Historical story

The Russian Conquest of Crimea

Russia did not conquer Crimea for the first time this year. In 1783 Catherine the Great preceded Putin. After a war with the Ottoman Empire, it annexed the peninsula, which was very popular because of its ports. She didn't do this alone. For this she had the help of a Dutch naval officer in Russian service:Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen. After a rapid career in the Russian army, Van Kinsbergen made an important contribution in the Battle of Crimea in 1773 on the Black Sea.

In 1768 war broke out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The two great powers fought several times in the 18th and 19th centuries in the Black Sea region. Russia was out for expansion. The southern areas around the Black Sea were very suitable for agriculture because of the climate. Even more important were the ports that are ice-free all year round. Until then, Russia's only other European port was Saint Petersburg, which was inaccessible for much of the year due to severe frost. Ports on the Black Sea would also give Russia a shorter connection for trade with the countries around the Mediterranean.

Part of the Russian army advanced to Moldova and Wallachia (now a region of Romania), on the northwestern coast of the Black Sea. It captured large areas from the Turkish troops and advanced as far as the Danube. A second Russian force marched to the Crimean peninsula and managed to take it completely in 1771. The Ottoman Empire got into a predicament and started peace negotiations after a truce was concluded in 1772. Those peace negotiations came to nothing and a new battle erupted around Crimea. For a Dutch captain in Russian service, this was his chance to live up to his name.

Russian-Turkish War in the Black Sea Region

That captain was Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen. He was born in 1735 in Doesburg. After a short career in the land army under the care of his father who was a sergeant, he completed an engineering course in Groningen. In 1756 he sailed for the first time with the Dutch war fleet. He became a capable naval officer, but as yet he did not progress beyond the rank of lieutenant commander. The Republic was not involved in naval wars at this time and therefore had a fleet of limited size. A naval officer who wanted to move up the ranks could best enlist abroad.

After the outbreak of war in 1768, Tsarina Catharina the Great had a request submitted to the States General to be allowed to recruit Dutch sailors for the Russian fleet. When Van Kinsbergen heard about this, he was determined to go to Russia, in his own words 'to make a name or be killed there'. Thanks to connections to the Dutch and Prussian courts, he was brought to the attention of the Russian authorities. He was given permission to leave for Russia. In the autumn of 1771, Van Kinsbergen arrived in Saint Petersburg. He was appointed captain of the sea second class. The rank of colonel in the land army was also attached to this. In this capacity he commanded a division of Cossacks in winter. He proved himself a skilled commander, who was loved by his men.

In early 1772, Van Kinsbergen arrived in Izmajil, near the west coast of the Black Sea. There he inspected the Russian fleet, which has not yet sailed because of the armistice with the Turks. In this agreement it was stipulated that from then on the Russians had free navigation on the Danube, the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov. Van Kinsbergen was one of the first to take advantage of this. He was instructed to deliver the news of the peace negotiations to Vice Admiral Alexei Senjavin, who was in Azov, an eastern port city on the Sea of ​​Azov. During his long sea voyage, the captain had to explore the northern coast of the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov. On the way back, despite the armistice, Van Kinsbergen was shelled by a number of Turkish ships. He was unharmed and successfully completed his mission.

The Russian authorities were very grateful to Van Kinsbergen for his observations and he was even received by Tsarina Catharina in person. He spoke with her and a few ministers about his experiences and contributed ideas about the new war plans that are being drawn up at that time. For example, he handed out a plan drawn up by himself for merchant shipping in and via the Black Sea. Van Kinsbergen was liked by Catharina, the ministers and various colleagues in the navy and the army. He already spoke Russian reasonably well and, thanks to his frequent association with courtiers in the Republic, knew how to behave in high circles.

From Kinsbergen to Russia

In March 1773, the armistice expired and the Black Sea war continued. Back in Izmajil, Van Kinsbergen came under the command of Dmitri Senjavin, the Commander-in-Chief of the Black Sea Fleet. Van Kinsbergen was given command of the warships Taganrog and Koron, both with sixteen guns. Reports came in that a large Turkish fleet had entered the Black Sea, which had to be taken out as soon as possible.

On June 23, Van Kinsbergen sailed in the south of the Black Sea, off the coast of Anatolia. With the two ships under his command, he attacked a considerably larger Turkish fleet here, consisting of three warships with 52 guns and one ship with 24 guns. After a fierce battle lasting more than six hours, the Turks fled. Van Kinsbergen wanted to give chase, but his ships were too badly damaged to overtake the Turks. He had won the first battle on the Black Sea. But the Turks planned to make an invasion of Crimea possible with the help of the war fleet.

Van Kinsbergen was therefore asked to sail to the southern coast of Crimea as quickly as possible. Here he was given command of a sizeable squadron, which consisted of the Vtoroy (32 guns), the Azov (16), the Zhurzja (16), the Modon (16), a gun sloop and a burner (a ship with easily flammable cargo ). With these warships he found the Turkish invasion force at the Turkish fortified town of Sujuk-Qale (today Novorossiysk) on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. The Turkish fleet had no fewer than seven large warships with 25 to 64 guns, three small warships and eight transport ships with about five thousand landing troops.

At the moment that Van Kinsbergen wanted to launch the attack, he received an adjutant order from Vice Admiral Senjavin, who had remained ashore without a good explanation, that a naval battle with the Turks had to be avoided. Van Kinsbergen was obliged to follow the orders of his superior, but he had been ordered to prevent a Turkish invasion force from landing in Crimea. The decisive factor for Van Kinsbergen was that he would do the Russian Empire and his own career a great service by preventing the landing of Turkish troops on the peninsula. He had the adjutant held captive as a liar until the end of the battle, under the pretext that the vice admiral was too brave to have given the order to avoid the naval battle. Then he gave the signal to attack.

Van Kinsbergen had the front Turkish ship attack directly from the front. This brought the other Turkish ships so close together that only three of them managed to take an active part in the battle. But when Van Kinsbergen wanted to send his burner towards the Turkish line, the wind changed, preventing it from deploying and the Russian fleet was somewhat confused. The captain restored order as quickly as possible. A fierce battle ensued, during which his Vtoroj took on the admiralship of the Turks with double the number of guns. The Turks try to board the Vtoroj twice, but the Russians rejected both attempts.

Due to the incessant cannonades of the Vtoroj, the Turkish admiralship was badly damaged and had to flee. It sank shortly before entering Sujuk-Qale harbour. The other Turkish ships also fled and managed to reach the harbor safely. However, the damage was so great that the Turkish fleet could no longer sail. Van Kinsbergen had definitively repulsed the Turkish invasion force and thus managed to keep Crimea for Russia.

'Hero of the Black Sea'

After this great success, Van Kinsbergen was hailed as the first European in centuries to win a victory over the Turks in a naval battle on the Black Sea. General Prince Ivan Prozorovski, commander in Crimea, called the Dutch captain the 'Hero of the Black Sea' in a letter. Catherine the Great received him several times in audience and made him a knight of the Order of Saint George. How far their friendship went, and whether he might have been one of her many lovers, is impossible to tell. It is clear that they got along extremely well.

In 1774 Van Kinsbergen would still participate in various naval battles against the Turks, but no longer as commander in chief, because Vice Admiral Senjavin now hoped to reap fame himself. The Turks were again defeated and Senyavin could be content, for he was promoted to admiral in 1775. In the summer of 1774, the Turks gave up the fight and the peace of Küçük Kaynarca was concluded. The peace provisions were very favorable to the Russians. Russia took control of large parts of the northern Black Sea coast and the right to free trade in the Black Sea, including the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Crimea became nominally independent, but from then on it was under the protection of Russia.

In 1775, Van Kinsbergen returned to the Republic, probably mainly because of threats from fellow naval officers and influential courtiers (lovers) of Catherine the Great. Back in his own country, he made various maps of the Crimea and the Black Sea area, partly on the basis of his own observations. They are the oldest reliable maps of this region. In 1783 and in 1787/1788 Catherine the Great again called on Van Kinsbergen to come to Russia and lead the fleet on the Black Sea, this time as admiral. Both times he refused. Van Kinsbergen had meanwhile married a wealthy woman who had no interest in emigrating to Russia. He must also have realized that as a foreign admiral in the Russian navy he would end up in a wasp's nest.

Nevertheless, Van Kinsbergen never lost his interest in the fortunes of the Russian Empire. Due to the renewed crisis in Crimea, which led to another Russo-Turkish war, he had his maps of this area reprinted in 1787. His 1782 book on naval tactics was published in Russian ten years later. In old age, the Dutch naval officer closely followed the news of Napoleon's campaign in Russia in 1812 at home, using a large map of the Russian Empire. After a career of highs and lows in the Dutch navy, during which he carried out many reforms based on his experiences with the Russian navy, Van Kinsbergen died aged 84 in 1819 in Apeldoorn.

On March 18, 2014, President Vladimir Putin referred to Crimea as Russia's common history and pride, in a speech to the Russian parliament on the occasion of the forthcoming reunification of the peninsula with Russia. He referred to Chersonesos, the originally ancient Greek city near what would later become Sevastopol, where Prince Vladimir of Kiev was Christianized in 988. His conversion to Orthodox Christianity was, according to Putin, the source of the common culture, values ​​and civilization that united the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

The first known inhabitants of Crimea were the Scythians, who settled there before the Greeks. During the migrations in the 3rd century, the Goths settled there. In the 7th and 8th centuries the peninsula was occupied by the Khazars and afterwards it was part of the Cuman Empire. At the beginning of the 15th century it came into the possession of the Golden Horde, an empire of Mongols and Tatars, who established the Crimean Khanate there. In 1475 this Khanate became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire, from whom the Russians conquered the area in the second half of the 18th century. Recently, in an exhibition catalog on archaeological objects from Crimea, it was rightly stated:'No one can ever really own Crimea, where everyone is an emigrant in a sense'.

After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 1783, Russia and Turkey continued to compete for the peninsula. The most infamous conflict was the Crimean War (1853-1856), in which Turkey received support from France and Great Britain, among others. Russia lost the war:it had to agree to a neutralization of the Black Sea, but kept Crimea.

Crimea became part of Ukraine in 1954 under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev a Soviet republic at the time, an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.