Crimea secession vote: how, why and what's next?


crimea polling stattion cartoonThe Ukrainian region of Crimea votes Sunday in a hastily organized referendum to break away and join Russia, in defiance of broad condemnation from the international community, which has described the process as illegitimate.

Moscow-backed politicians in Crimea, a territory of 2 million people, argue the move will ensure the local population protection from radical nationalism that they say surged after President Viktor Yanukovych was forced to flee Ukraine. No immediate proof of specific threats has been produced, however, and the leadership in Kiev describes what is happening in Crimea as a crude land grab.

The road to the referendum

Ukraine’s territorial uncertainty has its roots in the protests that led to the downfall of Yanukovych, who enjoyed support from the Kremlin and had his base of support in the mainly ethnic Russian-populated southeast. The demonstrations began in November when Yanukovych abruptly refused to sign a long-anticipated political association and free trade agreement with the European Union, opting instead for closer ties with Russia.

Weeks of peaceful rallies were punctured by bursts of violence, which culminated with the death of dozens of protesters in late February

A peace deal between the government and opposition was overseen by EU diplomats, but that arrangement was overtaken within days when protesters took control of the capital, Kiev, and police abandoned posts. The parliament voted to remove the president from power and soon appointed a replacement.

An early proposal in the new parliament that would have seen the status of the Russian language downgraded was greeted with alarm in some parts of the country. Russia has also loudly expressed indignation over what it claims is the inexorable rise of radical nationalist groups, a concern that critics suggest is an exercise in disingenuousness.

The campaign trail

The referendum ballot will feature two questions: One, to grant Crimea greater autonomy within Ukraine. The other, which is widely expected to secure the bulk of support, envisions annexation by Russia.

What little actual campaigning there’s been in Crimea has taken place under the often menacing gaze of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow. In the face of overwhelming evidence, Russia denies it has deployed any troops.

The pro-annexation message has been crude but effective, and is aimed at instilling alarm over the new Ukrainian government’s purported design to marginalize the country’s ethnic Russian population.

One billboard showed two maps of Crimea: one emblazoned in the tricolor of the Russian flag. The other shows it against a crimson background and stamped with a swastika.

Supporters of the referendum have argued it is little different from the independence vote to take place in Scotland later this year. But British officials argue the latter vote has been two years in the waiting and is being held in a climate of free discussion. Crimeans have had less than two weeks to ponder on their referendum and public debate has been notable for its absence.

The future

Crimean authorities say if Ukrainian soldiers resolutely occupying their garrisons don’t surrender after the election, they will be considered “illegal.”

On the diplomatic front, Russia looks ever more isolated as it faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations and the ambivalence of China.

Leaders of the mainly Muslim Crimean Tatar minority, who make up more than one-tenth of the region’s population, insist they want to remain part of Ukraine and worry about what fate awaits them in a country they have no desire to join.

Inside Russia, President Vladimir Putin has fared well from his hard-line stance on Crimea and enjoyed a bump in popularity ratings. Still, if public criticism of his policies is rare, it’s in no small part because the already embattled independent media has faced a renewed onslaught of state-led intimidation.

Remainder of Ukraine

Once Crimea’s pro-Russian leadership seals some vague semblance of legitimacy through the referendum, attention will likely swing to eastern Ukraine, another heavily Russian-populated area in which the central government is struggling to stamp its authority. The past few days have seen ugly confrontations between pro-Russians and pro-Ukrainians, and anxieties are stirring about the potential for that situation to worsen.

A national presidential election set for May 25 is seen by the interim authorities as an opportunity to restore democratic processes in a country currently run by an interim post-revolutionary Cabinet. Perceptions of an uncertain security situation could undermine confidence in what that vote produces, however.





11 responses to “Crimea secession vote: how, why and what's next?”

  1. Tchaddd Avatar

    Reminds me the elections of the Assad family in syria…same school of democracy!!!

  2. The vote should include all Ukrainians not just the Russians in Crimea since they are in Ukraine.

    1. 5thDrawer Avatar

      Problem was, guest, the ‘others’ decided they would be whipped anyway and just stayed away from the polls. One can only use a ‘vote’ if it is cast.

  3. 5thDrawer Avatar

    Russia has troops lined up ready to dive in after the ‘vote’ is counted.
    If the Ukrainian Army posts refuse to raise white flags and leave without their weapons, there will be a war. Even if brief, many will die, and Russia will simply use everything to ensure that capitulation.
    (Then they can say ‘They shot at us’. Oh dear, and wonder why.)
    Refugees will stream …..

  4. 5thDrawer Avatar

    And it did go the way ‘the news’ predicted. Of course. Pro-Russia types voted … the others did not.
    The Tanks which were waiting can now go in.

    “The blackout of Ukrainian TV channels in Crimea started on 3 March, when Black Sea TV, supportive of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, was disconnected from local TV transmitters.
    A few days later, other Ukrainian channels were taken off the air and replaced with Russian TV stations. The Crimean authorities said it happened due to “technical problems”.
    On 9 March, one of Ukraine’s largest cable operators, Volya, told its subscribers in Sevastopol and Simferopol that it had removed all Ukrainian TV channels from its analogue cable network following orders from the local authorities.
    On 11 March, the Crimean parliament took control of the biggest local state-owned TV company, Crimea (Krym), which was seized by armed men on 28 February.
    The blackout of Ukrainian TV channels caused protests from the Crimean Tatar community. was launched to collect information about the 16 March referendum. It features several video clips purporting to illustrate the opinions of Crimean residents, all of whom are either openly supportive of the referendum as a way of attaching Crimea to Russia, or highly critical of the new Ukrainian authorities.
    Another new website, Crimea Together, offers a selection of stickers, leaflets and posters, all promoting Crimea’s future as part of Russia. The website encourages users to share these posters on social networks or hand them out to local residents.
    Pro-Russian images and leaflets have also been shared on Crimea’s pro-Russian forums and blogs. Up to 100 of them are collected on, a popular local social network known for its fiercely anti-Ukrainian position. Some highlight Crimea’s “historical” links with Russia, others advertise it as “the last chance” for security and the revival of Crimea.
    Posters have been put up across Crimea telling local residents that they will be choosing between two stark options: one is illustrated with a picture of Crimea with a swastika superimposed on it, the other is a Crimea painted in the colours of the Russian flag.
    Leaflets arguing that living standards are higher in Russia than in Ukraine have reportedly been handed out across Crimea. One such leaflet says Crimea has to make the right choice, or “Ukrainian neo-Nazis will treacherously and gradually take away everything from us through blackmail and bribery”.

  5. Vladislav Feldman Avatar
    Vladislav Feldman

    When they say Russians in Crimea, it means Ukranians who speak Russian. The majority of Ukraine’s people living in cities, have been speaking Russian for 200 years. Most of the east of Ukraine up to Odessa are supportive of Russia. Donetsk and Kharkiv are almost like Crimea, they will be pushing for a refferendum soon. In Odessa (I am an ex Odessit) it is about 50/50. While none of us support the nationalist Banderans, the reason the the coup got so much support, is because Yanukovich is an even bigger crook than Timoshenko. Hopefully the next crook steals less.

    1. 5thDrawer Avatar

      Apparently they outdid Putin’s record 104% at one polling station, and got 123%. :-))

      1. Vladislav Feldman Avatar
        Vladislav Feldman

        If I was in Crimea, South Ukraine or East Ukraine I don’t recomend anyone to speak in Ukranian. Before everyone thought they were just peasant from villages but now its more serious.

        1. 5thDrawer Avatar

          Checking news items … I think some idiot fired a ‘first shot’ and the Ukrainian soldiers are now being told they MAY respond in kind. 🙁

          1. Vladislav Feldman Avatar
            Vladislav Feldman

            About 8 -12 unnarmed “Bercut” members (riot police) who were living in Crimea were shot dead during the “maidan” riots in Kiev, obviously some people react angrily to their family members being killed.

          2. 5thDrawer Avatar

            And Riots occur when protests are seeded with ‘anarchists’ – and/or ‘political poop-stirrers’. Apparently some ‘well-meaning folks’ broke into sporting-goods stores to get guns – when someone else started shooting. And obviously, riot-police being unarmed means they didn’t expect the HUGE protests.
            In Venezuela, the same bits happen – on occasion a gun goes off.

Leave a Reply