Russia's History Weighs Down on Putin's Shoulders; the Siege of Sevastopol Burns Deep in the Russian Psyche, According to Len Scott of Aberystwyth University

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 20, 2014 | Go to article overview

Russia's History Weighs Down on Putin's Shoulders; the Siege of Sevastopol Burns Deep in the Russian Psyche, According to Len Scott of Aberystwyth University


RUSSIA'S battle against the Nazis for control of Crimea resulted in colossal loss of life and shapes President Putin's response to today's unfolding crisis, according to one of Wales' leading historians.

Professor Len Scott, an expert in International History and Intelligence Studies at Aberystwyth University who was Denis Healey's political adviser when he was Shadow Foreign Minister, said memories of the siege of Sevastopol are burned deep in the Russian psyche.

Professor Scott, a Fellow of the Royal Hirstorical Society, supported the UK Government's response but argued it was essential to understand the depth of Russia's connections to the region.

He said: "I think that William Hague, the foreign secretary, is absolutely right in what he's said. I don't think we can let Russia's behaviour go unchecked in this way.

"But I do think we need to understand Russia's history and we need to understand Russia's commitment to the Crimea. I wouldn't want to apologise for the Russian government's behaviour, but I am saying that Russian history is a crucial context. "For many Russians in the Crimea this is memory, not history. For others, it is the history of their parents and their uncles and their aunts.

"Crimea, it should not be forgotten was never part of the Ukraine until 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev handed it over as a gesture to commemorate 300 years of Russian-Ukrainian relations. The people of the Crimea had no say in Khrushchev's decision."

The key port of Sevastopol was besieged by British, French and Ottoman forces during the Crimean War in 1854-55 and by the Nazi forces in 1941-42.

Describing the impact of the World War II siege, Prof Scott said: "We always think of the Germans as conducting armoured warfare, and particularly their most successful commander, von Manstein. But Sevastopol was where they engaged in siege warfare - old-fashioned, big artillery pieces, hundreds and hundreds of sorties by the Luftwaffe, and its bombers and dive-bombers.

"Many Russians see the siege and battle of Sevastopol almost in the same way as they see the siege of Leningrad and the battle for Stalingrad. …

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