Sunday, March 16, Crimean Ukrainians are invited to vote on a referendum to decide whether Crimea–an autonomous republic in Ukraine–will become part of Russia or remain part of Ukraine. The ballot has been proclaimed illegal by the Ukrainian interim government in Kiev, and the Kiev government has annulled the Crimean parliament’s decision to hold a referendum and has announced that it intends to disband the Crimean legislature. Kiev has also issued arrest warrants for some members of the Crimean parliament on the grounds that the members attempted to seize state power. However, Ukrainian forces cannot enter Crimea to enforce national law because Russia has invaded Crimea and blocks all entrance points to Ukrainian forces.
The outcome of the vote is considered by all commenters to be foregone. Crimeans will vote to join with Russia. The Crimean population is 58 percent Russian–only 24 percent Ukrainian and 12 percent Tartar.
The vote is illegal, according to the Ukrainian constitution, which specifies that any alterations to Ukrainian territory must be voted on by the entire Ukrainian population. Crimea’s attempt at succession is also possibly illegal under international law. The methods of transfer of territories provided for under international law are 1) discovering uninhabited land; 2) signing a treaty; and 3) occupying an area peacefully over a lengthy period of time. Russia’s invasion of Crimea is also allegedly illegal under Ukrainian-Russian treaty agreements and international law. Treaty agreements provide for Russian troops to be stationed in Crimea, but Russian forces exceed the numbers provided for. The United Nations (UN) Declaration of Principles of International Law makes illegal the violent interference of states against the territorial integrity or political independence of any other state in any purpose inconsistent with the purposes of the UN.
Russia began to occupy airports and strategic locations in Crimea on Feb. 28, two days after pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters clashed outside Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea, five days after the Russian language was legislated against by the Ukrainian parliament, and six days after Kievans scared democratically elected president Victor Yanukovic out of Kiev. On March 1, Russian president Vladimir Putin was granted authority to use military force in Ukraine by the Russian parliament. The same day, Russia began effective control of Crimea. On March 6, the Crimean parliament set the question of joining Russia or of proclaiming greater autonomy from Ukraine for a March 16 ballot.
The international community has opposed Russia’s moves. The U.S.A., the European Union and others have condemned Russia’s actions, calling them illegal, and have announced that they will not recognize the results of the Crimean ballot. This opposition has also threatened Russia with sanctions. On Saturday, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution to not recognize the Crimean referendum. Thirteen members voted to adopt the measure, but Russia vetoed it. China abstained.
The Crimean referendum will be an unusual one. In Crimea, demonstrators for secession and for Ukrainian unity occupy the same public spaces–assemblies which often turn into shouting matches where one side chants “Russia!” while the other attempts to chant louder, “Ukraine!” Russian forces occupy Crimea, not Ukrainian. These forces are accused of intimidating pro-Ukraine citizens from freely expressing their views. What views citizens have are uncertain; the referendum was called suddenly and there is no public debate to consider the consequences of the vote. Russia has been accused of busing in Russian voters to “stack the deck” in their favor, although such an action is most likely not necessary, as everyone believes the outcome is already decided. The Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine last Tuesday, so the vote is only a sort of formality to validate the parliament’s decision. Kiev has blocked Crimean officials’ access to voter registry lists, so all votes will have to be compiled by local councils. There will be no international monitors to regulate the election besides Russians. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was invited to Crimea, but declined to attend because the election is illegal. OSCE military were blocked from entering Crimea by the Russians on March 8. Russia, however, is sending 24 members of parliament and 8 election officials to oversee the referendum. Russia is the only nation which supports the election. President Vladimir Putin told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that the election is fully consistent with international law and is in line with the UN Charter. Russia will respect the election outcome and is already considering a bill that would provide for allowing parts of a foreign state to become part of Russia.
By Day Blakely Donaldson