October 2, 2022

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Why the Russians lost the Crimean War more than a century ago. Lessons for Putin

The Crimean War, fought by the present-day Russian Federation with present-day Turkey for control of the Black Sea (more precisely, the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits) from 1853 to 1856, ended with the defeat of the Russians, enshrined in the Treaty of Paris.

“In war, more than anywhere else, things do not turn out as we expect,” said Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military historian and theorist.

Expectations and reality

Few expected war to break out in 1853, and when it did, most believed that the Tsarist army was invincible, especially since the fighting was taking place in its immediate vicinity.

The same thing happened now, in 2022, when on February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine.

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The Kremlin had initially announced an easy victory over the state led by Volodymyr Zelensky. Six months later, however, the Ukrainian army, supported directly and indirectly by the EU and NATO, is still fighting.

In 1853, Russia brought its troops to Moldova and Wallachia, wanting to reach the Danube with them, according to Historia. But the Tsar of Russia, Nicholas I, wanted more.

Thus, under a religious pretext, writes The Guardian, Nicholas I attacked the Ottoman Empire with the hope of winning Constantinople, now Istanbul.

The real goal was, in fact, to have hegemony on the Black Sea through total control of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, which belonged to the Ottoman Empire.

Fearing the power that Russia might gain, the Ottomans were joined in the fight by France, Great Britain and the Kingdom of Sardinia, who sent an “expeditionary corps” to the Crimean Peninsula. The first battle took place near the Alma River, the victory belonging to the allies.

Afterwards, Great Britain, France and Sardinia continued to send troops by sea to Crimea – an area that became the main battleground.

And now many countries have come to the aid of Ukraine. Among them are the UK and France mentioned above.

The army’s resources are not inexhaustible

Before the Crimean War, Russia’s huge army was feared throughout Europe. Her weakness, however, became apparent immediately.

With demoralized troops, many young conscripts or serfs, Russia lost most of the battles and eventually ended the conflict by suing for peace. Its weapons were inferior, unlike those of the British and French, who had frigates and guns that fired accurately at long distances.

Despite these French and British advantages, victory came at a high price: the deaths of over 250,000 people.

In June 2022, after making gains for Moscow in eastern Ukraine, Russian soldiers complained about poor conditions on the front. The military asked President Putin for an investigation into the conditions in which they are sent to battle, but also the legality of the orders given to them.

“I suffered from hunger and cold. For a significant period, we were deprived of any material, medical and food support. Given our continued presence and the fact that among our staff there are people with chronic medical problems, people with mental problems, many questions arise that are ignored by the superiors. (…) It’s exhausting, my whole unit wants a break, but our leadership said they can’t replace us right now,” a Russian soldier told The Guardian.

Experts also confirm the exhaustion of Russian soldiers.

“People are not robots. These soldiers were defeated – they saw and committed war crimes, they saw people die, they were exhausted, their equipment disappeared. The fact that the Russians don’t let them rest…is either a sign of stupidity or desperation. The more a human fights, the less effective they become. War is exhausting,” said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews.

In late July, US politician Elissa Slotkin stated: “We have been informed that over 75,000 Russians have been killed or wounded, which is enormous…over 80% of their ground forces are bogged down and they are tired.”

Russia has lost combat equipment, the armaments industry being deprived of vital components for the production of new weapons.

US technology exports to Russia have fallen sharply since the imposition of sanctions in late February.

Ukrainian officials reported that after opening captured Russian tanks, they found chips used for refrigerators.

In May, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said two Russian tank makers had been forced to suspend production due to component shortages.

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, Russia would have lost from the beginning of the war until August 26:

– approximately 46,650 soldiers

– 1,941 tanks

– 272 multiple missile launcher systems

– 148 air defense systems

– 234 military aircraft

– 202 helicopters

– 840 drones

– 196 cruise missiles

– 15 military ships

– 3,164 vehicles and fuel tanks

– 99 special equipment

The Russian Ministry of Defense published, on August 24, the Independence Day of Ukraine, the balance sheet of the losses caused to the invaded country since the beginning of the war:

– 1,803 unmanned aerial vehicles

– 148 helicopters

– 369 anti-aircraft missile systems

– 4,382 tanks and other armored vehicles

– 819 MLRS multiple launch rocket systems

– 3,339 field artillery and mortar systems

– 5,034 units of special military vehicles

Concluding a peace treaty does not necessarily mean “quiet”

The Treaty of Paris ended hostilities in 1856, but left many other concerns unaddressed, including the porous borders of southeastern Europe, which troubled leaders until World War I.

After a relatively long peace, the Crimean War contributed to the volatility of relations between the great powers. Europe would see a series of small but intense wars before the immense carnage of the 20th century – World War II.

Until now there have been several rounds of negotiations between the Kremlin and Kyiv, but without any success. After Zelenskiy strongly rejected Putin’s conditions for a ceasefire, the talks stalled. In a unique way, the meetings took place in Turkey, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the mediator.

The last statements made about the negotiations were those of President Zelenski. He said that his country will not lay down its arms to sit down at the negotiating table, because any agreement with Russia will deprive Ukraine of part of the territories and allow the occupiers, after they have rested and regained their strength, to start a new offensive.

The Crimean War, the chance of the Union of the Romanian Principalities

The peace demanded by Russia also brought benefits to Moldova and Wallachia.

The signing of the Treaty of Paris meant independence from Russia for the Romanian Principalities, and the union of the two principalities came to the attention of the European powers.

France demanded the union under a foreign prince, and Turkey and Austria opposed the union. Thus, it was decided that the final status of the Romanian Principalities should be established after consulting the inhabitants.

In the two principalities, ad hoc councils were organized that demonstrated the desire to unite the population, following elections. Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected, on January 5, ruler of the Principality of Moldavia, and on January 24 – ruler of the Principality of Wallachia.

After ascending the throne in Bucharest, on January 24, 1859, three years after the end of the Crimean War, Alexandru Ioan Cuza made the Little Union. The Romanian principalities thus became a united and independent state that now had an opening to Western Europe, political and social modernization.

And currently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has an impact on Romania as well. Here are some examples given by the “Ion IC Brătianu” Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations:

– the addition of NATO troops on the territory of the country, NATO rapid reaction force troops in Romania;

– activation of Article 4 of NATO. Romania and other NATO states requested on the very morning of February 24, the first day of the war in Ukraine, the activation of Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which requires consultations between allies on the subject of concerns regarding their own security;

– increasing the defense budget from 2% to 2.5%.

– rising inflation and falling economic growth – even before the war in Ukraine, a slowdown in economic growth and an increase in inflation were expected. In the current context, they have seriously intensified.

– stopping or hindering the supply of natural gas and oil from the Russian Federation;

-Romania became the European leader in grain exports, in the context of the blocking of grain exports from Russia and Ukraine and the explosion of grain prices on international markets.

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