The March 16 referendum in Crimea over the question of whether Crimea should separate from Ukraine and join Russia has taken place behind a buildup of Russian army forces. The referendum took place in a Crimea that has been cut off from Ukraine militarily. Roads are blockaded by Russian army forces, which now amount to 22,000 troops, according to U.S. estimates–almost double the amount permitted by Ukrainian-Russian treaty agreements. Ukrainian media braodcasts have been cut off in Crimea, in some cases to be replaced by Russian channels. Flights to Ukraine and other destinations have been cancelled. Some Ukrainian military bases in Crimea have been taken over by Russian forces.
The vote has been called invalid and illegal by the Ukrainian government in Kiev as well as the international community, except Russia. Kiev has peldged to disband the Crimean parliament and arrest some of its members on charges of attemting to seize state power. The Russian occupation has also been declaimed by Ukraine and the international community, who have threatened Moscow with economic sanctions and removal from Group of Eight (G8) Membership.
One and a half million Ukrainians in Crimea were registered to vote. The threshold for validity was 50 percent. The ballot offered voters only two options. First was the option of joining Russia. Second was the option of returning Crimea to its 1992 constitution, which would grant the already semi-autonomous Crimea greater autonomy from Ukraine.
The vote, according to all commenters, was forgone–a prediction confirmed late Sunday when initial counts showed that 93 percent of voters supported joining Russia. The majority of Crimeans are Russian (58 percent). Only 24 percent are Ukrainians. The Tartar minority, making up 12 percent of the population, abstained from voting in large part–an act of protest. Tartars were reported to be boycotting the election, despite Russian promises of land, financial aid, and proper land rights, because Tartars do not feel that either Russia or Ukraine is an option they support.
The majority Russians in Crimea have been protesting to re-join Russia (Crimea belonged to Soviet Russia before being given to Soviet Ukraine in 1954) for weeks. Protesters framed their cause as desiring to leave Ukraine and rejoin their family, Russia. Russian Crimeans also have hopes of better pay and more power on the world stage if they become Russian nationals. Russian Crimeans were extremely offended when, shortly after the protesters at Maidan in Kiev scared democratically-elected former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovic out of the country, the Ukrainian parliament abolished a 2012 law that allowed for Russian and other minority languages to be used officially in Ukraine.
Russia is the only country that recognizes the referendum. Russian president Vladimir Putin has stated that the referendum is in line with international law and the United Nations (UN) Charter. Russia was the only nation to veto a proposed UN resolution to not recognize the Crimean ballot (China abstained). Russia also is the only nation that does not recognize claims that Russia is militarily in control of Crimea. The Russian government has stated that the forces in Crimea are rather Crimean “self-defense groups,” which are serving to ensure stability in Crimea.
Citizens in other Ukrainian regions have been protesting for referendums and have asked Russia for protection. President Putin said Sunday that he had received “multiple requests” from Ukrainian citizens in Ukraine’s industrial east.
Besides Crimea, 13 of Ukraine’s 27 regions had adopted Russian as a second language after the passing of the 2012 “On State Language Policy” law. Self-identified ethnic Russians are Ukraine’s largest minority, accounting for 17 percent of the population. Crimea hosts the largest percentage of Russians, but two neighboring regions and four eastern regions also have Russian populations of over 20 percent.
By Day Blakely Donaldson