted to shift this to the Ukrainian budget. http://books.google.com/books?id=l5uiWHgRphQC&lpg=PA500&pg=PA499

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    Just as an addendum, I'd like to point out that the governments of the Republics were pretty powerless entities during the USSR era. The central Soviet Communist Party hierarchy was where power resided. So which republic administered which territory was really just a bookeeping issue. I doubt Krushchev ever envisioned a day comming where Russia and the Ukraine were two separate countries and his action became a really important event. – T.E.D. Oct 26 '12 at 15:05
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    @T.E.D. Absolutely true. I had very close friends in Ukraine in 86-91 years. They were members of the nationalistic movement in the western Ukraine - the centre of the Ukrainian nationalism. And having anti-SSSR views I said they should look for independence. And they argued, they didn't expected or even waited for any independence except some more cultural autonomy. – Gangnus Dec 26 '12 at 22:39
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    How the deportation of the Tatars affected it being an economic disaster zone? – Anixx May 2 '13 at 2:46
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    @Anixx you've no clue as to what a sizable fraction of a region's population being ripped out and transported forcibly elsewhere does to that region (and the one they end up in. – jwenting May 2 '13 at 6:29
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    @jwenting what fraction of the Crimea's population were Tatars before the war? – Anixx May 2 '13 at 7:37
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From: Khrushchev’s Son: Giving Crimea Back to Russia Not an Option .

Khrushchev’s son Sergei said the decision to give Crimea to Ukraine had to do with economics and agriculture - the building of a hydro-electric dam on the Dnieper River which would irrigate Ukraine’s southern regions, including Crimea.

“As the Dnieper and the hydro-electric dam [is] on Ukrainian territory, let’s transfer the rest of the territory of Crimea under the Ukrainian supervision so they will be responsible for everything," Sergei Khrushchev said. "And they did it. It was not a political move, it was not an ideological move - it was just business.”

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    Welcome to history.stackexchange! With Crimea in the news lately, it's nice to see an influx of questions about the area. – NotVonKaiser Mar 17 '14 at 17:58
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    @NotVonKaiser I've heard that one of the most compelling reasons why Putin re-annexed it, was exactly because he wanted more questions on this topic here. – o0'. Sep 1 '15 at 16:52
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At that time, Ukraine was under the control of the Soviet Union. And the Russians basically controlled the Soviet Union. So they basically controlled Ukraine.

Thus, the transfer of Crimea to the Ukraine was a "Greek" gift that would enable the Russians to control Ukraine better. Since it was on their "books," the Ukrainians would have to manage it, while the Russians would de facto control it.

Not a bad idea, as long as Ukraine in fact remains your colony.

7

There is an excellent and fairly brief essay written at the period of the Crimean transfer to the Ukrainian SSR that supports the charade "gift" concept of "Elder Brother" to "Younger Brother"--itself in reality an attempt to placate Ukrainian political and economic forces (even within the Ukr. Communist Party) that could lead to a separation from Moscow. Krushchev was a major player in this move.

It also was a cover for mass deportations of locals (mostly Tatars, but also ethnic Russians and Ukrainians) to central Asia for perceived disloyalty with the German occupation during the War-- by the International Committee on the Crimea: The Transfer of the Crimea to the Ukraine*

7
  1. First of all Khrushev was born in Russia and was ethnic russian.

  2. In 1954 in all Crimea were only about 15 grocery stores. There were no agriculture, factories, hospitals and even roads. 40% of residential buildings were destroyed. It was not gift. It was a stone on the neck!

  3. Recovery of Crimea was hanged on Ukraine which had own budget and had to finance new region. Starting from 1954 was built canal for irrigation, restored cities, built roads and resorts.

But now some propagandists trying to present it as a gift from Khrushev to Ukraine. They are modestly silent about Crimea state in 1954. It was a Desert !

5

No one in the Soviet Union of that time could even dream that the Union will ever dissolve. "Sovereign Ukraine" was a fiction invented by Stalin to deceive the naive Westerners and to obtain an extra seat in UN.

In 1944, the whole native Tartar Crimean population was deported (30%-40% lost their lives in the process). One had to populate the area, and this was difficult to do from Russia (Russia has no land connection with Crimea. All roads and communications to Crimea go through Ukraine). So it was a purely administrative decision to transfer Crimea to Ukraine.

But in fact, Crimea has much closer historical connection with Ukraine, just because of the geography. For example, it is Crimean-Ukrainian troops that wrestled the Ukraine from Poland in XVII century. While the experience of Crimean Tartars with Russians consists mainly of 2 genocides: one in XVIII century and another one in XX century.

5

Nikita Khrushchev was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 - 1964. He was born April 15, 1894, in Kalinovka, a village in what is now Russia's Kursk Oblast, near the present Ukrainian border.

Nikita

In 1938 he become a leader of Ukraine.

In late 1937, Stalin appointed Khrushchev as head of the Communist Party in Ukraine, and Khrushchev duly left Moscow for Kiev, again the Ukrainian capital, in January 1938.[46] Ukraine had been the site of extensive purges, with the murdered including professors in Stalino whom Khrushchev greatly respected. The high ranks of the Party were not immune; the Central Committee of Ukraine was so devastated that it could not convene a quorum. After Khrushchev's arrival, the pace of arrests accelerated.[47] All but one member of the Ukrainian Politburo Organizational Bureau, and Secretariat were arrested. Almost all government officials and Red Army commanders were replaced.[48] During the first few months after Khrushchev's arrival, almost everyone arrested received the death penalty

Moreover, after 1920 he was a commissar of a labor brigade in the Donbas ( Ukraine ).

Optionally: There is a joke about message from Stalin to Nikita about his repression methods in the Nezalezhna. «Уймись, дурак!» It is translated to the English like: "Please, stop, ugly mad man". This was because most of Ukrainians were suffered from the Red Terror smoothly converted to the Great Purge, compare to the other parts of the Russian Empire. This was a main reason of genesis such phenomenon called "бандеровщина", see also Stepan Bandera.


Finally, all of his life Nikita spent with Ukraine. Crimea was a gift to the native home, Ukraine.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikita_Khrushchev

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    I don't disagree, but I'm not sure how this answers the question. – Mark C. Wallace Mar 4 '14 at 15:17
  • Qestion was "Why", my answer is: "Because, this is land of Khrushchev's life." He rebuilt this part of Soviet Union for the whole time of his existence. – user2496 Mar 4 '14 at 16:23
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    I upvoted although I am not sure this is the correct answer. Still, it's useful to point out Kh's personal connection to Ukraine. – Felix Goldberg Mar 4 '14 at 16:47
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    "уймись, дурак" mans "stop, fool". – Anixx Feb 10 '15 at 14:32
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    Stalin was a native of the Moscow district?? – Alex Sep 1 '15 at 0:49
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As a complement to the previous answers and especially Tom Au's answer here: it may be just a general hypothesis, but a very intriguing one.

This transfer of territories between Soviet Republics may serve the general purpose of binding together these republics by including them in a logic dominated by the central authority, by diluting traditional boundaries and identities and by creating at least potential territorial rivalry where the central power in Moscow could play the arbiter.

I have found a map of these territories here, where this situation is described as a breakaway territory strategy.

The "breakaway" territory acts as a "glue" that keeps the different republics together. (The larger the disputed property, the longer and more difficult the divorce procedure.)

enter image description here

As for Crimea, for all of these territorial changes and/or disputes other specific/local reasons may be found, but I think that all these cases may be considered through this logic.

In the case of Ukraine/Russia, territories had been also transfered from Ukraine to Russia, as seen here.

enter image description here

On the same map is mentioned the transfer of Ukrainian territory to the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, namely Transdniestria, which was not historically Moldavian. That is illogic outside the context described above, especially as other historically Moldavian territories remained part of Ukraine (Budjak and Northern Bukowina).

Abkhazia and Ossetia had a tradition of autonomy within Georgia and Nagorno-Karabach was an Armenian enclave in Azerbaidjan, and Soviet central power has supported their autonomy within the same logic.

It is also interesting to consider this within the larger scope of the relation between the Soviet internationalist-imperialist central power in Moscow and the local & national authority of the republics. The disputed territory could be claimed as pertaining to the larger more universal authority of the Soviet empire.

As an arbiter, Moscow could intervene but also could claim directly for itself (that is, for Russia), territories disputed between the republics. Also, most of the aforementioned territories had Soviet military bases and/or now have Russian military bases, and the causality between being disputed territory (with "gluing" properties) and having military bases works both ways.

0

I read within the past few days,(March 10, 2014 or so) that Krushchev wanted to dilute the "Fascist" element of the Ukrainian population with some "Commies" included in the gift of Crimea. Unfortunately I did not make note of the source. This following link does back up the reason for animosities found in the present day:

Графика написания передана без изменений

You need translator software since it is/was a Soviet/Russian archival document.

Although not an answer to "why did Krushchev give away Crimea", the following link seems pertinent to the present day, (March 2014) changes to the world, and is a large part of what's motivating current events. This was published recently (March 2014) by a Hungarian think tank.

The Bear Steps in – a Russian thriller by Andras Jenei

I was looking for an answer to "why did the Soviet Union give Crimea to Ukraine" when I found this message board. (March 16, 2014) The "making Ukraine responsible for (financial costs) of Crimea" seems logical to me, but that is just my opinion, I have to admit.

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    Welcome to history.stackexchange! We all appreciate well-sourced documents, but could you possibly cite the passages from those documents that support your claims? They're fairly long and (in the case of the one in Cyrillic) not always easy to parse. Additionally, sometimes original source like this gets deleted but this answer (presumably) will stay up for a while, so future users might want to see the information you found. – NotVonKaiser Mar 17 '14 at 18:02

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