Miscalculations in Crimea

Grant Williams  |


 (Marina Lewycka): Public clashes between Ukrainians and Russians in the main square in Sevastopol. Ukrainians protesting at Russian interference; Crimean Russians demanding the return of Sevastopol to Russia, and that parliament recognise Russian as the state language. Ukrainian deputies barred from the government building; a Russian "information centre" opening in Sevastopol. Calls from the Ukrainian ministry of defence for an end to the agreement dividing the Black Sea fleet between the Russian and Ukrainian navies. The move is labelled a political provocation by Russian deputies. The presidium of the Crimean parliament announces a referendum on Crimean independence, and the Russian deputy says that Russia is ready to supervise it. A leader of the Russian Society of Crimea threatens armed mutiny and the establishment of a Russian administration in Sevastopol. A Russian navy chief accuses Ukraine of converting some of his Black Sea fleet, and conducting armed assault on his personnel. He threatens to place the fleet on alert. The conflict escalates into terrorism, arson attacks and murder.

Sound familiar? All this happened in 1993, and it has been happening, in some form or other, since at least the 14th century.

So begins an article in the UK Guardian this week, written by a British novelist of Ukrainian origin, Marina Lewycka; and amidst all the furore surrounding the events in Ukraine these past couple of weeks, it's important to gain a little perspective in order to understand the history surrounding the country's fractious relationship with Russia and its recent dalliance with European suitors.

Source: Wikipedia

The key to the stand-off over Ukraine is the Crimean Peninsula — no stranger to conflict over the years and home to the infamous "Valley of Death" into which rode the 600 whom Tennyson commemorated in his epic poem recounting the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade. The order that sent those gallant young men to their inevitable doom is symptomatic of the kinds of catastrophic misjudgements that get made when emotions are running high.

At 10:45 a.m. on October 25th, 1854, the following order, signed by the Quartermaster General Richard Airey, was delivered to Field Marshall, Lord Lucan (no, not him. HE was the 7th Earl of Lucan. THIS was the 3rd Earl — his great, great grandfather):

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Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front — follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns — Troop Horse Artillery may accompany — French cavalry is on your left. R Airey. Immediate.

The vagueness of Raglan's order confused Lucan, as it made no mention of which guns the Light Brigade were being ordered to keep from leaving the battlefield; but when he questioned the order, Captain Louis Nolan of the 15th The King's Hussars damned his impudence:

"Attack, sir!"
"Attack what? What guns, sir?"
"There, my Lord, is your enemy!" said Nolan indignantly, vaguely waving his arm eastwards. "There are your guns!"

And with that, not daring to challenge a direct order further, Lucan ordered the Earl of Cardigan to lead the 600 men of the 13th Light Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, the 11th Hussars, the 4th Light Dragoons, and the 8th Hussars into the teeth of the Russian battery two kilometres distant, with further guns flanking their advance on either side….

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volley'd and thunder'd;

Storm'd at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred.

The result of one of the most famous military blunders of all time, the destruction of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava, demonstrated the dangers of military miscalculation in the Crimea; and 160 years later the possibility of another such misjudgment on the part of a commander looms heavily over the region.

However, rather than tracing every twist and turn in the Crimea between 1854 and today, we shall focus on the more recent history of the isolated and vulnerable peninsula that juts out into the Black Sea from Ukraine's southern coastline; and, with a little help from the NY Times, we'll begin with a look at how things stood after the first week of the crisis….

Click here to continue reading this article from Things That Make You Go Hmmm… – a free weekly newsletter by Grant Williams, a highly respected financial expert and current portfolio and strategy advisor at Vulpes Investment Management in Singapore. The article Things That Make You Go Hmmm: Crimea River was originally published at mauldineconomics.com.

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