The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Catherine II annexes the Crimean Khanate

One morning, late in autumn 1782, Empress Catherine II sat in her study in the Winter Palace drinking coffee. In her hand was a carefully-crafted letter from Prince Grigory Potemkin, president of the War College, commander-in-chief of Russian armed forces, and grand admiral of the Black Sea and Caspian fleets. For some months Potemkin had been urging his sovereign to declare an end to the interlude of Crimean independence (which began in 1774) and annex the lands of the khanate, but Catherine was reluctant. With mounting frustration, Potemkin informed her that she should act soon, else “there will come a time when everything that we might now receive for free, we shall obtain for a high price.” 

What, exactly, was at stake? Potemkin’s list was short but compelling: the security of the empire’s borders from the Bug River to the Kuban River (in other words, from just east of Odessa to the foothills of the Caucasus), the lasting allegiance of all inhabitants of the empire, and unimpeded access to the Black Sea. “Believe me,” wrote Potemkin, “with this acquisition you will achieve immortal glory such that no other Sovereign in Russia has ever had.”

On April 8, 1783, Catherine II issued a manifesto declaring Russia's annexation of the Crimean Khanate, the Kuban, and the Taman peninsula. The region would remain under Romanov rule until the collapse of the dynasty - and empire - in 1917. 

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