In his state-of-the-nation speech in early December, Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward an astonishing justification for his annexation of Crimea: the peninsula, he said, is as sacred to Russians as Temple Mount in Jerusalem is to Muslims and Jews.

"It was here, in Crimea, in ancient Chersonesus, or Korsun as the Russian chroniclers called it, that Prince Vladimir took baptism, before he baptized all of Rus," Putin said.

The actual history behind that claim is murky, but it strongly suggests that the Crimean exploits of Putin's namesake, Vladimir the Great, set a precedent for Crimea's seizure rather than any sacral meaning.