by Jonah Shepp
Leonid Bershidsky summarizes how yesterday’s referendum in Crimea went down:
According to preliminary results, 96.6 percent of Crimea’s population voted in a hastily arranged referendum on Sunday for their territory’s secession from Ukraine and inclusion in Russia. The plebiscite was, predictably, a farce, with the votes counted behind closed doors in the absence of observers or the press, and with almost the entire indigenous population of Crimean tatars failing to turn out.
There were, however, fireworks on Sunday night, and locals celebrated in the streets. Most of them do want Crimea to be part of Russia, and it’s anybody’s guess why Russia and the pro-Russian authorities on the peninsula decided against arranging a real, honest, transparent vote. For some reason, Russia appears to be full of resolve to become an international pariah or expose the cynicism of Western politicians if they do not confer that status on Moscow. The Russian parliament is promising to act quickly to make Crimea part of Russia. The die is cast, and the Kremlin is now waiting to see what the costs will be, pretending as best it can that it does not care one way or another.
Oliver Bullough examines how this “unconstitutional sham” was orchestrated:
Some polling stations—such as the one in the village of Arpat—have helpfully laid out campaign literature. One leaflet had a BuzzFeed-style list of “10 reasons to be together with Russia.” These ranged from the spiritual (“In our many centuries of history, tens of thousands of sons of Russia have sacrificed their heads to give [Crimea] freedom”) to the practical (“Pensions in Russia are almost twice as high as in Ukraine”) to the rhetorical (“Today the people of Crimea have the chance to restore historical justice”).
There were no leaflets supportive of the constitution of 1992, incidentally.
The presence of international observers was also, of course, a joke:
[T]hey’re a very select group of about 30 international observers authorized by the Crimean government, who were paraded to the press at a news conference yesterday. “Speaking near-flawless Russian and repeating Russian talking points on the Ukrainian crisis word for word, a motley team of foreign election observers lined up to praise the referendum at a press conference Saturday evening,” Buzzfeed’s Max Seddon reported from the scene. The OSCE tried to get a team of 40 observers into Crimea, but warning shots were fired when the group tried to pass through a checkpoint last week. Crimea has since “invited” OSCE observers to attend the referendum.
Eric Posner passes along an e-mail from a Ukrainian reader highlighting even more brazen abuses:
If you follow the Russian and Ukrainian language press as well as Crimean groups on social-networking sites (such as SOS_Krym), you already realize that large scale attempts at voter fraud are under way. Several of my friends in Crimea (this has been verified by reports throughout the peninsula) have been visited by unidentified individuals who either make off with their passports or damage them. This just so happens to coincide with an announcement by Sevastopol city authorities that any form of photo ID will be accepted during the referendum, given what has been happening to passports. This is a clear invitation to “Russian tourists”, many of whom have already created problems in Donetsk and Kharkov.
Morrissey doubts any western countries will recognize the outcome:
The [Crimean] parliament has formally requested recognition for its new status at the UN and with Western nations, but they’re not going to get it — and that will extend the diplomatic issues with Russia. If Putin and Russia’s Duma annex Crimea, it will technically be a seizure rather than a legitimate annexation in the paradigm of self-determination. No Western nation is going to recognize the legitimacy of a plebescite held under occupation by foreign troops, no matter how many ethnic Russians live on the Crimean peninsula.
But Posner writes off the peninsula as lost:
It doesn’t matter that the referendum did not allow voters to express a preference for the status quo, that many of the 90+ percent who favor annexation by Russia (according to (possibly questionable) exit polls) may have been trucked in, that international election monitors were not used, that ballot boxes may have been stuffed, that Tatar groups refused to participate, that the public debate was drowned out by pro-Russian propaganda, and that Russian soldiers and/or pro-Russia militias roamed the streets. It is sufficient that there wasn’t violence, that western journalists were free to move about and interviewed plenty of ordinary people who strongly favored annexation, that there were enthusiastic public demonstrations in favor of annexation and celebrations after the result was announced, and that the outcome is consistent with demographic realities and what seems plausibly (to us ill-informed westerners) the preference of most Crimeans. Unless large groups of Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians take to the streets to protest the referendum and are clubbed by riot police, any western effort at this point to try to rescue Crimea from the invaders it embraces will be not only pointless but ludicrous.