Russia's Invasion of Crimea Is So Shocking Because it's a Return to a Now Rare Form of Warfare

The World
How It Works
March 1 2014 3:50 PM

An Old-School Invasion

A Soviet Navy flag waves on a pleasure boat as it passes in front of a Russian Navy vessel prepared for the Victory Day parade in the bay of Ukrainian city Sevastopol, the main base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, on May 7, 2010.

Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

It seems like one reason why Russia’s actions in Crimea appear so jarring and brazen is that it’s a form of warfare that was once common but rarely take place anymore. Russia may not formally annex Crimea – it seems more likely that the territory will declare independence under heavy Russian influence – but it has essentially invaded another country to lob off a piece of territory that was, despite longstanding nationalist sentiment, an undisputed part of Ukraine.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Historically speaking, conflicts in which one country sends troops into the territory to take over a disputed region are pretty common. But today, interstate war is relatively rare, and interstate wars over control of territory even rarer. For the most part, conflicts today usually take place between armed groups within states, and when one country does send troops into another – the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance – it’s generally under the assumption that sooner or later they will pull out, leaving borders as they are.


In fact, the intense emotions aroused in Japan, China, and South Korea over handfuls of small islands and reefs only highlights the degree to which countries rarely resort to armed conflict over large inhabited areas anymore.

Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia was something of an exception, although – to a greater extent than Crimea – the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were already outside of Georgian control. Thailand and Cambodia have fought some inconclusive border disputes. Sudan and South Sudan have also continually fought over their still disputed border. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, of course, a fight about land, but land hasn't actually changed hands in quite some time. 

Other than that, the last major wars of this type were in the early 1990s – between the new former Yugoslavian states, some of the former Soviet Republics, and of course Iraq’s short-lived annexation of Kuwait.

Given the amount of blood spilled over tracts of land in just the twentieth century, we should certainly hope Crimea is an anomaly rather than a sign that countries are returning to the old way of doing business. 


The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.