This is the penultimate post in my mini-series on Russian colonialism. Last week, we examined the colonization of Alaska. Next week we’ll learn about Russia’s expansion into the Caucasus, a conflict that is still ongoing today. For this week, we’ll revisit the Crimea and Siberia – we’ve discussed both of these regions previously, but week’s post will see the later periods of expansion into those areas.


Catherine the Great. By Fyodor Rokotov. Public Domain. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by User:Concerto

As previous posts have explained, over the course of several centuries, Russia methodically expanded across Siberia, working to undermine the strength of indigenous populations. This continued into the 18th and 19th centuries. Under Empresses Anna, Elizabeth, and Catherine, resistant Siberian cultures were subjected to genocide. One example is from 1730 through 1731, during the reign of Anna, when a Cossack commander named Pavlutskiy cracked down on the indomitable Chukchis through mass slaughter and enslavement. The Chukchis continued to resist, however, and so in 1742, Empress Elizabeth ordered her armies to “Attack the restless Chukchi with an armed hand; eradicate them completely.” Other resistant ethnic groups included the Itelmens, Koraks, and Yukagirs. In the 1740s, after decades of war, slaughter, and attempts at conversion to Orthodox Christianity at the hands of the Russians, these four ethnic groups united against Russian expansion. Though they managed to fight back and destroy Russian armies, eventually they fell to Russian armies. Catherine was more moderate in her approach – for example, as mentioned last week, she encouraged a policy in Alaska of working with the indigenous Aleut – but Moscow had little power over the regional governments in its far-flung Asian provinces.

The genocidal policies of Russia would continue into the 19th century. Over a century later, in 1882, an estimate was made that about twelve ethnic groups had been exterminated by Russia. Much, if not most, of the evidence of the ethnic cleansing has been destroyed by Russia itself.

Also as previously discussed, Russia had made many attempts to conquer territory in Crimea and along the Black Sea, engaging the Crimean Khanate and its master, the Ottoman Empire, in war. After Peter failed to make lasting significant territorial gains, Russia continued sporadic wars against the Khanate and the Ottomans. Under Empress Anna, Russia gained some territory along the Black Sea, but had to abandon most of it. It was under Catherine that Russia at last successfully conquered the Crimea and most of the northern coast of the Black Sea from the Crimean Khanate and the Ottomans. After her first war with the Ottomans, Azov was captured, this time with lasting success, and new cities were settled throughout what is now southern Ukraine. Catherine granted the Crimean Khanate was granted full independence from both Turkey and Russia. However, nine years later, the Crimean Khanate was annexed by Russia (substitute “Ukraine” for “Ottoman Empire” and reduce the time period of autonomy, and I think you can draw accurate parallels here with the current Ukraine-Russia conflict). This annexation provoked a second war with the Ottomans, and ended with a decisive victory for Russia: Crimea was secured, and even more territories gained on the Black Sea.