Crimea is best known in Britain for the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.
The peninsula was given to Ukraine in 1954 as a trophy by Soviet ruler Nikita Khruschev. It is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Almost 60 percent of the 2.3 million people who live there speak Russian, and many want closer ties with Moscow. A quarter of the region are ethnic Ukrainians.
Another 12 percent are Muslim Crimean Tatars. For hundreds of years the Tatars were the dominant group in Crimea.
They carved a trading kingdom on a stretch of the Silk Road, despite raids by Ukrainian Cossacks and annexation by the Ottoman empire.
After Catherine the Great of Russia took over the Crimean Khanate in 1783, mass emigration to Turkey began.
The population had shrunk to about 300,000 by the beginning of the 20th century—a tenth of its original size.
In 1944 Stalin decreed that the Tatars had collaborated with the Nazis, and deported them collectively to Siberia and Central Asia. About half died from hunger, cold and disease.
They began to return to their ancestral lands only in 1989 and remain marginalised in Crimea.
Tatars protested in front of the Crimean Parliament on Wednesday in a standoff with Russian nationalists that turned violent.